NBA Insider: Criticism of Mark Jackson May Not Be Simply a Matter of X's and O's

Ric Bucher@@RicBucherNBA Senior WriterDecember 11, 2014

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A friend who played in the NBA and still works in the league called the other day, incensed as much about the relative silence surrounding Golden State Warriors owner Joe Lacob's latest shots at former Warriors coach Mark Jackson as the shots themselves. He was not happy I was part of that silence.

My friend, you see, is black. Hearing the claim that Jackson didn't know X's and O's and refused to hire assistants to make him smarter pushed the hottest of buttons for him, the inference being that Jackson was ignorant and wanted to stay that way, that somehow he didn't know the game well enough to take full advantage of his resources. A very similar argument was presented for the dismissal of Lionel Hollins by the Memphis Grizzlies, in that he wasn't willing to embrace the extensive array of analytics provided by the organization to guide his coaching.

It seems worth noting that both Jackson and Hollins were first-round draft picks and both played point guard in the NBA, the most cerebral position in the game. Hollins did it for 10 seasons and Jackson for 17. Both were All-Stars. Both understood the game well enough to direct their teams to the NBA Finals. Both are also, of course, black.

I can only guess that Lacob's remarks didn't raise more of an uproar because of the Warriors' league-leading and franchise-best 19-2 start—the assumption being that the hot start confirms Lacob's contention that Jackson's lack of coaching acumen held the team back. Having been around the Warriors as a sideline reporter the last two seasons and having caught most of their games this season on TV or in person, I find that rather convenient.

Are they playing with more precision? Sure. Is the ball moving more? Absolutely. Could first-year coach Steve Kerr and his staff have done all this with last year's roster? Ahhh, that's where the affirmations can't be so quick.

The difference I see in how they're playing starts with who is playing.

I'd credit their dominance as much to having two healthy big men (Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezeli), quantum leaps taken by Draymond Green and Klay Thompson as offensive threats and a far more lethal bench thanks to the acquisition of Shaun Livingston, Leandro Barbosa and the in-shape arrival of Marreese Speights—all of which inherently provides a more balanced, flowing offense. But if you want to suggest it's because Kerr diagrams plays and Jackson preferred to orally tell his players what to run and what wrinkles to look for, feel free. My fifth-grade CYO team seems to get the message through either form just fine.

The Warriors' league-best start under new coach Steve Kerr has obscured the progress Golden State made under prior coach Mark Jackson.
The Warriors' league-best start under new coach Steve Kerr has obscured the progress Golden State made under prior coach Mark Jackson.Sam Forencich/Getty Images

I didn't have much reaction to Lacob's remarks because they mirrored those being leaked about Jackson even as he was guiding the team to a 51-win season despite having Bogut for two-thirds of it—and not all of that healthynow-retired Jermaine O'Neal for half and Ezeli not at all. And despite Andre Iguodala playing nearly the entire season with a hamstring issue he said prevented him from attacking the rim. Instead of Livingston, who was good enough to start at point guard for the playoff-bound Brooklyn Nets last season, Jackson had to work with a carousel of Toney Douglas, Jordan Crawford and finally Steve Blake.

Hell yeah, Jackson ran isolation plays for Harrison Barnes and Crawford, trying to squeeze some scoring out of his bench; I seem to recall a previous Warriors coach, name of Don Nelson, who somehow was hailed a genius for the same tactic with considerably less overall success.

All of that, of course, is beside the point for my friend. Had Lacob said he didn't like the offense Jackson ran, it would've been different than saying Jackson didn't know how to run an offense. Lacob doubled down by suggesting Jackson didn't understand Management 101 in declining to hire assistant coaches capable of replacing himthis under an owner who never gave him anywhere near the same sense of security, financial or otherwise, Kerr received before he coached his first practice.

Maybe I don't know Management 101 very well either, then. I figured it would include understanding the people I'm managing, being conscious of words and insinuations and conditions that might make them question if I had their best interests at heart.

As much as we all might wish different, race is still an issuein sports and in the world. One look at the disparate reactions to the events in Ferguson, Missouri, tells you that. To bridge the gap, a mutual trust must be developed. To create that trust starts with erasing and not inflaming preconceived notions.

