Some things and some people have to be approached obliquely, at an angle. — Andre Gide
After reacting with the requisite knee-jerk snarkiness to the news of Mark Jackson’s hiring — I tweeted: “It should come as no surprise that Joe Lacob just hired an expert at walking the ball up the court to coach the fastest team in the league.” — I’ve taken the last few days to come to a considered opinion. I’ve read through the media statements, done some research, and remembered some past Mark Jackson statements from his coverage of Warriors games. I’ve looked at Lacob’s surprising choice for head coach of the Warriors from every angle.
You might be surprised by my take.
The Warriors Identity Angle
“That’s not set offense, that’s getting a rebound and pushing the ball down the throat of the defense.” – Mark Jackson on the Heat offense against the Lakers, midseason.
“Don’t try to walk it up, that’s when they were a bad team. Put pressure on the defense by pushing it down their throat. You have the best players in the world, force the issue offensively.” — More Mark Jackson from the same game.
“Absolutely not. We will push the basketball. We will look to make plays in transition.” — Jackson when asked whether he will move the Warriors away from their up-and-down style (interview at NBA Finals).
“We’re going to have fun, but we’re going to earn it…. We’re going to play an exciting brand of basketball.” — Jackson on the Warriors, on PTI.
“You are doing the defense a favor when you post up Lee or Biedrins.” — Mark Jackson doing the Warriors v. Lakers preseason game.
“The Warriors are doing the defense a favor whenever they post up Biedrins or Lee.” — Jackson doing a Warriors v. Heat regular season game. Yes, he repeated himself.
“I believe he has an awfully bright future as a point guard in the league because he makes quality decisions and has the ability to flourish in either a movement-based system or a point-guard-dominant system where he would use the pick-and-roll more. That’s because of his quickness and amazing ability to shoot.” — Mark Jackson analyzing Stephen Curry the Davidson Wildcat, in a 2009 ESPN article.
“I don’t want Steph Curry or Monta Ellis to be Mark Jackson…. These two guys’ greatest strength is scoring the basketball.” — Mark Jackson on PTI.
In his media interviews, Mark Jackson stressed his defensive credentials, and his fierce commitment to “changing the Warriors culture” and “demanding accountability on the defensive end.” And he paid lip service to the Warriors need to become more effective in the low post, and get “easy baskets.” All music to Joe Lacob’s ears, no doubt. He hit all the major talking points.
But as the above quotes should clearly indicate, Mark Jackson understands the current identity of the Warriors roster, it’s strengths and weaknesses. He knows this team has to run to win. He knows that Stephen Curry is a scoring point guard. He knows that David Lee might be adequate in the low post, but is one of the best big men in the league in the pick and roll (because he said so during his Warriors broadcasts). He knows that Andris Biedrins should never, ever, touch the ball in the low post. And he clearly demonstrates a belief that a head coach must coach to his team’s strengths.
In short, Mark Jackson is no Keith Smart. Based on his statements, I don’t believe Jackson will do too much pounding of round pegs into square holes.
If the Warriors are truly undergoing a change of identity from a gloriously talented, offensively-oriented running team, into a walk-it-up, throw it into the low post, defensively-oriented team — as threatened by Joe Lacob — it won’t start with Mark Jackson. It will have to start with Lacob himself, and a complete refashioning of the Warriors roster.
I have some hope that Mark Jackson’s ability to see the big picture and think and coach dynamically may prevent that.
The Stephen Curry Angle
I’m certain one of the biggest factors in Jackson’s hiring is the fact that he was a superlative point guard in the NBA, known as a coach on the floor, and thus well able to undertake the development of the Warriors most important player: Stephen Curry.
Perhaps even more importantly, Jackson is well-respected around the NBA –among GMs, coaches and players alike — and thus should have Curry’s respect from the start. Unlike Keith Smart, he’s walked the walk, and knows what the hell he’s talking about.
This difference between Jackson and Keith Smart cannot be overstated.
I think it was clear from the start that Smart mishandled Curry terribly, and that friction developed between the two. Smart clearly subordinated Curry to Monta Ellis. In Smart’s simplistic universe, Monta was the scorer and the closer, and Curry the facilitator. This must have been a bitter pill for Curry to swallow, as it would be for any player possessed of such extraordinary talents that he wasn’t allowed to display. Particularly after Don Nelson had made Curry the leader of the team in his rookie season, to tremendous results.
