The Golden State Warriors have some legitimate concerns to address in the aftermath of Mark Jackson's firing, but the integrity of the locker room isn't one of them.
Here's the basic refrain swirling around now that Jackson's gone: The Warriors players loved and supported their coach, and now that he's gone, something close to a full-on mutiny is sure to follow.
I'm exaggerating for effect, but not by much. Everyone seems to be worried about how Jackson's firing will hurl the roster, most of whom supported him vocally to the end, into chaos.
The Road to the Unemployment Line is Littered with Well-Liked Coaches
As a starting point, there's no question Golden State's players loved Jackson. The outpouring of support grew all season long, increasing in volume as rumors about his potential ouster intensified.
And in the aftermath of his departure, the love poured in.
It says something powerful that so many players spoke up when the heat was on, but is that really so unique? We hear players stump for coaches all the time, and at the risk of being condescending, it's not always a great idea to let personnel pick their leader.
J.R. Smith was a big fan of Mike Woodson. Does that mean he should still be coaching the New York Knicks?
Sorry if it sounds like heresy, but maybe players don't always know best. After all, there's a tendency in life—and not just in professional basketball—to like the guy who makes your job comfortable. Jackson wasn't a yeller, he never embarrassed any of his players and there were almost never consequences for poor play.
It's truly laudable that he won the affection of the locker room. That's hard to do in the NBA. It's not fair to minimize it. And sure, it's important that the Warriors players liked Jackson.
But there's a case to be made that being liked isn't the most important job for a head coach in the NBA.
I'm guessing there are plenty of San Antonio Spurs who aren't best pals with Gregg Popovich. He's a leader—not their buddy. And if you think Rick Carlisle is worried about coddling the egos of the rest of the Dallas Mavericks, you're dreaming.
We also know Tom Thibodeau is hardly a beloved figure among Chicago Bulls players. Joakim Noah offered a revealing picture of his relationship with the demanding, detail-oriented coach, per Nick Friedell of ESPN:
Defense helps win and winning is definitely the most important thing. I remember one day we were working out at the Berto Center and Thibs was putting me through a real grueling workout and I told him, 'You know, Thibs? If we weren't winning games I would really, really hate you.' And he said, 'Trust me, Jo. I feel the same way about you.'
That's what you want: respect earned through results. Being liked is secondary.
An Important Wake-Up Call
Whoever takes Jackson's vacated seat won't have the unconditional support of most of the roster. He'll have to earn it, and that's fine.
It's worth noting here that Jackson's locker room wasn't necessarily as "tied together" as he so often professed. There were a few rifts created by Jackson's faith-based approach, per Sam Amick of USA Today, most notably the one that sometimes kept the not-so-religious Andrew Bogut at arm's length.
And Bogut wasn't the only guy who may have felt alienated. Jackson's response to Jason Collins' announcement he was gay revealed another potentially divisive stance, per Ann Killion of the San Francisco Chronicle:
When Jason Collins made his historic pronouncement last year that he was gay, Jackson’s immediate response came out sounding less-than-supportive.
“I will say this,” Jackson said the day of the news. “We live in a country that allows you to be whoever you want to be. As a Christian man, I serve a God that gives you free will to be who you want to be. As a Christian man, I have beliefs of what’s right and what’s wrong. That being said, I know Jason Collins, I know his family, and am certainly praying for them at this time.”
What’s right and what’s wrong? Praying for someone who decided to live an honest life? His words created a very strange vibe, especially for a Bay Area team in the 21st century.
Warriors president Rick Welts is openly gay. I wonder how he felt about those comments.
Anyway, the next Warriors head coach will also inherit a locker room that is more mature and more apprised of the stakes of failure than it once was. Watching one man take the fall for underperformance (even if much of Jackson's firing was also motivated by his failure to get along with anybody in the organization besides the players) was a wake-up call.
The fun's over for the Warriors. Now, it's time to get down to the business of getting better. They just got a serious reminder that they work for an impatient, results-driven owner who rightly believes they're capable of being better than they are.
That's empowering on its own, and knowing that coming to team headquarters in Oakland for practice is work—and not summer camp—should be a motivating factor.
The Dubs have a uniquely easygoing, mature group of players in their locker room. They're reasonable guys, and they'll handle this like adults.
There'll be no mutiny from this crew—especially since the prickliest Warriors player, Bogut, was no great fan of Jackson in the first place.
The rest of the roster is loaded with smart people who'll understand that even if Jackson's firing feels unfair, it was inevitable. When you fall short of expectations, there are consequences.
Warriors players absorbed a harsh lesson in watching Jackson get the boot. They learned they're not where they need to be, that being liked isn't as important as getting results.
Stephen Curry is already coming around. He understands why things went down the way they did, and he's one of the few cool heads acknowledging (at least implicitly) that this management group has made enough smart moves in the past to have earned the benefit of the doubt.
When Jackson's most high-profile defender is already seeing both sides of the issue, it's a good indication the rest of the locker room will quickly fall in line behind him.
Given the talent on the roster, a steadier strategic hand will coax better results out of the team, especially on offense. And if the Warriors win more games next year, you won't hear a word about Jackson being missed. Not because the players don't feel for him, but because they understand his firing was just a part of business.
(Side note: You will hear the same fans that still pine for Monta Ellis complaining about Jackson's ouster. There's just no getting through to some people, though.)
The Warriors locker room isn't going to fall apart. Anyone who thinks so is treating the adults on this team like children and ignoring the character they've shown for years. These are good guys, and they just got a reminder that there are real stakes tied to their performance.
There's a new challenge ahead now, and they'll pull together to meet it.
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