It can’t be easy to have a birthday on April Fools’ Day, especially when you’re an NBA coach who, day after day lately, suddenly finds yourself fielding job-security questions.
Yet something tells me Mark Jackson is going to have only fond recollections about this particular April 1.
“Everything worked out in the end,” Jackson said with a smile when it was all over.
That’s not a sentiment you hear often from those in Jackson’s gloomy line of work, but this indeed turned out to be a pretty idyllic Tuesday for the head coach. His 49th birthday began with the unexpected sight of celebratory Coach Jackson T-shirts being passed out by Warriors equipment manager Eric Housen and then actually worn by countless members of the traveling party. It ended with the Warriors escaping Dallas with a 122-120 overtime victory — one watched courtside by owner Joe Lacob and most of Golden State’s front-office team — on a Stephen Curry rainbow dagger from the wing that dropped through despite the fact Curry looked as though he didn’t even have the chance to get his feet set.
“I almost started moonwalking,” Jackson said of seeing Curry’s bomb connect.
Without the injured Andrew Bogut and David Lee and fresh off a demoralizing home defeat to the New York Knicks in which they managed a paltry 84 points, Jackson’s Warriors attempted only six free throws and still found a way to inflict Dallas’ third overtime defeat at home in the span of 13 days.
The scenes at American Airlines Center, from morning to evening for those in the company of the visiting team, reminded you that the Warriors sport some of the league’s most enviable togetherness.
That has to register as one of the major factors in the coming days, weeks and months as Jackson’s fate in Golden State is decided.
Last week’s reassignment of assistant coach Brian Scalabrine to Golden State’s D-League franchise in nearby Santa Cruz has put Jackson and his Bay Area future in the crosshairs, mostly because it invites detractors to suggest that the curious timing of the move is symptomatic of more serious discord behind the scenes.
“Now we’re supposedly ‘dysfunctional,’” Curry told ESPN.com an hour before tipoff Tuesday night, adding his own air quotes and insisting that you can’t find anyone playing for Jackson who would make such a claim.
The real deal? As Curry sees it?
“Coach inspires every single person in this locker room,” Golden State’s franchise player said.
But will that be enough to keep Jackson on the Warriors’ bench beyond this season? We’ll honestly know that only after seeing how far Golden State goes in the playoffs.
The reality is that Lacob and his staff, after adding the multipurpose talents of Andre Iguodala to the group that made San Antonio work so hard to win the teams’ second-round series last spring, expected a clear step forward this season. And nothing is clear about the Warriors’ fate, thanks to that crazy jumble of teams from No. 5 through No. 9 in the West that will exclude one very qualified squad from the postseason and exposes pretty much everyone in the conference to the threat of an early exit.
The Warriors, though, are advised to be careful.
A first-round exit would certainly put Jackson in immediate danger. And you can probably do the math on how perilous things get if the Dubs miss the playoffs altogether. But the overwhelming support Jackson gets from his players, particularly Curry, is no small thing.
I’ve always believed it’s the most important thing in coaching, actually, beyond having good players.
The clashes with Scalabrine and former top aide Mike Malone last season have doomed Jackson to unavoidable whispers about how he coexists with his assistant coaches. Skepticism about Jackson’s tactical nous isn’t going away either, until there’s more than one impressive playoff run on his résumé.
Yet allow me to say again that coaching success in the NBA — after acknowledging that the pure talent any coach possesses is the most important variable — rides more on player buy-in than anything else.
So if the Warriors do decide to make a coaching change at season’s end, they better be sure. They better be certain that they are making themselves stronger. You don’t chuck away the sort of solidarity that Jackson has achieved with his guys over a few frustrating defeats at home or a flap involving the fourth assistant.
You can’t just turn to a more experienced X’s-and-O’s man — even someone as accomplished as, say, Stan Van Gundy — and bank on him building the sort of bond that Jackson undeniably has with these Warriors. You can learn many of the things Jackson doesn’t bring to the bench yet. You’re going to grow as a coach with time. But the way Jackson gets this group to respond can’t be taken for granted, since it’s by no means the NBA norm.
So even a failure to get out of the first round, to me, shouldn’t trigger an automatic dismissal in Jackson’s case. Given how tough first-round matchups are bound to be in the West, they have to wait and see what all the circumstances are.
Lacob’s logic was sound after last season when he merely picked up Jackson’s 2014-15 option as opposed to extending him even longer. He didn’t want to overreact to one good postseason, which is understandable. So he ensured that Jackson would not be a lame-duck coach this season and put the onus on his young coach to deliver again.
