The Golden State Warriors have decided to part ways with head coach Mark Jackson, ending months of speculation and weeks of denials about his job status.
Sam Amick of USA Today was the first to report the news:
Mark Jackson will not be back as Golden State Warriors coach, @USATODAYsports has learned. Story to come.— Sam Amick (@sam_amick) May 6, 2014
The Warriors later confirmed the firing in a press release:
“It’s never easy to make a decision of this nature,” said General Manager Bob Myers. “Mark has accomplished many good things during his three years with the organization, including his role in helping elevate this team into a better position than it was when he arrived nearly 36 months ago. We’re appreciative of his dedication and commitment since his arrival and are extremely grateful for his contributions. However, as an organization, we simply feel it’s best to move in a different direction at this time.”
“Mark Jackson has had a big impact on the improvement of our team and the success that we’ve had over the last couple of years,” said Owner & CEO Joe Lacob. “Nonetheless, we must make some difficult decisions in our day-to-day operations of the club and this would certainly qualify as one of those examples. We wish Mark the best of luck in his future endeavors and thank him for his contributions over the last three years.”
Jackson tweeted the following after his dismissal:
Thanks to my Players! I Love U! We accomplished A lot together! I wish u all Nothing but the Best!! God Bless— Mark Jackson (@MarkJackson13) May 6, 2014
Jackson, 49, had one year remaining on his current contract. The Warriors picked up Jackson's option for 2014-15 before this season, and thus will be on the hook for the roughly $2 million in base salary he was due next year. Marcus Thompson of the Bay Area News Group reported Golden State has also relieved all of Jackson's assistant coaches duties.
A former All-Star point guard, Jackson led Golden State to a 51-31 regular-season record this year. The team also made the playoffs for back-to-back seasons for the first time in two decades. The Warriors were eliminated by the Los Angeles Clippers in a thrilling seven-game series that ostensibly sealed his fate.
While Jackson was the Warriors' most successful coach since Don Nelson, tension between him and the front office slowly percolated over the last year. It began when team management failed to make him a substantial contract-extension offer following the team's playoff run in 2013 and festered from there.
Though the Warriors won 50 games for the first time since 1993-94, some believed Jackson was not doing enough with a talent-laden roster. Golden State mortgaged part of its future last summer by trading two first-round picks to clear cap space for Andre Iguodala, but those 51 wins only earned Golden State a No. 6 seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
“I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish,” Jackson said, per Marcus Thompson of The Bay Area News Group. “A lot of people had a lot to do with it. It’s a great opportunity. I wish them nothing but the best. The record will speak for itself. These players and the organization, it’s a different place than when I got here. I’m proud of that."
Of course, there were other signs of dysfunction littered throughout the season. Jackson reassigned Brian Scalabrine and fired Darren Erman, two assistant coaches with substantial internal respect, after the All-Star break. While it later became clear that Erman was let go for taping locker room conversations, the succession of the moves left the continued impression that Jackson was losing control of a spiraling situation.
There was even a rumor, since denied, that Jackson barred Warriors consultant Jerry West from practice because he felt the Hall of Famer's presence undermined him. Fans, analysts and even owner Joe Lacob had been critical of Jackson's style during the regular season. At least from a perception standpoint, the Warriors came into the playoffs embattled, as if knowing they were playing together for the last time.
"You get the feel that no matter what happens, our coach won't be our coach next year," Warriors center Jermaine O'Neal told reporters during the playoffs. "You just get that feel. But we are willing to give all we've got for this group, for that coach, and hopefully whatever that will and whatever we've given is good enough to take us as far as we should go."
Tim Kawakami of the Mercury News had more on the dysfunction within the Warriors:
Source: Jackson's relationship with the Warriors' front office and other staffers changed within the last year or 18 months...— Tim Kawakami (@timkawakami) May 6, 2014
You can blame the front office for some of it--they started having doubts about him around the same time Jackson started to doubt them.— Tim Kawakami (@timkawakami) May 6, 2014
But the GSW brass considered Jackson's severe behavior as another sign that he would not be worth having around for a longer period.— Tim Kawakami (@timkawakami) May 6, 2014
If there was ever potential to save Jackson's job, it would have been because of his players. Regardless of what was going on behind the scenes, Jackson engendered unwavering support from the locker room. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and other Warriors players rallied around Jackson following the team's postseason exit, indicating they'd lobby management to retain him.
"I love Coach more than anybody, and I think for him to be in a situation where his job is under scrutiny and under question is totally unfair," Curry told reporters. "And it would definitely be a shock to me if anything like that were to happen. I'm going to voice my support for coach."
Despite Curry vocalizing his support for Jackson, Myers is confident that the franchise cornerstone will support the front office's decision, per Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group:
Bob Myers on Stephen Curry: "Ultimately, he does trust us."— Diamond Leung (@diamond83) May 6, 2014
In addition to helping develop Curry into one of the league's best point guards, Jackson has taken a roster laden with eclectic talent and fostered a team-first defensive mentality. While the heroics of the Splash Brothers received most of the press, the Warriors were actually a team led by the league's third-best defense during the regular season, per NBA.com. Their offense often went through strange stretches of out of control play.
Which, in many ways, might have helped lead to Jackson's downfall. The groundwork he laid installing a defensive system can largely be picked up next season. If the Warriors can find a coach with a more cogent and consistent offensive gameplan, they may become a top-10 team on both ends of the floor—typically a hallmark of a championship contender.
Jackson: "When this team is healthy, it is a legit contender. That's something that we're all looking at going forward."— Tim Kawakami (@timkawakami) May 6, 2014
Should the Warriors have fired Mark Jackson?
At the very least, the mood should be less toxic. Jackson did a great job, and it likely won't take him long to find another coaching job. He may even be on the bench next season given all the high-profile openings.
But when management and a coaching staff aren't on the same page, it's bound to end badly. There is shared blame here, but it's much harder to fire an owner than a coach. The Warriors and Jackson should be better off now that they don't have to pretend to like working with one another.
We'll just have to see if the coach was what actually kept this roster from taking the next step.
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