I don't know what Lacob meant by the words he chose to denigrate Jackson. I know that his co-owner Peter Guber has made a career in Hollywood by touting the power of words and the messages they create. I also know the message Lacob's words sent to my friendand, I believe I'm safe in saying, others who share his experience and background.

My friend trusted me enough to share that with me, and I respected him enough to listen. Whether or not he's right is almost secondary; what's important is that I now understand how he feels. Now maybe you do, too.

Around the League

OAKLAND, CA - NOVEMBER 5: Chris Paul #3 of the Los Angeles Clippers stands on the court during a game against the Golden State Warriors on November 5, 2014 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that,
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• The Clippers are off to a better start than last season (16-5 vs. 16-9), yet scouts and other league personnel sense something awry with their chemistry. Reasons offered include new owner Steve Ballmer, whose manic energy and omnipresence has created greater pressure on them than Donald Sterling's laissez-faire approach did; Blake Griffin becoming too enamored with his much-improved jump shot; offseason additions that didn't pan out as expected; and general fatigue playing with relentlessly demanding point guard Chris Paul. "Guys just get tired of hearing it after a while," one league source said of playing with Paul. "Some guys can't distinguish between abrasive and abusive."

• The Milwaukee Bucks are off to a surprisingly good start, in part because coach Jason Kidd is using nearly his entire roster on a nightly basis. Apparently not everyone is happy about it, though. Kidd said he's heard from fans in fantasy leagues who drafted Jabari Parker or maybe expected a bounce-back year by Larry Sanders or a huge leap forward by Giannis Antetokounmpo. "We're not featuring anyone," he said, "so they call me 'Fantasy Killer.' "

• This could be the kiss of death for some unsuspecting head coach, but several league executives believe there's a chance this is a year we won't see an in-season change on the bench.  The coaches of the teams with the worst records either hired themselves (Stan Van Gundy and Flip Saunders), have strong front-office support (the Knicks' Derek Fisher, team president Phil Jackson's protege) or didn't face high expectations (the Sixers' Brett Brown and Utah's Quin Snyder).

PORTLAND, OR - NOVEMBER 9:  Brian Shaw of the Denver Nuggets during the game against the Portland Trail Blazers on November 9, 2014 at the Moda Center Arena in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and
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The Charlotte Hornets have been a disappointment, but roster changes are getting more heat than coach Steve Clifford. Based on general chatter, the coaches feeling the most pressure are believed to be the New Orleans Pelicans' Monty Williams and the Denver Nuggets' Brian Shaw, but it's hard to see either of them being axed as long as their teams are in their current positions, i.e., lurking just outside the playoff picture.

Insider's Take

An opposing scout analyzes the disappointing Pistons:

AUBURN HILLS, MI - NOVEMBER 26: Josh Smith #6 and Stan Van Gundy of the Detroit Pistons speak during a game against the Los Angeles Clippers on November 26, 2014 at The Palace of Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Michigan. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowl
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"Where's your leadership coming from? Any time you have Josh Smith on your team you're going to have chemistry issues. He's a talented player—he's just not a winning teammate. That's your No. 1 problem. Then Greg Monroe—he's a free agent expecting big things and not looking to stay in Detroit.

"Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is a quiet, small-town guy, so he's not going to be the guy to bring you together. Brandon Jennings can be a handful, but I also believe he's also a guy who will listen in the right situation. They simply have a bad mix, and I think Stan [Van Gundy] knows it."

The One-Question Interview

WASHINGTON, DC -  NOVEMBER 19: Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks shoots the ball against the Washington Wizards during the game on November 19, 2014 at Verizon Center in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by
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I asked a longtime NBA executive for a trend that has caught his eye in the league this year: "The falling-back-off-one-leg jumper has become an accepted shot. It wasn't that long ago that Dirk Nowitzki was the only one who shot it, and that was every once in a while. It wasn't considered a high-percentage shot or something anyone made a point of teaching.

"That's a go-to shot for a lot of guys now. The talent level of players in general has taken a step up. They have the capability to make moves we haven't seen before."

Ric Bucher covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @RicBucher.