OAKLAND, Calif. — The Golden State Warriors have fired Mark Jackson, ending the franchise’s most successful coaching tenure in the past two decades but also one filled with drama and distractions.
General manager Bob Myers thanked Jackson in a statement Tuesday for “his role in helping elevate this team into a better position than it was when he arrived nearly 36 months ago.” Myers said it was a difficult decision but the Warriors “simply feel it’s best to move in a different direction at this time.”
Jackson’s three seasons with the Warriors will be remembered for the way he helped turn a perennially losing franchise into a consistent winner and the bold and bombastic way in which he did it.
He guaranteed Golden State would make the playoffs in his first season, when they finished 23-36 after the NBA labor lockout. The Warriors went 47-35 last season and had a memorable run to the second round of the playoffs, and they were 51-31 this season before losing to the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round.
The Warriors had not made the playoffs in consecutive years since the 1990-91 and 1991-92 seasons. They had made the playoffs once in 17 years before Jackson.
Now the Warriors — with the help of Jackson, Myers and an ownership group led by Joe Lacob — are in position to contend for several years behind a strong young core led by Stephen Curry.
Jackson, a former NBA point guard who had his best seasons with the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers, had never been a head coach at any level when Lacob hired him away from the ESPN/ABC broadcast table in June 2011. An ordained minister away from the court, Jackson often spoke of his Christian beliefs and promised to turn the Warriors into one of the NBA’s best defensive teams and a perennial playoff contender — and he did.
But Jackson’s boisterous personality, at times, did not play well with Warriors management, his staff and — to a much lesser extent — his players, most of whom said they wanted him to return, especially Curry. And his attitude, which bordered on confidence and cockiness, might’ve ultimately cost him his job.
The pressure on Jackson began when the Warriors decided to pick up his contract option for the 2014-15 season last summer instead of negotiating a long-term deal as he had wanted. Management also encouraged Jackson to hire a strong tactician after top assistant Michael Malone — who had several disagreements with Jackson — left to become the coach of the Sacramento Kings.
Instead, Jackson promoted Pete Myers and other assistants and hired Lindsey Hunter and Brian Scalabrine. And while reports of rifts within the team surfaced on occasion, dismissing two assistants in a 12-day stretch before the playoffs perpetuated the idea that Jackson had fostered an environment of dysfunction — which Jackson repeatedly refuted.
The Warriors reassigned Scalabrine to the team’s NBA Development League affiliate in Santa Cruz on March 25 because of what Jackson called a “difference in philosophies.” Then, the Warriors fired Darren Erman on April 5 for reportedly recording conversations during coaches’ meetings and discussions between coaches and players without their knowledge.
Lacob, who bought the Warriors for a then-NBA record $450 million in 2010 along with Peter Guber, never publicly support Jackson beyond this season. The lack of support led to a lingering uncertainty that hovered over the team all season.
Several home losses to lesser teams frustrated Lacob more than anything and cost the Warriors a chance to earn anything more than the sixth playoff seed, which they also had a year ago when they upset Denver in the first round before falling to San Antonio. The Warriors still showed a lot of fight — and an ability to make adjustments — with center Andrew Bogut out with a fractured right rib in the playoffs, pushing the third-seeded Clippers to seven games.
Jackson said after the game that he never worried about his job.
“I work every single day with a passion and a commitment like it’s my last,” he said. “I’m trying to be a blessing to people. I’m trying to impact people, and that’s the way I live my life. That’s the way I coach. I don’t get caught up in it. I’m totally confident and have total faith that no matter what, I’m going to be fine, and that’s even if I’m a full-time pastor. It’s going to work out.”
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP