The Golden State Warriors are securely in the postseason as the sixth seed in the Western Conference with a 44-27 record, their best record since the 2007-2008 season when they finished 48-34. But in 2008, the West was so competitive that the Warriors missed the playoffs and the team imploded.
The talent in Golden State is a big part of why the Warriors are where they are today, sporting one of the best starting fives and defensive teams in the entire NBA.
But talent can take you so far in the NBA; you need a strong coach to be successful. Look at the New York Knicks. They have Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Amare Stoudemire on their team, three solid players that should be able to lead them to the postseason along with a few role players. But they do not have a strong coach or coach that can control all the egos in that locker room. Mike Woodson used to have the respect of his players in New York, but it seems as though his tactics have fallen on deaf ears and the result has been dreadful. The Knicks are in danger of missing the playoffs in the inferior Eastern Conference after being one of the best teams just last season.
The Warriors do not have this problem with their man in charge, Mark Jackson. Jackson took over Golden State in 2011 after Don Nelson was fired. From the start, Jackson emphasized defense and encouraged his players no matter what the circumstance. Pundits and fans were skeptical of his philosophy since the Warriors had not played defense since the mid-70s and were known as a run-and-gun team, trying to outscore every opponent. Before his first year, he said they were going to make the playoffs and they probably would have made the postseason if they did not trade their most popular player, Monta Ellis, for the fragile Andrew Bogut. Bogut gave them a legit center and defensive presence, Jackson’s first move to change the culture. This was a move for the future and has paid dividends ever since the Warriors acquired the big man.
The next year, the Warriors reached the postseason, earning the sixth seed in the Western Conference. Under Jackson’s leadership, this team thrived by having the best chemistry in the NBA with new stars emerging at every position. Stephen Curry showed the world his potential by striping three after three in an upset over the Denver Nuggets. Harrison Barnes stepped up huge for the injured David Lee, playing a great stretch-four, and dominating his opponents on the block and in the pick-and-roll. Klay Thompson had his coming-out party in San Antonio in Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals and Andrew Bogut was an absolute beast in the postseason, blocking and rebounding every shot imaginable.
All these players thrived under Jackson’s leadership and the thought of getting rid of him seems ridiculous. The criticism of Jackson this season has been that the Warriors’ offense runs too many isolation plays and does not move the ball enough to get good, quality looks. This may be true, but lots of these isolation plays have been effective, especially lately with Klay Thompson. Golden State has been taking advantage of Thompson’s length and his newfound aggression of driving to the basket instead of settling for a contested jumper. The result has been amazing and Thompson, not Stephen Curry, may be the Warriors’ most valuable player coming down the stretch heading into the postseason because of his ability to defend.
There were some games earlier in the season that the Warriors dropped at home (Denver, Charlotte, Washington and Cleveland) that should have been easy wins, and the fans jumped on Jackson for losing to these inferior teams. These games should have been victories but teams have off nights, even the best teams. The Warriors are still securely in the postseason with their best ball ahead of them. Fans seem to forget that this franchise has been terrible for two decades, making the playoffs only twice and to expect this team to turn into an elite team overnight is ridiculous. We just need to calm down and enjoy the ride Jackson has us on.
The other criticism of Jackson has been the regression of Harrison Barnes. Barnes was a vital part of the Warriors playoff run last season, but with the acquisition of Andre Iguodala and the improvement of Draymond Green, Barnes looks lost in the offense. Jackson continues to tell Barnes to be aggressive but if Barnes misses his first shot, he gets lost in the shuffle with scorers like Curry, Thompson and Lee. It seems as though Barnes has lost his confidence in his shot and is not slashing to the hoop with any consistency.
The bench was a problem for Golden State earlier in the season but that has been fixed with the acquisitions of Jordan Crawford and Steve Blake. So if the only criticisms of Jackson are his isolation plays, losing a few games at home they should have won and the regression of Barnes while the team is still 17 games over .500, then there isn’t much of an argument. The argument may be stronger if Thompson continued to struggle, but now Thompson and Curry are living up to Jackson’s statement as the “greatest shooting backcourt in the history of the game”.
If the Warriors were to fire Jackson, hypothetically, who would replace him? George Karl has ties to the organization and coached Iguodala in Denver, but Iguodala wanted out of Denver and play for Jackson so that would not be a prudent move. Lionel Hollins has had success in the NBA, leading Memphis to the Conference Finals last season, but he was fired after the run. Why would you fire your coach after reaching the Conference Finals? It probably had to deal with the coach and the management not seeing eye-to-eye, a red flag for the Warriors, who have best chemistry in the NBA with Jackson being in sync with GM Bob Myers and owner Joe Lacob. There are also the Van Gundy brothers (Jeff and Stan), but both are in television and would cost a pretty penny to pull them away from their cushy jobs.
So there are not many options better than Mark Jackson, who is on his way to leading this franchise to only their FIFTH 50-win season in their entire history and second consecutive playoff appearance. He has changed this franchise from being a doormat to a perennial contender. His players love him and it would be a mistake to get rid of him.