Mark Jackson should be sitting on a block of ice, but it seems the Golden State Warriors front office turns up the heat of his coaching chair at every opportunity.
Jackson, whose current contract expires after the 2014-15 season, has helped the Warriors punch back-to-back playoff tickets for the first time since 1991-92. The team is one victory shy of its first 50-win season since 1993-94 and has three chances to hit that mark—or surpass it.
For a franchise that’s had to endure empty decades, engineering this type of success is borderline statue-worthy. With this front office, though, the coach will be lucky to get a cookie at his exit interview.
“We have to win a championship,” co-owner Joe Lacob said at a First Graduate fundraiser, via Diamond Leung of Bay Area News Group. “…We will be a failure if we do not win the championship.”
Jackson might have overseen a water-to-wine transformation with this team, but the executives still want more. Like a-bottle-of-your-finest-please kind of more.
With $450 million invested in the franchise, the executive staff is certainly free to desire as it pleases. The fact that Lacob can entertain such lofty aspirations and keep a straight face while doing it suggests this is more than a baseless dream.
What it doesn’t determine, though, is whether the front office has given Jackson a championship-caliber roster.
The individual pieces are undoubtedly intriguing.
Stephen Curry (23.6 points, 8.5 assists) has received his NBA superstar membership card. Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut have each tossed their hats into the Defensive Player of the Year race. Klay Thompson and David Lee have produced a combined 36.7 points a night, not a bad number for any second and third options.
However, taken as a whole, the Warriors grade out as a good team—not a great one. Their defense has been the toughest in a fully loaded Western Conference (99.5 defensive rating, third overall), but their offense (105.0 efficiency rating, 12th) and winning percentage (.620, eighth) trend closer to decent than dominant.
Considering where this organization was when Jackson took over in 2011 (91-155 in the three seasons prior), progress is obviously being made. There are steps being taken in the right direction.
Steps don’t seem to interest this ownership group, though. If they did, Jackson would be working out a contract extension now, instead of making an apparent (and completely unnecessary) fight to keep his job.
“Look at the results,” Jeff Van Gundy told Marc Berman of the New York Post. “They were horrible before he came, now they are excellent. He has developed players. They defend. If the media has a problem with winning, then I guess the alternative is to lose again like they did for the previous 15, 20 years.”
To be clear, Jackson isn’t a perfect coach.
The defense has been statistically strong, but it’s far from being shred-proof (the Dubs have allowed 110-plus points 18 times this season). The offense has far too many weapons to be producing these kind of efficiency numbers, and a somewhat stubborn approach by Jackson seems to be the culprit.
“The Warriors tend to fall in love with isolation ball,” B/R’s Fred Katz wrote. “It’s always nice to see a coach who prioritizes exploiting matchups, but Mark Jackson may prefer that far more than he should.”
As for talent development, the results are something of a mixed bag. Forward Draymond Green (6.2 points and 4.9 rebounds in 21.9 minutes a night) has thrived in a jack-of-all-trades role, but sophomore Harrison Barnes (9.3 points on 39.4 percent shooting) has struggled mightily. Rookies Nemanja Nedovic and Ognjen Kuzmic have never held spots in Jackson’s rotation.
The coach has performed a lot like his team: good, not great. Given the revolving door to the coach’s box this franchise has seen (Jackson is the Warriors’ ninth coach since the 1999-2000 season), good should be good enough.
Remember, this is only Jackson’s third year at the helm of any team. He was a player and an analyst before taking over. He’s still learning this profession.
It’s a process not unlike what this team is experiencing as a whole. The Warriors have spent so much time playing without expectations, it’s hard setting any bar and asking them to reach it—let alone one that reaches all the way to the championship stage.
As much as Jackson tries to distance his team from the organization’s woeful past, those memories can’t be erased. That’s really what makes this rapid rise as special as it is.
“We know the history of this franchise, and to keep making strides toward being a perennial playoff contender, these are big strides,” Curry said after Friday’s playoff-clinching 112-95 rout of the Los Angeles Lakers, via Greg Beacham of The Associated Press.
Those strides have happened under Jackson’s watch. Yet that fact alone won’t keep him pacing the sidelines inside Oracle Arena.
“My job will be determined on winning,” the coach said, per Antonio Gonzalez of The Associated Press.
What kind of winning he’s talking about remains unknown. What seems clear is that signs of support from players like Curry and veteran center Jermaine O’Neal won’t be enough. Not when those sentiments aren’t being echoed by the front office.
Lacob has had the opportunity to show a sign of faith in his coach, but so far, he’s declined. Rather, he’s focused on their personal relationship, as if such a thing holds any importance in the business world.
“I will say one thing: Mark and I get along very well,” Lacob said, via Leung. “This idea that Mark and I don’t get along I will just address that and say that’s not true. We get along very well.”
Does that remove one single piece of charcoal from the fire burning under Jackson’s seat? It’s hard to see how it could.
Even if Jackson doesn’t need to deliver a title this season, what might his job-saving benchmark be? Assuming current playoff positions hold and the postseason follows the current seeding, the Warriors road through the West would pit them against the Los Angeles Clippers, Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs.
Will Jackson’s fate really be decided over his ability to pull off an upset(s)? It’s not as if Golden State’s playoff schedule will likely include an easy out.
There’s a very real chance Jackson’s future will hinge on Golden State’s postseason success. Lacob has made it perfectly clear he won’t make an evaluation of his coach until after this ride is finished.
“Remember this: What matters is at the end of the year,” Lacob said, via Leung. “We take a look back at how we did and see where we can improve.”
The Warriors could make a title run or get bounced in the opening round. Neither outcome would be all that surprising.
With that in mind, Jackson’s job security could come down to chance. A crunch-time bucket here or a rimmed-out buzzer-beater there could determine whether he’s set for the future or scanning through the want ads.
Until that time comes, the coach will be left sitting on a seat burning hotter than it should. Maybe that isn’t setting him up to fail, but it’s hard to see how that brings him or his team any closer to success.
Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.