Warriors coach Mark Jackson was transparent and emphatic, making no attempt to duck accountability for the reassignment of assistant coach Brian Scalabrine, a move as puzzling as it is oddly timed.
The move came over the weekend, after the 71st game of the season. It’s highly unusual for a coach to alter his staff with less than a month remaining in the season.
And it’s puzzling mostly because of Jackson’s rationale.
“Scal has been reassigned,” Jackson said. “It’s a difference in philosophies.
“And it’s a coach’s decision. I made this decision. I’m fortunate enough to have an ownership group and a management group that allow me to pick my staff. And I’m just going in a different direction. That’s that.”
Sounds clear enough, yes?
But Jackson’s explanation strikes a different note than the message he delivered in January about philosophical differences within coaching staffs.
No such thing, he indicated, when asked the so-called philosophical differences that led Brooklyn Nets coach Jason Kidd to demote assistant Lawrence Frank.
“To me, I think too much was made of it. I think it’s clownish,” Jackson said in January. ‘There’s no difference of opinions with my staff and I. They give suggestions. Some I go with. Some I don’t. But at the end of the day, it’s my decision and we are united in whichever way we decide to go. If you have a problem with that, you should not be my assistant coach. That’s the way I feel about it.
“I’m not saying that happened (in Brooklyn), but wherever it happens, it shouldn’t take place. So just disappointed in the way it was handled and how much credit is given to a head coach and how much fault is given. It’s a no-lose situation if I get credit when we win. But when we lose, Jason can’t coach a lick. He’s a Hall of Fame basketball player. He’s an all-time great. He’s going to be a heck of a basketball coach.”
Jackson didn’t understand the concept, insisting there can be no philosophical difference between a head coach and his assistants because, in essence, assistants don’t have the authority to philosophize.
That would seem particularly applicable in the case of Scalabrine. After an 11-year pro career as a fringe player, Scalabrine was brought in by Jackson last summer to be the No. 3 assistant, behind Pete Myers and Darren Erman.
So this is Scalabrine’s first season as a coach, at any level.
How does he conjure up the cojones to challenge Jackson, who spent 17 seasons as an NBA star and is in his third season coaching the Warriors?
Scalabrine was not available to elaborate, and a phone call placed to a number believed to be his went directly to a voice-mailbox, which was full.
Jackson didn’t really say how his philosophy would clash with any that Scalabrine may have tried to emphasize.
“With any staff, in any job, there’s going to be differences in philosophy,” Jackson said. “At the end of the day, whoever’s in charge makes a decision. And that’s the way you go. We’re united, whether we’re right or wrong or indifferent. That’s important. It’s a fun time, and we are looking forward to finishing up. It’s a time to be smiling and joyful.
“We are tied together. To me, that can’t be debated. But with any (circumstance), whether it be a coach or organization or what have you, you’re going to have differences of opinion. But when you come out of the door, you’re united. And that’s the way it’s supposed to be.”
Scalabrine is, by all accounts, affable and easygoing. Jackson’s assistants are not made available for interview, so there were no Brian Scalabrine feature stories.
Jackson clearly believes in the one-voice concept. One voice is fine, if it’s consistent.
In this instance, it is not.
–Monte Poole, CSNBayArea.com
The San Jose Sharks have completed their cheap-and-easy schedule (a.k.a. the Eastern Conference portion). So, for that matter, have the Anaheim Ducks.
In other words, the only schedule truth left to be told is whether Anaheim can make the best of its two games in hand and easier opponents. If so, the Sharks end up with the far less appealing spectre of an opening series with Los Angeles than with easier opponents like Minnesota, Phoenix or Dallas.
And yes, it matters greatly, because the winner between the Sharks and Kings will almost surely be sufficiently beaten up and beaten down by the time the second round begins.
This is one of the unintended gifts of the NHL playoff format, in which the second and third place teams in each division are matched no matter their relative merits or shortcomings. The league has decided that familiarity breeds contempt, and the Kings and Sharks are quite contemptuous of each other.
In other words, the Sharks would like to avoid the Kings so as not to have to expend the extra energy and power required to beat the Kings. Los Angeles’ alternative to San Jose is Anaheim, which is far less a bargain.
To do so, though, the Sharks need Anaheim to fail massively down the stretch, because the Ducks’ schedule is totally Western Conference but almost entirely of Eastern Conference quality. Anaheim gained 43 points in 32 games from the East this year (San Jose did even better, gaining 46), but its real benefit came from the 56 points it got in 39 games against the West, the bulk of them against the upper half of the conference.
We know this because of Anaheim’s remaining games:
At Los Angeles
In other words, Anaheim’s next eight games are against the hopelessly marooned bottom half of the West, against which the Ducks are already 10-2 this year.
San Jose’s remaining 11 games are somewhat more daunting:
Four doomed teams, four playoff teams and one bubble team. In other words, the Sharks have fewer games and more difficult ones at the same time.
In fact, for those of you who worry about such things, the Sharks may not only be unable to hold off Anaheim, but may also be passed down the stretch by Chicago and even Colorado. The Blackhawks still have six more games against the East among their 10, although two, at Boston and Pittsburgh, can be considered daunting.
Colorado takes a bigger stretch, as the Avalanche are seven points behind San Jose. On the other hand, they have two games in hand and two with the Sharks, so while they play seven of their final 11 away from home, they are not yet doomed because they have the third-best road record in the league (behind St. Louis and the New York Rangers).
