With a roster chock-full of highly-skilled, high-character players, the Golden State Warriors can offer the world to whichever head coach they deem worthy of filling the seat of the departed Mark Jackson.
Yet, one can't help but wonder if that will be enough to justify joining a situation that seems toxic to the touch.
Yes, the Warriors can deliver a talented group that appears on the doorstep of championship contention—but might they ask for the universe in return? With the precedent set in Jackson's dismissal that good isn't nearly good enough, can anyone live up to the lofty (perhaps unrealistic) expectations this franchise has given itself?
The Damage Done during Jackson's Dismissal
Here's what we know from the outside looking in.
Jackson delivered nearly unprecedented success to this organization. The 98 wins he racked up over the past two seasons was the team's highest two-year total in more than two decades. His nine playoff victories are the sixth most in franchise history, per Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle.
He also apparently didn't play well with others—and, according to reports, that's putting it lightly.
Jesse Taylor of WarriorsWorld.net, tipped off by non-management sources, offered a grisly glimpse behind the scenes:
He worked to convince players that he was the only one who believed in them. He created an 'us against the world' mentality.
...At first, the 'us against them' was the entire organization against those outside of it. In the beginning, Jackson inspired his players to believe they were better than they were. He was a huge positive in their lives both on and off the court. Many players performed better because of Jackson.
...But it became obvious over time that it was all about Jackson and his belief in the players. The “us” became Jackson and his players and the “them” was everyone else – including Warriors management and some of his coaches.
Assuming that's true, the chaos Jackson created built an unsustainable work environment. For a team that relied so heavily on chemistry and cohesion for its success, this apparent disconnect between employers and employees pushed this situation beyond the point of repair.
As a result, everyone had to go. Yes, everyone:
Warriors cleaned house, with only an assistant video coordinator still on the job.— Diamond Leung (@diamond83) May 7, 2014
Of course, that behind-the-scenes noise rarely makes it to the forefront of these discussions. This is a results-driven profession.
Phil Jackson worked alongside burning bridges with both the Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls. While those bridges were piles of ash upon his eventual exit, they both held up long enough for the Zen Master to deliver a total of 11 titles to the two franchises.
Warriors owner Joe Lacob knows this already. While he admitted the team's decision to fire Jackson was "less based on performance—that is win-loss record—and perhaps slightly more based on overall philosophy," via Simmons, the owner ultimately put the focus right back on the results:
I do think there is this concept, which I happen to subscribe to, that there is the right CEO, the right leader for an organization at different phases or stages of its growth cycle. You could conclude that maybe Mark was the perfect coach at the time, three years ago, because he actually was a good choice...You have to understand that going forward, there may be a different task or a different goal than there was in the last three years...There’s a right coach for the right time and the right situation. I think it’s our feeling, at this point and time, that he’s probably not the right coach for us, going forward – given all of the circumstances.
He tried to paint this picture in broad strokes, but anyone who viewed the finish product saw it under the same light: Jackson won with the Warriors, but he didn't win enough.
With the focus now shifted to the team's coaching search, that bar hasn't dropped one bit. If anything, it's been elevated for the eventual replacement, as Bleacher Report's Ric Bucher explained:
Lacob said he believes both he and Jackson learned from their three years together; if so, the danger of setting brutally high expectations was not among the lessons for Lacob. He already has intimated that next year's team should improve on this year's 51-win total, the team's most in two decades, and any coach who found that daunting probably isn't cut out for the job.
Owners can (and should) expect a lot from the people they put in position to guide their organizations.
Where that becomes potentially problematic, though, is when expectations drift too high above reality.
Good, Not Great, Roster
The Warriors are loaded with talent, but championship-caliber talent? That may be a bit of a stretch:
If hired could see how Stan Van Gundy makes #Warriors "more efficient" yet win at similar level. Low 50's W's 1st/2nd Rd out pending matchup— John Dickinson (@JDJohnDickinson) May 9, 2014
A Stan Van Gundy hire means #Warriors better win 56-58 w/same or very similar roster or he's a failure. Just don't see it. Need more talent.— John Dickinson (@JDJohnDickinson) May 9, 2014
Whether this front office sees it as such remains uncertain.
