Mark Jackson deserved better. That is not necessarily to say he deserved to remain as Warriors coach. Joe Lacob and his ownership group paid $450 million for the right to hire or fire any coach they please, for whatever reason they please. What Jackson deserved is to have those reasons laid out to the public in a clear, understandable fashion, in at least some specific detail. The jettisoning of two assistant coaches late in the season was smoke, but what exactly was the fire?
Was he too arrogant? In what way? Did he defy Lacob or other front-office personnel somehow? Was he too religious? Not skilled enough with X's and O's? Was he taking office supplies home with him? Binge-watching Game of Thrones when he should have been studying film?
Even after Lacob's comments on Tuesday, shortly after the Warriors had announced that Jackson had been fired after three seasons, it wasn't entirely clear why the man who led them to consecutive playoff appearances for the first time in 22 years had to go. Lacob sounded like someone who was trying to give the appearance of candor without really offering any information. "I think that the decision to not bring Mark back is not willy-nilly," he said in a post-news conference interview with Bay Area media members from the San Jose Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle and Comcast Bay Area. "There is a reason. There are reasons."
And those reasons are?
"There were certainly organizational issues, without getting into any details, and we're not going to, that we would have to say were not ideal," Lacob said. He added that Jackson did a good job of "managing down," but that in his next job he'll have to be better at "managing up and sideways."
Understand yet? Didn't think so.
Lacob did say that the Warriors' on-court performance -- they went from 23 wins in Jackson's first year to 47 last season to 51 this year --wasn't the reason for the ouster. At least, not exactly. But maybe a little. He thought the Warriors were capable of a top-four finish in the tough Western Conference, and they finished sixth, three games out of the fourth spot, losing their first-round playoff series to the Clippers in seven games while playing without injured starting center Andrew Bogut. "I would not say it was unsatisfactory," Lacob said. "I would say that it did not meet our goals. Could we maybe have been a little better? Yeah."
The result of all this hinting around is that Jackson leaves with rumors stuck to him like gum on his shoe, and without anything concrete against which to defend himself. The speculation that he clashed with Jerry West, the Warriors' highly respected consultant, floats out there, unaddressed. The rumblings that he was condescending to front-office personnel are neither proven nor disproven. All that's left is to assume, if you buy what the Warriors are selling, is that if they dumped Jackson after two very solid seasons, he must have done something. He must have really been a pain to work with, in some way. That's hardly fair to the coach who helped make the Warriors relevant again.
Even if it's true that Jackson was prickly at times, and difficult to work with for everyone but his players, he shares that description with any number of successful coaches, including one in the Bay Area, Jim Harbaugh of the 49ers. Just as fans don't much care whether players are cooperative with the media, they're not interested in whether coaches play nice with the guys in suits. Winning is all that matters.
Jackson won more than the Warriors are used to winning, and Golden State fans know how easily winning can go away, how one fatefully wrong decision can ruin everything. They remember how the clash between coach Don Nelson and rookie No. 1 pick Chris Webber in 1993-94 derailed a promising Warriors future, and how the brief, happy era of the We Believe Warriors ended when the team allowed point guard Baron Davis to leave as a free agent in 2008. Even fans who are willing to give Lacob and general manager Bob Myers the benefit of the doubt have to wonder whether management has gotten a little too cute here, a little too sure that if it found Mark Jackson, it can find a better version of Mark Jackson. Its former coach might not be the only one who's cocky.
Lacob is a risk taker, and he has taken a big one here. Give him credit for not being satisfied with merely transforming the Warriors into a good team; he wants them to be a championship team. If he hits a home run with the next coach, his reasons for dismissing the old one will be of little consequence. To do that, Golden State's brain trust will have to be smart and shrewd enough to hire someone who connects with the players, motivates them and leads them to the next level of the NBA pecking order. In other words, they'll need to find someone who can do exactly what Mark Jackson just did.