One of the most important tasks facing Lacob when he took over was convincing Stephen Curry to remain with the Warriors at the end of his rookie deal. Lacob took a significant backward step in that regard by hiring Keith Smart. Last season was an absolute fiasco, that if my eyes didn’t deceive me, left Curry seriously disgruntled.
Now Lacob’s taken steps to turn that around. If Mark Jackson’s comments regarding Stephen Curry can be taken seriously — I also remember him praising Curry lavishly last season, but couldn’t find the quote — then Curry will be reinstalled where he belongs at the top of the Warriors hierarchy.
And if Jackson’s stated intent to fit the Warriors’ playing style to the talents of its roster actually carries over to the hardwood, Stephen Curry — and Monta Ellis — will flourish.
And Stephen Curry will remain a Warrior for a long, long time.
The Poor Defender Angle
One thing that will definitely help Jackson establish rapport with Curry is the fact that he was such a poor NBA defender himself. Jackson was slow as molasses as a point guard, far slower even than Curry. I think this will mean that Jackson will know what he can realistically ask Curry to do on the defensive end, and what he can’t. And Jackson will not only know how to scheme his team’s defense to mask Curry’s deficiencies, but he will be willing to do it.
A nice change from Keith Smart.
The Keys to the Franchise Angle
There is a rumbling that hiring Mark Jackson is a clear signal that the Warriors are handing the keys to the franchise to Stephen Curry. Given that Mark Jackson’s hiring can only be fully explained by referencing the importance of Curry to the franchise; given that by his own statements, Jackson can be expected to more fully empower Curry; and given that Jerry West insinuations and Monta Ellis trade rumors are currently rocketing around the internets…
I think this angle has legs.
The NBA Credibility Angle
Since taking over, Joe Lacob has been obsessed with establishing the credibility of the Warriors franchise, and of making the Warriors an attractive option for free agents. The hirings of Bob Myers and Jerry West were obviously made with this in mind. Before that, Lacob gave countless interviews stressing his determination to win and his willingness to spend money to do it. And he frequently mentioned how co-owner Peter Guber’s connections to the entertainment industry might attract free agents as well.
Mark Jackson’s hiring works very successfully in the same vein. This hiring was extremely popular among the players around the league, former and current. Jackson is widely respected, and very charismatic. He’s a star, and players want to be around stars.
It’s easy to see that hiring a Mike Budenholzer or Lawrence Frank wouldn’t generate nearly this kind of buzz among free agents to be. Might indeed have generated the opposite — buzz kill.
Whatever you might think of Lacob’s ownership to date, there can be no denying that both he and Guber are PR geniuses. And the hiring of Mark Jackson was a master stroke on a PR level. As was making the hire during the NBA Finals, while Mark Jackson is announcing them.
I don’t put this down. I think PR is extremely important in creating a successful franchise, and current ownership’s abilities in this regard are an enormous asset that the Warriors never had before.
Wasn’t that one of Cohan’s chief failures?
The Experience Angle
Obviously, if the Warriors had been able to hire Greg Popovich, Mike D’Antoni, George Karl or Alvin Gentry, that would have been a home run. Those guys would know what to do with the Warriors roster. But none of those guys were available. And Rick Adelman disqualified himself with his ambivalence.
Given what was available, I’m not sure experience was an important factor. Just as one example, would Mike Brown’s experience have made him a good choice for this team? Hell no.
In my mind the most important quality of a great head coach is the ability to think dynamically. To fit his strategic vision to his roster. Take Pat Riley, coach of the Showtime Lakers, and the smash-mouth Knicks. Or Don Nelson, who coached the defensively oriented Bucks, the Nellieball Warriors, and the balanced Mavericks. Or Popovich, who can play any style you want, and this year turned the Spurs into a running team. Or Karl, who slowed down the Nuggets to fit Anthony and Billups, and reverted to Nellieball as soon as they were gone.
Judging from his statements about Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis and the Warriors style of play, Mark Jackson seems to possess this essential quality. He’ll get the big picture.
Which makes him a huge upgrade from Keith Smart, who had all the experience you could wish for.
The Jeff van Gundy Karmic Angle
In my opinion, Jeff van Gundy found his true calling as an NBA color man. There is simply no better. The same, unfortunately, could not be said for his partner in crime, Mark Jackson, whose every cliched utterance makes me wince in pain.
But could it be that Jackson, by turn of the karmic wheel, has now found his true calling as well?
The Beat LA Angle
Jerry West was ecstatic in his interviews over the hiring of Mike Malone. Partly because he knows the Warriors will need a competent X’s and O’s guy with real experience on the bench, and he greatly admires Mike Malone. Partly also because Mike Malone was his guy and Mark Jackson was strictly Lacob’s guy.
