Andrew Bogut‘s fractured rib, as reported by the Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com), sends the Golden State Warriors stumbling into the postseason at a colossal disadvantage, and nobody’s footing is less sure than that of head coach Mark Jackson.
On the hot seat throughout his third year in the big chair, Jackson was expected to lead the win-now Warriors to a great season. By turning in one that has been merely “very good,” he’s opened himself up to loads of speculation about his future.
Earlier in the year owner Joe Lacob offered a tepid endorsement of his coach but followed up with some pretty ominous comments, per Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News:
Maybe [Jackson] is feeling it a little and he should be feeling pressure. That’s a good thing. I feel the pressure for this team to perform. We’ve invested a lot of time, a lot of money, a lot of thinking, a lot of effort, and we’re going to continue to do so.
Throughout his tenure, Jackson has reacted with consistent defiance whenever challenged. Back in March, I wrote this about the combative coach and his penchant for attacking the media:
He’s defensive, possessed of the kind of outward self-assurance that typically comes in just two types of people: those who are so irrationally confident in themselves that they can’t even process criticism, and those with such deep-seated insecurity that they’re compelled to lash out when their capability comes into question.
Some of the confrontational tone of Jackson’s press conferences has dissipated, but he’s still the same guy.
He’s spoken extensively about how fans and media should be satisfied with his team’s performance because things haven’t been better in Warriors country for decades, per Steve Berman of BayAreaSportsGuy.com: “I mean, we are 10 games over .500. Some of you guys haven’t seen that in a long, long time. So keep on acting like you have.”
He’s not wrong, but he’s also not exuding self-assurance by lashing out.
Jackson’s demeanor has been a turnoff to the fans and media he patronizes with condescending hot air. There’s no question his preacher’s rhetoric and tone play poorly with a largely secular Bay Area, as ESPN.com’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss noted earlier this year:
If you’re looking for a reason as to why a seemingly successful coach lacks fan support, you might tilt your head in this direction. The Bay Area isn‘t the Bible Belt, after all. According to The Atlantic, it’s actually the least religious major metro area of the country, with only 24 percent of residents claiming “very religious” status. Factor in how NBA fans skew young, plus how young people skew secular, and you have a less than ideal audience for Jackson’s (literal) preaching.
However Lacob feels about Jackson personally, the hard-charging owner’s patience for his coach’s professional performance is wearing thin. Lacob is smart enough to see through the whole “be satisfied with 50 wins” schtick. He knows success isn‘t objective; it’s measured by weighing achievement against capability.
There’s a pervasive sense that the Warriors, as good as they are, have fallen short of their ceiling—a ceiling which, to Lacob‘s eye, is extremely high.
He told Diamond Leung of Bay Area News Group:
I’m 58 years old now, and I’ve been successful. I’ve made a lot of money. I’ve done a lot of things I’ve wanted to do in life, but now we have this new venture, which is the Warriors. A second career, if you will, and all I can think about it is, we have to win a championship. I will be a failure. We will be a failure if we do not win the championship.
The Warriors probably weren’t a championship team before Bogut went down. All signs point to him being out at least through the first round, which means they’re definitely not a championship team without him.
And with Lacob‘s lofty expectations, the looming first-round out against the Los Angeles Clippers (or possibly the Oklahoma City Thunder) means Jackson probably won’t survive the summer. The fact that the head coach is heading into the final year of his deal without the security of an extension is on its own an indication he might be out of a job even if the Dubs score a first-round upset.
But is that fair?
For all of Jackson’s limitations—rotations, lineups, in-game adjustments, offensive innovation, to name a few—the players on the roster believe in him. That should count for something.
Cutting him loose after a potential one-and-done postseason without Bogut hardly seems like a fair shake.
That’s the other angle here: Bogut‘s absence might not doom Jackson. Instead, it might save him:
Really, it all depends on the patience and mercy of Lacob. Assuming he hasn’t already made a decision on Jackson, he and general manager Bob Myers will consider the team’s performance relative to expectations, the problematic loss of two assistant coaches in a matter of weeks and all the rest of the factors that should figure into Jackson’s fate.
The absence of Bogut will complicate that calculus more than anything else.
Jackson sermonized all year about his Warriors being a no-excuse basketball team. Now a built-in excuse might save his job.
Oh, the irony.