One of the most puzzling stories in the NBA over the last week has been the firing of Mark Jackson. While it was rumored even during the Golden State Warriors’ matchup against the Los Angeles Clippers it seemed unlikely, considering how far Jackson pushed his team, that the team would let him go. Unfortunately that was not the case, as he was fired a few days after they lost their seven-game series.
Before Jackson came into the fold, the Warriors had one of the worst track records in the NBA. In the 17 years prior to his arrival as coach, the Warriors only made it to the playoffs one time, in 2006-2007, when they upset the Dallas Mavericks in the first round under Don Nelson.
Jackson’s first year was not pretty. Golden State managed only a 23-43 record during the NBA’s shortened lockout season of 2011-2012. During the next two seasons, however, the Warriors made the playoffs both times. In 2012-2013 they even made it to the semi-finals, and made it to Game Seven of the opening round this year.
For a team that had failed even making it into the playoffs, having a coach lead them there two of the three times in the last 20 years is quite an accomplishment. Furthermore, the players loved Mark Jackson. From starter Stephen Curry to backup Jermaine O’Neal, they wanted him back next season. It is a shame that the front office refused to do what was best for business.
The reason Jackson left has to do with his relationships with the front office. It did not help, either, that he had a bad track record of maintaining relationships with his coaching staff, whether it was his fault or not. He brought on both Brian Scalabrine and Darren Erman as assistants, but neither lasted. Scalabrine, a few months back, was demoted to the D-league for what can only be summed up as a difference of opinion. Erman, it was discovered, had been recording conversations with other coaches and players without their knowledge and was fired immediately.
Both of these situations could very well be the assistants’ fault, particularly Erman. It is not impossible, however, to believe management blamed Jackson for these situations, considering he brought them to the team in the first place.
Another situation that is now being rumored for Jackson’s dismissal is his religious ties. It is no secret that Jackson is also a pastor of a church in Los Angeles. Many believe his beliefs could have been pushed on a significant amount of personnel in the organization, particularly team president Rick Welts, who is the first high-ranking official in pro sports to come out as being gay.
Jackson, whose religious beliefs are of the old fashioned system, most likely clashed with his boss. This was evidenced by his reaction to Jason Collins this year who became the first openly gay professional athlete. As a result, Jackson had a very questionable quote where he said “As a Christian man, I have beliefs of what’s right and what’s wrong. That being said, I know Jason Collins, I know his family, and am certainly praying for them at this time.” This can be taken a variety of ways, but from the outset it appears as though the coach did not agree with homosexuality.
Considering Mark Jackson’s owner also is gay, it could have been the determining factor in Jackson’s firing. It can be argued that it is not fair that Jackson was fired for his opinions, but at the same time it is no shocker that it could have caused his dismissal.
Regardless, it still does not make sense. On any team, the most important element is the rapport between the coach and players. This is what the Warriors had with him. His team listened to him, and he made them better. In fact, prior to Jackson’s arrival, the Warriors were one of the worst defensive squads in the league. This past season he made them into a top 10 defensive team.
Worse yet, this is going to be a difficult situation to rectify for Welts and company. No matter who comes in as coach, whether it is George Karl, Steve Kerr or any number of other candidates, it will take time to get the trust of the players who want their old coach back.
Regardless of what happens to the Warriors, the question is: Where does Jackson end up? Now that he is a free agent, it will be hard to believe that he will not be coaching an NBA team next season. It almost seems too simple, however, to see the team he most likely will end up with—the Lakers.
Another issue that the Golden State Warriors’ brass had with Jackson was that he resided in Los Angeles instead of the Bay Area. Of course, Jackson would always be on time and would make the trek to every game and practice, so it should not have been a problem. Not surprisingly though, the reasoning for Jackson not moving is that he wanted to be near his church.
Considering he now resides in Los Angeles, the obvious bet is that he take the place of the recently departed Mike D’Antoni for the Lakers. He already is in the area, and the Lakers truly need a man that can turn around a franchise that needs to win now.
Beyond location, Jackson seems to be a good fit. Outside of Bryant and Gasol, the Lakers have a very young team. The Golden State Warriors also had a very young team. Jackson is a teacher. He managed to gain the respect of a young, immature team and get great results out of them.
This is exactly what the Lakers need. They need someone to be respected by the young players and Kobe Bryant alike. It was evident through D’Antoni’s tenure that the players did not listen to him. There was often dissension between players and coach that caught media attention.
Another important aspect that will fit into reshaping the Lakers under Jackson is that he teaches defense. If there is anything the Lakers need it is a defensive strategy, since they had the second worst defense in the entire league this past season, allowing 109.2 points per contest. As such, Jackson could transform the Lakers into a much better defensive club and unlike D’Antoni, he will not force a style on them.
Whether the Golden State Warriors were justified or not in firing Jackson is up to opinion. Regardless, Mark Jackson has been one of the most impressive coaches in the league over the last few years, which as a result will make him very attractive to NBA teams looking to fill vacancies. At this point, him joining the Lakers may be the perfect choice for both parties involved.
Commentary by Simon Mounsey