The question is: How can anyone suggest Jackson hasn’t delivered? For all the hand-wringing about some of his lineups and rotations and reluctance to call timeouts — as well as his fondness for isolation basketball and an ill-advised penchant for us-against-the-world rants that have fed into the notion that he’s overly defensive about his work — Jackson has the Warriors headed for their first 50-win season since 1993-94.
Since Chris Webber was a rookie.
– Marc Stein, ESPN.com
Here’s an idea that can save the Cal athletic department – and, consequently, California taxpayers – some money.
Cal should junk the executive search firm in the hunt for a replacement for basketball coach Mike Montgomery. And use Montgomery as its personal Bears search firm.
Great idea, huh?
Montgomery made an unusually impassioned plea Monday for athletic director Sandy Barbour to name associate head coach Travis DeCuire as his successor. Rarely does an outgoing coach use his farewell platform for such forceful lobbying. But Montgomery firmly believes DeCuire is the right person to lead Cal men’s basketball into the future. It’s one of the reasons he’s comfortable stepping down.
“I feel like we’ve got the program positioned where it’s very positive,” Montgomery said. “We have people in place who can take this thing forward.”
“Travis should have the job.”
Yet Barbour confirmed that Cal will hire DHR International to conduct a nationwide search. That’s the same firm that discovered Sonny Dykes, the football coach who – thus far – has not exactly been a fabulous hit at Berkeley. Cal has not revealed how much it spent for DHR International’s help, but according to Forbes magazine, fees can range up to $250,000 for a Division I coach.
DeCuire has been at Cal for all six years of Montgomery’s tenure. He understands the campus culture and the issues surrounding Cal athletics, including the recent, abysmal graduation rates. He has been included on lists of up-and-coming young African American coaches.
“Players in the program trust Travis,” Montgomery said. “That’s huge in today’s business.”
But Barbour has been under pressure recently. There’s speculation about her job security, and she may want to make a splashy hire. A relatively anonymous assistant may not have the kind of national cachet and impact she thinks she needs.
However, DHR International is part of Barbour’s problem. Unless Dykes makes significant improvement, he will continue to reflect poorly on Barbour.
– Ann Killion, San Francisco Chronicle
Major League Baseball typically trails the rest of the pro sports world when it comes to logical, technological and societal advancement, but the good old boys at MLB do usually come around eventually, and the expanded use of instant replay is finally here.
That’s a good thing. But as Tuesday night’s Giants game in Arizona illustrated, there’s much work — i.e., refinement — to be done. The challenge process needs serious work.
Now, it has to be noted that the Giants’ challenge was ill-advised. Duh. It’s why they lost it. But you could make a case that they lost the game itself because of that lost challenge, which prevented them from challenging a far more significant and far more conclusive-by-replay play — Matt Cain’s tag at the plate after a wild pitch — about 30 seconds later.
The point of replay is to use the technology available to, whenever possible, get the call right. Otherwise, why even open the can? But a bad call stood because MLB’s good old boys came up with a bad new system.
How about this: Make any questionable scoring play reviewable without a challenge. Granted, that would require umpires to police themselves and their egos, and that’s no small challenge.
It’s better than the challenge system, though. That’s just plain dumb.
While we’re ranting about new systems, kudos to MLB for ramping up its drug testing. Like replay, it’s not perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction.
The next step should be to ditch any provision that includes a reference to the playoffs, and you do that by making the suspension for a first offense an entire season. Second offense, lifetime ban.
Otherwise, the idea of a guy getting busted for doping during the spring, sitting out for 80 games, then playing 82 games, then having to sit down again? Seems kind of silly.
At the very least, the rule should be this: If you’re eligible to play the entire post-All-Star break portion of the season, you’re eligible for the playoffs. Any argument against that gets greeted with a slap across the bare right buttock with a very large haddock.
Why? Because haddocks are cool-looking fish, and writing that last sentence was fun. Sports are supposed to be fun, remember?
Barring all of the above, here’s another idea: Lifetime ban for the first offense. The point is to create and effective deterrent, right? That feels about right from here.
And finally, speaking of sports and fun …: Any pregame, halftime or postgame show that includes Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith is a blast, no questions asked. Hell, revive “Cagney & Lacey” and make them the stars of that show, too.
It’s called “it,” and they have it.
What made it official came last weekend, when as part of the CBS college men’s basketball crew, they got the fairly stoic, borderline-robotic Clark Kellogg absolutely rollin’. Dude was having the time of his life and didn’t care that anyone knew.
– Mychael Urban, San Francisco Examiner