What's up with the Warriors?
J.A. Adande and Israel Gutierrez discuss an up-and-down season in Golden State.
Israel: We've heard that expectations can be an NBA coach's worst enemy, particularly when his team hasn't experienced high levels of success in the past. Well, it's quite possible Mark Jackson and the Warriors have been experiencing life with expectations, and it's hard to say exactly how they've responded. Some would say the team -- among the league leaders in defensive efficiency, hanging on to the sixth playoff seed in the difficult Western Conference despite a handful of injuries, still showing an ability to be explosive offensively -- is having a pretty good season.
Others, and I'm falling in with this group, believe the Warriors have yet to live up to those dreaded expectations, given how much potential a group that starts with Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson, David Lee and Andrew Bogut has. Watching a Warriors game at times can be frustrating when you see the talent and potential but don't necessarily see the discipline or consistency. And it doesn't help when someone you expected to be a major contributor off the bench, Harrison Barnes, is having a progressively worse sophomore season.
Watching a Warriors game at times can be frustrating when you see the talent and potential but don't necessarily see the discipline or consistency." -- Israel Gutierrez
And to top it off, there appears to be some dysfunction on the team, as Jackson has recently demoted assistant Brian Scalabrine, who was hired before the season. Apparently Jackson's biggest enemy isn't expectations but assistant coaches, because he reportedly didn't get along with Mike Malone, who is now coach of the Sacramento Kings. Not sure if this has anything to do with Golden State's inconsistencies, but it certainly doesn't give the impression that everything is just fine in the Bay.
From what you've seen, do you think the Warriors are meeting expectations this season?
J.A.: First of all, you say "a group that starts with Steph Curry, Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson, David Lee and Andrew Bogut" like that's an everyday occurrence. Because of injuries, they've sent that lineup onto the court only 42 times. And they happen to have won 30 of those games. The flip side of that is the Warriors have lost 15 of the 29 games they've played without that lineup intact. Of course, the flip side of that flip side is the Spurs have been shuttling guys from the court to the recovery bed all season and still emerged with the best record in the league. That includes a victory in Oakland last week without Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, one in a series of bad inexcusable home losses for Golden State this season.
So, no, Mark Jackson hasn't done as good of a job as Gregg Popovich in holding his team together through the rough stretches. But if we're setting the bar at "Popovich," then there's a huge crowd of coaches milling around below it. Which brings us to the question I always raise for teams considering a coaching change, but one that's particularly tough to answer for the Warriors when it comes to Jackson: OK, so who are you going to bring in that's a better fit for this team?
Israel: OK, I'll simplify it, then. When you have one of the 10 best players in the league and one of the best backcourts in the league (Thompson and Curry have missed a combined three games all season), shouldn't there be more stability, not just game to game but possession to possession? Now, I'm not laying this entirely on Jackson. He's still a young coach who's learning on the job, essentially. And given his success last season, he deserves the opportunity to continue to find himself as a coach.
One of Jackson's go-to phrases is "we are tied together." I don't think that applies to the front office and the coaching staff." -- J.A. Adande
So maybe some of this simply comes down to the players themselves, their approaches to the game. Whatever the reasoning, watching the Warriors play can sometimes be maddening. The offense often relies far too heavily on quick shots. There appears to be no differentiation on that team between a decent shot and a great shot -- with the regular exception of Curry standing wide open after a pump fake and a desperate defender flying by. Whether it's Thompson or Harrison Barnes or Draymond Green, it's almost as if the roles need to be defined more specifically. And it certainly doesn't help that problem when you add Jordan Crawford to the mix and give him similar freedoms that Curry is granted.
There really aren't any fancy metrics to measure this or explain it. It's simply a matter of watching the Warriors play and wondering what the structure of that offense is. What makes it additionally maddening is that there appeared to be more direction last postseason, when the group was limited because of Lee's injury. There was a more defined game plan that included seeking mismatches and exposing them, usually with either Barnes or Thompson posting up smaller guards after switches. This year, Barnes has been a complete mystery -- so much so that it's almost as if he'd be better off getting a fresh start elsewhere (already) because he might never get the consistent opportunities with Curry and Thompson on the same squad.
J.A.: I think it will be a big problem for Jackson if the Warriors don't do better than the six playoff games they won last year. The ownership group has spent more than half a billion dollars to buy the team and upgrade the arena. Those types of expenditures don't come with patience, and that playoff run last season only made them hungrier for success. Plus they are trying to get approval to build a new arena on the San Francisco Bay -- and nothing sways the opinion of voters and politicians like the momentum from a winning team.
But you'll notice the Warriors don't trumpet Jackson as the guy who's leading the team toward a brighter tomorrow. Even if they don't say it, they could at least imply it with a contract extension. It makes me wonder if anyone in the Warriors' hierarchy has Jackson's back. (I posed the question to one member of the organization and he couldn't give me a name.) You never hear anyone else bragging on the team's accomplishments under Jackson, which is why he seems compelled to do it for himself.
It was good to see Stephen Curry speak up on Jackson's behalf ... but if Kobe Bryant couldn't get the Lakers to hire Phil Jackson in 2012, what makes you think Curry has final say over Mark Jackson's status with the Warriors? One of Jackson's go-to phrases is "we are tied together." I don't think that applies to the front office and the coaching staff.
Israel: Here's one element that is getting overlooked, perhaps, and it's something Curry pointed out recently. This team is two years away from being really bad. Last year set a new standard because of a first-round upset, and this year raised the stakes because of a big free-agent addition. But let's just say the Warriors didn't get past Denver, and still bring in Iguodala. The feeling would likely now be like that of the Gilbert Arenas-led Wizards, "Let's get to the second round!"
Now expectations are greater -- never mind that the top of the West is even tougher than it was last season. But I'm still of the belief that the Warriors should be better. Still, unless you're actually expecting a championship this season, then there's little reason to place Jackson's job on the line. Unless, of course, there's a noticeable flaw in his ability to handle people, both players and coaches alike.
Which is why this Scalabrine demotion is intriguing. Does Jackson automatically dismiss people who question his authority/decisions? Does he now feel entitled because he's had a successful season and working on a second? It's a difficult thing to project, the "potential" of a relatively young coach. And it feels like the Warriors' organization is trying to do that right now. I'm not sure they'll figure it out. But I do know one place where coaches get either exposed or shine, and that's the playoffs.
Last year was considered a success. This year, Jackson could be playing the postseason with his future with the Warriors on the line.