Former Golden State Warriors head coach Mark Jackson. Photo: AP
Last year, it was George Karl, Lionel Hollins and Vinny Del Negro. This year, so far, it is Mark Jackson.
Continuing an NBA trend of teams firing coaches after successful, 50-victory seasons, the Golden State Warriors fired Jackson on Tuesday, ending a three-year tenure in which the Warriors vaulted into one of the better, more entertaining teams in the league.
The move, based more on personality conflicts than on-court coaching acumen, creates an opening to lead a young, rising team led by the All-Star guard Stephen Curry and a franchise with a voracious fan base and plans to move to a new arena across the bay in San Francisco in 2018.
Among those who might be interested are those with successful records relieved a season ago and Steve Kerr, who has met several times with Phil Jackson, the president of the New York Knicks, about the opening in New York. Some have speculated that the Warriors are interested in Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg.
"It's never easy to make a decision of this nature," Warriors general manager Bob Myers said. "Mark has accomplished many good things during his three years with the organisation, including his role in helping elevate this team into a better position than it was when he arrived nearly 36 months ago. We're appreciative of his dedication and commitment since his arrival and are extremely grateful for his contributions. However, as an organisation, we simply feel it's best to move in a different direction at this time."
As with most firings, the team kept the rationale murky. The Warriors were 51-31, their best record in 22 years, and reached the playoffs for the second season in a row: Golden State's first back-to-back postseason appearances since 1991 and 1992.
Seeded sixth in the playoffs, and missing the injured center Andrew Bogut, the Warriors lost to the Los Angeles Clippers in seven games.
Jackson, 49, grew up in New York City, played at St. John's, and had a 17-year NBA career as a player, including more than six years with the Knicks, who drafted him in 1987. He had one season left on his contract with Golden State. But he has had a bristly relationship with team management, and concerns over his handling of assistant coaches were likely to have played a part in his dismissal.
His top assistant, Michael Malone, left after last season to take the head coaching job for the Sacramento Kings. Where some young coaches might rely upon a seasoned veteran coach, Jackson elevated his longtime friend Pete Myers. Jackson demoted the assistant Brian Scalabrine in March for a "difference in philosophies," Jackson said. In April, the assistant Darren Erman was fired for a "violation of company policy," which some reports said was the secret audio recording of meetings.
Jackson is a pastor of a church in suburban Los Angeles, and has brought an element of religion into the locker room. Between playoff road games against the Clippers, Jackson preached at the church, and a majority of his players attended.
Several Golden State players came to Jackson's defense as speculation swirled in recent days. None were as vocal as Curry.
"I love Coach more than anybody, and I think for him to be in a situation where his job is under scrutiny and under question is totally unfair," Curry told reporters after the Warriors were eliminated by the Clippers. "And it would definitely be a shock to me" if he was replaced.
But the NBA, perhaps more than any other major league, has made a habit of firing coaches despite their win totals. In 2013, Memphis fired Hollins after he boosted the winning percentage during each of his full four seasons and the Grizzlies reached the Western Conference finals for the first time. Denver fired George Karl after the Nuggets were 57-25, the best record in franchise history. And the Clippers fired Del Negro after three seasons in which the team won 32, 40, then 56 games.
There are always reasons. They just are not always the obvious ones.
New York Times