According to a report, Golden State Warriors backup center Jermaine O’Neal is pondering whether this will be his last NBA season, but says coach Mark Jackson would be a big factor in his deciding to return for a 19th year.
“It’s a couple reasons why I will come back,” O’Neal told Diamond Leung of the San Jose Mercury News. “This fan base, this organization is first class and obviously my teammates are great as well.
“But the No. 1 reason that I will come back and play another year is because of Coach Jackson. I’m absolutely, 100 percent positive about that. He makes it easy to come to this gym every day and there’s not a lot of coaches that do that.”
O’Neal called it “ridiculous” that there is any talk of the Warriors firing Jackson, who is in his third year with the team.
“To me, it’s one of the most unfair things that I’ve seen in a long time,” O’Neal said. “And it truly is a team that’s 18 games over .500. Eighteen. And we’re talking about firing a coach with 10, 11 games left?
“Here’s the facts. To everybody that’s negative out there, you may not ever see this again. I know that firsthand because I’ve been in the position. It may take 10 years to be back in that position, so do you want to accept us with open arms and continue to show the support?”
The Warriors, 45-27 and sixth in the Western Conference, are on track for back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time since 1991 and 1992 and it would be just the third playoff appearance for Golden State in the last 20 seasons.
The Warriors endured 12 straight losing seasons from 1994-95 through 2005-06 before breaking through with a 42-40 mark in 2006-07, upsetting the 65-win Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs that spring.
The next year, the Warriors were 48-34 but missed the playoffs by two games in an absolutely loaded Western Conference; the Nuggets were the No. 8 seed with 50 wins that season.
Golden State was 23-43 in Jackson’s first season, the lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign, but improved to 47-35 last year. The Warriors only need a .500 finish to win 50 games for the first time since they were 50-32 in 1993-94.
The fact is that the Warriors have only qualified for the playoffs nine times since winning the NBA title all the way back in 1975 and they haven’t advanced beyond the conference semifinals since 1976.
According to basketball-reference.com’s Simple Rating System, which is a team rating that takes into account average point differential and strength of schedule, the Warriors are the fifth-best team in the NBA this season, trailing only the Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Rockets.
Long known as an offense-first team that was leaky as a sieve defensively, the Warriors are currently third in the NBA with a defensive rating of 99.5 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com/Stats, trailing only renowned defensive standout clubs from Indiana and Chicago.
The Warriors have assembled a talented squad and Jackson has done a nice job of getting the most out of it. After a little bit of success last season, expectations were through the roof this season.
Yes, there have been inexplicable losses at home to the likes of Denver, Minnesota, Washington, Charlotte and Cleveland, but Golden State is also one of six teams that has already clinched a winning record on the road, where they are 21-15. In terms of winning percentage, that is the third-best mark in the league behind San Antonio and Oklahoma City.
There’s a lot to like about this team and Jackson is a big part of it. Fans might not want to be so quick to forget how bleak the last two decades really were.