So the up-side here for you annoying optimists is that the Sharks have their 10th consecutive playoff berth, and they remain atop their division and second in the conference behind the Blues (who are likely going to run away from the field with their own remaining schedule).
Because they had a book written about them, and because they remain darlings of the sabermetric world, and, yes, because Brad Pitt portrayed their general manager in a movie, a certain perception chases the Oakland A’s: Whatever they are doing, they’re ahead of the curve.
It brings a small sense of delight to the men who run the organization that has won back-to-back American League West championships with a meager payroll and a roster full of Q-rating-deficient players. Sometimes it’s true. Sometimes their small baseball-operations staff does unearth the little inefficiencies that persist in an increasingly intelligent game.
In this case – the one in which the low-revenue, small-budget A’s commit $15 million to two relief pitchers and guarantee two years to another coming off surgery – there was no algorithm, no flaw in the logic of teams that spit at the excessive price of bullpen help, no situation in which the A’s pulled a fast one. The great Russell Carleton at Baseball Prospectus posited that relievers might be undervalued due to their work in high-leverage situations, and perhaps the A’s were taking advantage of that.
Nope. This was nothing more than the A’s exercising one of their core principles: spend wisely. With $15 million of leeway in their budget, Oakland didn’t face much of a choice at all. The best everyday players wanted in the range of $15 million per annum for multiple years, a commitment the A’s were unwilling to make. Nobody recognized how badly the market for Nelson Cruz, Ervin Santana and Kendrys Morales would collapse. Armed with those facts and happy to fortify a bullpen with the sixth-best ERA in baseball last year, Oakland traded for a $10 million closer (Jim Johnson) and $5 million setup man (Luke Gregerson), then added left-hander Eric O’Flaherty in hopes he recaptures his pre-Tommy John surgery dominance.
“Ultimately what we’re trying to do with the money we have is get the most bang for our buck,” A’s general manager Billy Beane said. “Even if we’ve got a strength, we’d rather add a good addition for a dollar.”
Beane let out a chuckle.
“If you pull back the curtain,” he said, “you’ll see the obvious.”
This isn’t a Wizard of Oz situation, not like the A’s fast-tracking the sport’s statistical revolution. A confluence of factors conspired for the moves to make sense.
First was the money. The A’s had it to spend. They want to win now, knowing the richer Texas Rangers and richest Los Angeles Angels could shatter their window of opportunity at any moment. Money not spent today may not be there tomorrow, so spend it they would, and as much as the idea of spending eight figures on a closer pained them – and rest assured it does – the A’s value judgment skewed toward relief when other positions’ markets grew.
Second was how well the A’s matched up with their trade partners. Baltimore resolved to get rid of Johnson rather than pay him the $10 million or so he would earn through arbitration, and it was either non-tender him or trade him. Oakland offered second baseman Jemile Weeks, a fungible piece. San Diego wanted a left-handed outfield bat to potentially spell right-handed hitters Carlos Quentin, Chris Denorfia, Cameron Maybin and Kyle Blanks. Oakland’s surplus of outfielders, and a near-even salary with Gregerson, made Seth Smith the perfect return.
Third, and perhaps most important, was the length of the deals. The aphorism that there’s no such thing as a bad one-year contract especially applies to relief pitchers, whose year-over-year inconsistencies leave teams struggling annually to cobble together an effective bullpen. It’s why the free-agent market for relief pitchers cratered this offseason. There’s Mariano Rivera, and there’s everyone else, and almost everyone else has trouble stacking consecutive dominant seasons. O’Flaherty’s deal – $1.5 million this season, $5.5 million next – is more like a 1 ½-year deal, getting cost certainty by taking on the risk of a post-op pitcher.
Fourth was the sneakiest part of the trades. Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle are two of the A’s best relievers. Both offer compelling reasons to close games. When Grant Balfour left as a free agent, it was assumed if the A’s chose not to pursue a ninth-inning pitcher, either could step in. The problem: Once closers hit arbitration, their salaries skyrocket to unsustainable levels. It’s why Baltimore dumped Johnson. Cook is arbitration-eligible after this offseason; Doolittle is eligible following 2015. A good closer’s first-year arbitration salary is in the vicinity of $4 million. To avoid a year of paying that with Johnson was akin to buying a car with a rebate. Johnson’s greatest save may be the $3 million extra Oakland would’ve had to give Cook next season.
Fifth was what proved true last week. Opening-day starter Jarrod Parker underwent his second Tommy John surgery. Starter A.J. Griffin is out with an arm injury, too. To have the sort of bullpen depth the A’s do is absolutely vital in staving off injuries. They had no problem absorbing Jesse Chavez and Tommy Milone’s defection to the rotation. They’ve done fine without Cook, who’s nursing a sore shoulder. Johnson and Gregerson and Doolittle and Dan Otero and Fernando Abad and Evan Scribner and others give them plenty of faith that this expensive bullpen will be every bit as good as last year’s.
“I didn’t think our relievers could get much better,” Oakland catcher John Jaso said. “Then we trade for those guys, and it’s like, ‘No way.’ They want to make it a five- or six-inning game for the starters, and that’s fine by me.”
Much of Johnson and Gregerson’s appeal stemmed from their reliability. Johnson is a workhorse, even as a closer. Gregerson eats innings, even throwing a slider more than half the time. Putting faith in bullpen pieces when everyone else in baseball is running from them highlights how even when they’re not trying to go against the grain, the A’s prove counterintuitive.
–Jeff Passan, Yahoo Sports