That’s what Golden State Warriors general manager Larry Riley told reporters on Monday about hiring Mark Jackson to be the franchise’s new head coach. It’s not a sentiment shared by many around the Bay Area, but when you’re the guy everyone considers a lame duck GM, it’s easy to say things like that. But before this dark cloud of uncertainly settles in over Alameda County, let’s try to look for the silver lining.
- Mark Jackson had a very prosperous 17-year career in the NBA, playing for such coaching luminaries as Larry Brown, Pat Riley, Jerry Sloan and Lenny Wilkens. If you go back to his college days at St. John’s you can include Lou Carnesecca.
- He fills new executive board member Jerry West’s desire to bring on someone who isn’t a re-tread, but has professional playing experience.
- As a former point guard, he can be a mentor to Stephen Curry.
- Jackson’s years in the broadcast booth have given him credibility with many of the league’s players. It also means that during timeouts he can remind David Lee “hand down, man down”.
Beyond that, it’s still a mystery how Jackson landed the job. For the short term, owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber can ride this out thanks to the free pass they’ve been given, courtesy of West. At the outset of this new partnership, fans are willing to give The Logo the benefit of the doubt. Lacob and Guber said from the start that they wanted to be bold and it’s certainly easier to think outside the box when you’re backed by one of the league’s most successful front office men. Yet when you’ve taken over a franchise that has made postseason plans just once in the last 17 seasons, it is possible to be too avant garde.
The hope is that Jackson can mimic the success of Larry Bird, who was never an NBA assistant but went 147-67 in three seasons coaching the Indiana Pacers. Or maybe he could be Doc Rivers, who went from playing to broadcasting to coaching without a stop as an assistant in between.
Except that Bird inherited a talented Pacers team that had been in the Eastern Conference Finals just three seasons earlier. Bird’s teams in Indiana featured Reggie Millier and Rik Smits in their primes with veteran leadership from Chris Mullin and the aforementioned Mark Jackson, inside muscle with Dale and Antonio Davis and a youthful Jalen Rose running the show. Most of those pieces are currently missing in Oakland.
What has been forgotten in Boston’s remarkable four-year run is that Rivers was no one’s Hall of Fame coach for the majority of his career. Heading up a series of mediocre-on-paper teams (admittedly hurt by Grant Hill’s inability to stay healthy), Rivers coached them to the best of their ability. In five seasons, he was 171-168 with three playoff appearances – and three first round exits – before getting fired in 2003 after a 1-10 start.
And it’s not like he was an immediate hit in Boston. In fact, most Celtics fans were willing to drive Rivers to Logan International Airport after his first three seasons on the bench. It’s not exactly a coincidence that public opinion on Rivers started to turn at the same time that Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen showed up in Beantown.
Mark Jackson Golden State Warriors head coach won’t have any of those luxuries. It could be a while before he completely knows what he’s working with at all. Monta Ellis’ name was being ground through the rumor mill for much of last season. Since West took his place with the front office, those whispers have only gotten louder. At this point, it appears to be just a matter of time until Ellis is moved. The Warriors will likely try to get a more defensive minded player back in return, but who will that be?
Jackson’s said all of the right things so far; his team will be more defensive minded and they’ll definitely be in the playoffs next year. But that’s all without knowing what his roster will look like. All that Jackson can know for sure is that he’ll get to coach Curry and probably David Lee (whose large contract makes him difficult to move in any deal). Beyond that, there’s not one other player on the roster that’s untouchable. Free agency won’t offer a lot of game-changing free agents and most mock drafts have the Warriors taking either Lithuanian center Donatas Motiejunas or Washington State swingman Klay Thompson – two guys with evolving offensive games but lacking on the defensive end.
Riley says the organization will help surround Jackson with quality coaches to help him fill in where he’s lacking. But without players, it’s hard to imagine him having success. Even with a team built to his specs, does Jackson have the ability to manage egos? In his role as a television announcer, he has never been overly critical of players which has made him popular amongst the league’s stars. How will he react when he has the inevitable go-round with one of his players? It’s a different experience as a coach compared to being a player and can’t be solved with clichés or clever platitudes. So much of being a successful head coach in the NBA is as much about being a leader of men as it is X’s and O’s. Jackson has no experience with either, making skepticism a widespread commodity in Northern California.
Warriors fans have been a patient bunch. There’s no other way to describe a fan base that continues to support a franchise that hasn’t been relevant for nearly two decades. That doesn’t mean that they are going to be happy about waiting through a coaching staff that still has the training wheels on. This is a hire that will define the early portion of the Lacob/Guber ownership era. If it works out, it could be a home run for organization. But you’ll have to forgive Warriors fans if they’re not quite ready to throw Mark Jackson a parade down Hegenberger Road. That would really be a leap of faith.