But also, I’m certain, because the Warriors snatched Mike Malone from the greedy clutches of the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers wanted Malone as lead assistant, after already stealing away Lacob’s first choice to lead the Warriors, Mike Brown.
Hiring Mike Malone was delicious revenge, not just for West but for Warriors fans. Even better in my mind than if Lacob had actually gotten his first choice. Miraculously, Brown chose the Lakers, and the Warriors are far the better for it.
When was the last time the Warriors got to stick it to the Lakers?
The Celtic Angle
Obviously the Warriors dual hire of Jackson and Malone resembles closely the Celtic’s hire of Doc Rivers and Tom Thibodeau. Rivers the front man, the former point guard with NBA cred, the player’s coach, the PR guy with TV analyst experience. Thibodeau the lifer assistant, the behind-the-scenes genius with the X’s and O’s.
Little doubt that Lacob’s experience of the Celtics contributed to these hires, is there?
The Don Nelson/Mike Malone Angle
It’s even more amusing now, isn’t it, that when Don Nelson delegated the defense to Keith Smart, he was accused of being old and checking out?
The Pedigree Angle
Jerry West stated in his media interview that he wanted a coach from the coaching tree of Pat Riley, Larry Brown or Greg Popovich. In his mind, those coaches have had the most NBA success.
Although Jackson has no coaching experience, he might satisfy West’s prerequisite. Jackson played point guard on playoff teams for both Pat Riley and Larry Brown. And he also played for three other Hall of Fame coaches: Lou Carnasecca (St. John’s), Lenny Wilkens and Jerry Sloan.
Lead Assistant Mike Malone could also be viewed as coming from Popovich’s tree. He worked for several years as Mike Brown’s lead assistant on the Lebron Cavaliers. Mike Brown was an assistant for Greg Popovich.
The Mike Brown Angle
It could have been Mike Brown, of the slow-the-game-to-a-tortuous-crawl-to-establish-your-defensive-credentials-even-if-you-have-the-greatest-open-court-player-who’s-ever-lived school.
I’m eternally grateful it’s not.
The Mike Singletary Angle
Some fans and media have begun comparing the Mark Jackson hire to the 49ers’ Mike Singletary hire. I just don’t see it.
First of all, Mark Jackson is highly intelligent. We know this not merely from his career as a second coach on the court. But also from testimonials from GMs and players. For example, Donnie Walsh, as shrewd a GM as they come, recently called Jackson one of the sharpest basketball minds he knew, and stated that he would have hired him to GM the Knicks if Dolan would have allowed it. And John Amaechi, a pretty bright guy himself, in an interview with WarriorsWorld.net, stated Mark Jackson was the most “secretly brilliant” athlete he’d ever encountered.
Not words I’ve ever heard associated with Singletary.
Second, as a middle linebacker and defensive coach, Singletary knew only one side of the ball. He didn’t know squat about offense, and wasn’t that his biggest failing? By contrast, Mark Jackson — the floor general for Pat Riley’s Knicks and Larry Brown’s Clippers — is obviously intimately familiar with the X’s and O’s on both sides of the ball.
Third, Mark Jackson is hugely qualified to mentor the Warriors’ “quarterback,” Stephen Curry, and highly likely to establish a great rapport with him. Another thing Singletary failed spectacularly at, for obvious reasons.
This is one analogy I can’t roll with.
Considering what was available, a good hire from almost every angle. With maybe a 25% chance of becoming a great hire. (How would you have handicapped Don Nelson’s chance of success in his first year? Pat Riley’s? To mention just two guys with very limited coaching experience before they got their first gig.)
As mentioned above, I feel confident from his statements that Mark Jackson knows that a head coach must coach to his roster’s strengths. And I think he has the stature and the balls to do it, regardless of the interference of Joe Lacob. What remains to be seen is what shape the Warriors’ roster takes going into next season. That is going to be the biggest determinant of Jackson’s success.
Will Joe Lacob bag a decent big man in free-agency, as he has promised to do? Will he walk away with Nene? (Nene should be offered the max.) Will Lacob finally address the Warriors’ glaring need for a big two-way shooting guard? Will he do it the right way, without trading away the Warriors’ star closer? Will he allow Riley and West the freedom to fix the Warriors bench?
If all these questions are answered in the affirmative, in one year’s time Mark Jackson will be a hero.