In the era of the over-involved owner, Mark Jackson survives
As the Warriors took a 1-0 lead over the Clippers on Saturday, Mark Jackson's battle for job security in the era of the over-involved owner took an interesting turn.
Stuff happened in Game 1 of the Warriors-Clippers series on Saturday. Lots of stuff, like Blake Griffin and Andre Iguodala fouling out ... Chris Paul losing the ball out of bounds on a critical possession (when he should've gotten the benefit of a foul call) ... Paul missing two free throws down the stretch ... Griffin dumping a cup of water on a Warriors fan (that had nothing to do with the outcome, it was just fun).
And this series is going to be as much fun as we all thought it would be after Golden State emerged with a 109-105 victory on the road in Game 1.
There are more subplots in this series than in any of the other seven first-round matchups. Will Andrew Bogut (absent from Game 1 with a fractured rib) be a factor? Will the two teams convene for pre-game chapel? Will Doc Rivers' championship pedigree be enough to lead the Clippers through the extremely competitive West?
Most of all, Mark Jackson.
Last season, his second on the sideline in Golden State, Jackson won 47 games and upset the heavily favored Denver Nuggets in the first round before falling short against the eventual conference champion Spurs. In his third season, Jackson guided the Warriors to 51 wins, the franchise's most since Don Nelson, Chris Mullin and Tim Hardaway notched 55 wins in 1991-92. Nelson is now luxuriating in Maui, Mullin is advising the Sacramento Kings and Hardaway's son is playing in the NBA for the Knicks.
And yet there is this notion Jackson must get out of the first round -- against a championship-tested coach in Rivers and Hall of Fame point guard in Paul, and without Bogut -- or he'll be fired. If you can't understand how you could be, join the club.
And watch this.
That's the owner of the Warriors, Joe Lacob, rolling his eyes at Jackson after a turnover in the second quarter of a game Golden State eventually stole on the road against the No. 3 seed in the conference -- against a team that won five fewer games than San Antonio, which at one point won 19 in a row. Think about that.
In recent weeks, Jackson has had turmoil on his coaching staff, with one assistant, Brian Scalabrine, reassigned by Jackson after clashing with the head coach and another, Darren Erman, fired for a violation of team policy. Earlier this month, Lacob was less than forthcoming when it came to Jackson's job security, saying he'll wait until the end of the season to evaluate the coach.
The end of a 51-win season, for a team that has made the playoffs three times in 20 years.
At a recent sports business conference, Lacob's son, Kirk, a Warriors executive, mentioned that the NBA's new SportVu technology helped the team discover a defensive issue that the coaching staff had missed on video review last season. Gulp. I'm glad the NBA's SportVu technology doesn't keep track of everything I miss.
Meanwhile, the Warriors, Jackson and what's left of his coaching staff are up 1-0 on the Clippers on the road in the first round of the playoffs.
I can't pretend to know the ins and outs of Jackson's relationship with either Lacob, or GM Bob Myers. Relationships between head coaches, owners and GMs often are complicated. The most successful teams are typically the ones in which those key figures are in lock step. As proof, I present the Celtics when Rivers was there, the Mavericks of Mark Cuban-Donnie Nelson-Rick Carlisle and the Spurs for the past, oh, 17 years.
Success doesn't always have to come with coach-owner Kumbaya. When Phil Jackson coached the Bulls, he'd often speak with owner Jerry Reinsdorf only once or twice a year. It was different back then, and that's part of the problem. That's why teams fire coaches at the drop of a hat and there's so much reporting about turmoil between the sideline and the executive offices.
The era when owners would hire basketball people, support their decisions (until they didn't work anymore) and stay out of the way is long gone. The modern owner, like Lacob, is much more involved. They talk to the coach every day. Sit in meetings about important personnel decisions. Shake the players' hands after a big win. Ask the coach what went wrong after a painful loss.
Turmoil and fragile relationships exist on every team, and now the owner is part of that dynamic. The owner is too involved, I would submit -- but, then again, it's not my $550 million that just bought the Milwaukee Bucks, a team that has won more games than it's lost only twice in the past 13 years.
So while a great, compelling series will play out on the court between the Warriors and Clippers over the next two weeks, so, too, will the NBA's new dynamic of the over-involved owner. Lacob, the guy who signs the checks and is supposed to just invite his rich friends over for a mid-life crisis frat party in the luxury suite, will be every bit as visible in his courtside seat (rolling his eyes or not) as Jackson, the man he is paying to manage the team.
The more involved NBA owners become, the smarter they think they are. That's bad for coaches, and in this case, it could be very bad for Mark Jackson.
Except that after the first day of the NBA playoffs, it's Jackson 1, Clippers 0 and Lacob DNP-CD.
Fun times ahead, for sure.
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