Golden State Warriors: the Mark Jackson dilemma

Golden State Warriors Coach Mark Jackson appears to be on thin ice. It wasn’t just the fact that he demoted assistant coach Brian Scalabrine to the D league. There’s other factors that will be discussed later on in this article that indicate Jackson’s job isn’t as safe as it would appear to be.

When the Warriors hired Jackson 3 years ago as the coach to help get the franchise back on track it was seen as a surprising hire considering Jackson had no previous head coaching experience. The first season was rocky, but Jackson, along with Stephen Curry, David Lee, and others, helped turn the Warriors around in the second season.  Which included a surprising 2nd round playoff run and pushed the San Antonio Spurs to the limit. If Curry and Andrew Bogut hadn’t gotten injured the Warriors could have actually won the series.

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Even though Mark Jackson has had a successful tenure as coach of the Golden State Warriors it doesn’t mean that his job is safe. Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle

Coming into this season the Warriors had as much anticipation and expectation as they’ve ever had. The Warriors signed Andre Iguodala via a sign and trade with Denver and the Utah Jazz. They let Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry go in order to get Iguodala. They inquired about Dwight Howard although that didn’t materialize.

Ever since Warriors owner Joe Lacob bought the team it has been his passion for the Warriors to not only win championships, but win them quickly. Especially heading into this season. Lacob has showed signs of being disappointed with both Jackson and the Warriors team, which at times has underachieved this season.

Another telling sign that Jackson could be on thin ice is that the Warriors haven’t given him a contract extension even after the success of the Warriors the last couple of seasons. It appears the owners want to let him coach out his contract and see if the Warriors meet their expectations moving forward. If not, they won’t bring him back. How the Warriors close out this regular season and how they go in the postseason will most likely play a key role in that decision.

Jackson has been the subject of criticism by some Warrior fans after losses. That’s obviously expected, fans need somebody to blame, and the coach is usually the one that gets blamed most of the time unless that team is the Miami Heat. However, it’s easy to see that at times Jackson doesn’t make the necessary in-game adjustments needed to succeed. There’s times when he doesn’t play Bogut enough, or plays specific bench players too much or not enough.

Jackson has always been known as a players coach. This could ultimately be part of his downfall if he is let go. The perfect example of this was the game against the Spurs last Saturday; who are best team in the NBA, at least record wise. The Warriors were in the game late into the third quarter. Jackson took his starters out and put the reserves in. In turn, the Spurs with most of their starters in, went on a quick 5-0 run to up the lead from 4 to 9 points. This is a perfect example where Jackson left his bench in too long, as the Warriors reserves were getting beaten badly by the Spurs reserves. Jackson should have recognized the way the game was going and also should have known that the Warriors had a 5 day layoff. That’s the kind of game where you extend your starters.

Jackson seems at times to want to keep all his players happy, which obviously you try to do as a coach. However, winning is all about playing the guys that give you the best chance of winning. That’s what makes Gregg Popovich, Doc Rivers, Rick Carlisle, Tom Thibodeau and some other great coaches successful at what they do. They are still players coaches, but at the same time they could care less about feelings. Their goal is winning, which is something that should be the main goal, not making players happy.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Los Angeles Lakers

Mark Jackson’s relationship with Stephen Curry and Curry’s development as a point guard under Jackson will make it difficult for Warriors management to fire Jackson even if they might want too in the future. Stephen Curry, Mark Jackson (Richard Mackson/USA TODAY Sports)

No one is denying that Jackson is a great basketball mind. He played point guard at an extremely high level. He is third in NBA history with assists and only one of 5 guys to accumulate over 10,000 assists in their career. He also played in the NBA for 19 years, so his track record is there. He has a great relationship with the Warriors star Curry, who by the way stands by Jackson 100 percent. Jackson also has great motivational tactics, which is his strength as a coach. However, the question that’s being asked is whether or not he knows the x’s and o’s well enough to be an NBA head coach.

Jackson has had a successful tenure with the Warriors thus far. However with changed expectations and the owner, who has the most power, indicating disappointment that the team isn’t meeting his expectations. Also the Warriors losing at home to teams that they should be beating doesn’t help either. If the Warriors don’t have a long sustained playoff run he might not be retained at the end of this season. Now throw in the Scalabrine incident on top of the run-in Jackson had with former lead assistant Michael Malone last year, obviously there’s red flags over Jackson that make his future murky.

If Jackson keeps the Warriors moving in the right direction, specifically getting better as a team and continues to be endorsed by his star players, the Warriors ownership will have a difficult time firing him or not renewing his contract. Obviously if Jackson continues to have incidents with his assistant coaches and doesn’t show that he’s making the necessary growth as a head coach, he might not be the coach for much longer.