Despite leading the Golden State Warriors to consecutive playoff appearances for the first time in over two decades, head coach Mark Jackson was relieved of his duties Tuesday. The firing came less than 72 hours after the Warriors lost to the Los Angeles Clippers in a dramatic Game 7 of a drama-filled first-round series.
“We appreciate everything that Mark was able to do for this organization over the last three years,” said Warriors GM Bob Myers. “He put us in a better place than when he arrived. We complement him for that. We felt it was time to make a change. That’s a decision we made and we are going to move forward."
Jackson compiled a 121-109 record in three seasons with Golden State. After a rough first year, Jackson guided the team to the playoffs in each of the past two seasons. Last year, the Warriors defeated the Denver Nuggets in the first round before losing to the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference semifinals.
"Anything we do, we do it with the best interest of the organization as a whole," said Myers. "We feel like we are moving in a direction that we want in. We are thankful for Mark, but excited about the future.”
“Mark Jackson has had a big impact on the improvement of our team and the success that we’ve had over the last couple of years,” said owner Joe Lacob in a statement. “Nonetheless, we must make some difficult decisions in our day-to-day operations of the club and this would certainly qualify as one of those examples. We wish Mark the best of luck in his future endeavors and thank him for his contributions over the last three years.”
The Warriors made great strides under Jackson. After recording 23 wins in a lockout –shortened first year, Golden State won 47 games last season and 51 this season. Jackson was just the third head coach in franchise history to lead a team to at least 50 wins in a season, the others being Don Nelson and Alvin Attles. Jackson also ranks fourth on the Warriors’ all-time wins list.
The hiring of Jackson in 2011 was surprising because he had no prior coaching experience at any level. Jackson was a television analyst at the time. But Lacob was thoroughly impressed with Jackson’s leadership and character.
“I respect the leadership,” said Lacob at Jackson’s introductory press conference three years ago. “I respect the presence. He has presence. He can lead the team. It’s like leading any organization. He’s got to get everyone moving in the same direction. I respect his experience and I respect the character of the man."
Lacob also added that Jackson had all the qualities he had envisioned in a coach and was the best possible guy that they could have gotten.
Jackson promised that the Warriors would become a defensive-minded basketball team and that “things be changing” in the Bay Area. Jackson delivered on those counts.
The Warriors finished third this season in opponent field-goal percentage (.436) and defensive rating (99.9 points allowed per 100 possessions). Jackson also changed the culture of the Warriors. Future coaches might lose their job even after winning over 100 games in two seasons.
Ultimately, this decision has more to do with off-the-court issues. On the court, the Warriors finished with a record of 51-31, just three games behind a team that had LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on its roster. There had been some bad home losses. But the Warriors also had some great road wins. This was a team that received no bench productions for the majority of the season. Without Andrew Bogut in these playoffs, the Warriors took the Clippers to the final seconds in the deciding game before losing.
Many questioned Jackson’s rotations, complained that he’s not an X’s and O’s guy and that he doesn't call a timeout until it’s too late. While those issues were all valid, 51 wins are still 51 wins. Golden State led the league with six game-winning shots within the last three seconds. The Warriors also finished just three games behind the defending two-time champions.
Golden State won four more games, but still finished sixth in the West for a second straight season. This might not be the improvement that Lacob might have been looking for prior to the season. But no one anticipated other teams, such as the Houston Rockets or the Portland Trail Blazers, to improve so dramatically.
Jackson’s downfall probably started in June 2012 when The Smoking Gun reported that he was the target of an extortion attempt. The Warriors were forced to issue a statement that they fully supported Jackson despite his indiscretions.
Towards the end of this season, assistant coaches Brian Scalabrine and Darren Erman were removed from Jackson’s coaching staff. Scalabrine was reported to have issues with Jackson and was demoted to the Santa Cruz Warriors. Erman was fired just days later for violating a team policy, which turned out to be secretly recording conversations between coaches.
During these playoffs, Grantland reported that Jackson had asked Jerry West, an executive board member, to not attend practices and team activities. Jackson said the report was a lie.
Although these issues did not affect the Warriors on the court, it most definitely affected Lacob’s views of Jackson. Jackson was no longer the leader or the coach that Lacob had envisioned three years ago. Lacob no longer wants Jackson as the face of his franchise. Once Lacob made that decision, it was game over for Jackson.
Myers gave no timetable for when the next coach will be hired or the candidates that they plan to interview.
“We want to get it right,” said Myers. “We don’t want to be circling or cycling through coaches every few years. I think that’s something we really want to avoid. Mark put us in a good position moving forward. We want to have a coach we can have for the long term. I think every organization does. We are not in a rush and we are going to let the process take its course and do it the right way.”
Myers admitted that firing Jackson might be unpopular with fans, but said they need to give the organization the benefit of the doubt.
“The fans should know or understand that they need to trust us,” said Myers. “They need to really trust us. Maybe they do. Maybe they don’t. That’s our job to prove it. I think fans, at least recent history, have shown that this organization has done a good job. It’s fair game to scrutinize any decision we make. We've made decisions that have been popular with the fans. We've made decision, separate from coaching, that haven’t been popular. Ultimately, you are judged on your results and we will be.”