"Warriors owner Joe Lacob conceded that he might be tough to work for," Simmons wrote. "That sentiment is being echoed among NBA executives and others in the know throughout the league, making many wonder whether the Warriors will be able to sign a top-notch coach who fits well with their organizational philosophy."
If the Dubs can't snag a top-tier coach, it won't be for the lack of trying. They're seemingly connected to any and every coaching name available—and several who don't exactly fit that label.
According to Simmons, TNT analyst Steve Kerr and former Orlando Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy are considered the "top candidates" but far from the only ones in consideration. Golden State's coaching net, Simmons reports, could also be cast upon the following: Tom Thibodeau, Lionel Hollins, Mike D'Antoni, George Karl, Jerry Sloan, Fred Hoiberg, Kevin Ollie, David Fizdale, Alvin Gentry and Nate McMillan.
In other words, expect an exhaustive effort to find a suitable replacement because simply running through the candidates list is exhausting in itself.
Under different lights, replacing Jackson is either a dream or a nightmare.
Which coaching candidate makes the most sense for the Warriors?
No team with a current coaching vacancy can offer this much talent: a budding superstar in Stephen Curry; proven commodities in David Lee, Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut; developing prospects in Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes.
Under Jackson's watch, the Warriors shot up through the defensive ranks, finishing the 2013-14 campaign with the third-highest efficiency mark (99.9 points allowed per 100 possessions) at that end of the floor. The team finished 12th in efficiency at the opposite side, a ranking that holds some upward mobility assuming the next coach curtails (or eliminates) the ball-stopping isolation sets on which Jackson leaned far too heavily.
In addition to the pieces on hand, Golden State has a few different avenues available to add talent. As Nate Duncan of Basketball Insiders noted, the team has both a $9.8 million trade exception (which has to be used before July 10) and a $5.3 million mid-level exception.
It also has an owner who would shoulder a luxury-tax bill for the right player.
"I don’t want to pay the luxury tax, nobody wants to. That’s why it is a luxury tax, it is very punitive," Lacob told Sporting News' Sean Deveney in September. "But if it means winning vs. not winning, I choose winning."
Should the Warriors look elsewhere for assistance, their impressive collection of assets could also make them intriguing trade partners for one interested in proven talent, potential or both.
That's all seen under the dream lens, but what might make this a potential nightmare position?
Assuming the trade market doesn't offer an impact player, it's hard to see how the Warriors could acquire one anytime soon. The Warriors have more than $50 million already committed to their 2015-16 payroll, via ShamSports.com, a figure that could grow even higher as players like Thompson and Green complete their rookie contracts.
Barring a trade, the draft offers little to no assistance. The Warriors are down first-round picks in 2014 and 2017, along with each of their next five second-round selections.
The current roster is good not great, deep but light on elite talent outside of Curry. If the front office was OK with good-not-great results that wouldn't be an issue, but that doesn't seem to be the case.
Lingering Chemistry Concerns
If that wasn't enough, the next man on the job will inherent some clunky chemistry problems. These players didn't mask their support of Jackson, so it might take some time for the next coach to gain their trust.
There's even an apparent divide surfacing that's unrelated to the former coach. It centers around who the team's next coach should be.
If there's a perception that the front office turned its back on the players while ousting Jackson, going against their wishes for his replacement could further fracture these ranks.
There are high-character players up and down this roster, so perhaps that won't be an issue. Then again, even high-character people may react when they feel their voice isn't being heard.
So, the question has to be raised: Just how appealing is this job?
Talent typically trumps all in the NBA, and the Warriors are loaded with it. Even if the expectations are higher than they should be, it's not like they were raised without reason.
Given how the revolving door works in this profession, it's hard to imagine one being scared off at the prospect of getting axed. That's an occupational hazard at any stop across the basketball landscape.
Still, there's a mess that needs cleaning here, and it might take some time to get it done. Time that frankly may not be available to Jackson's successor.
What the Warriors have on their hands is complicated, a common occurrence in the wake of such a bitter break-up. Rarely are simple solutions available in these situations, and this is no exception.
The tools are there to win, but are there enough to do the type of winning Lacob and Co. are after? That's a question any potential candidate must answer for himself before putting pen to paper.
Expect a complex answer for the most complex position in the NBA marketplace.