Warriors, Lacob taking heat for firing Jackson

Warriors, Lacob taking heat for firing Jackson
May 8, 2014, 12:45 pm
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We will listen to a lot of people, form an opinion and then try to do what we think is the right thing. If it's unpopular, it's unpopular.
Warriors owner Joe Lacob

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After firing Mark Jackson on Tuesday, Warriors CEO Joe Lacob emphatically stated that he is not seeking to win a popularity contest and acknowledged the possibility of backlash to this move as well as others.

"We know best, we hope,'' Lacob said. "We know all the details. We're the guys on the inside. We know what we feel we need to do. We will listen to a lot of people, form an opinion and then try to do what we think is the right thing. If it's unpopular, it's unpopular.''

I suppose Lacob should brace himself.

Based on my personal interviews and a sampling of comments collected around the NBA, Jackson's dismissal is being second-guessed by many and is indeed unpopular to some.

[RELATED: Mark Jackson tells his side of the story]

The general reaction – from current and former players, coaches, agents, team officials and TV analysts – is that Lacob's decision to fire Jackson after three seasons of increasing success ranges from puzzling to distressingly familiar to naïve in the ways of the league.

The majority of the sources, for a variety of reasons, requested anonymity. But more than a dozen were willing to offer an opinion.

"The owner's really putting himself out there,'' said one well-connected league source. "He could become another Mark Cuban, really visible, only more hands-on. It's his prerogative. He bought the team, so he can do what he wants. But you've got to be careful.''

The growing belief is that Lacob is getting so far ahead of himself that general manager Bob Myers, widely perceived as fair and well-meaning, is powerless to slow down his boss.

"They hired a guy to be in charge of the basketball team, and now they're getting rid of him because of the other stuff,'' said a current NBA executive. "If you've got a coach that's a good coach and the team is doing well and the players get along, you've got something. Do you really want to mess with it?''

Lacob explained his move by saying that while Jackson did a good job, producing mostly satisfying results on the court, he failed to earn a top-four seed in the Western Conference. Win-loss results were a factor, but Jackson's independence and certitude evidently were decisive factors.

"It's hard to justify firing him with the job that he did,'' former Warriors guard and current studio analyst Tim Legler said on ESPN radio.

While two people introduced the possibility of Lacob and his son, Kirk, working as a power duo, neutralizing Myers and maybe even board member Jerry West, at least one executive came to the defense of the Lacobs.

[RELATED: Seven candidates for Warriors vacant head coach position]

"They've done a good job rebuilding the team from where it was when they took over,'' he said. "As long as they recognize they did not do it alone, that others were involved, including Mark Jackson, they should get the benefit of doubt.

"But whatever move (Joe Lacob) makes now had better be good.''

Yet another executive was not sold. I could sense, from the other end of the phone, this man scratching his head.

"I thought they overachieved last season,'' he said. "This season they win 50 (actually 51) games and then, without their starting center, they take the Clippers to seven games. The Clippers have the second-best coach in the league. They have two legitimate All-Stars and a terrific four-five combo.

"Speaking from a distance, it seems Mark didn't get outcoached by the second-best coach in the league. And when I see that list (of candidates) I don't know who's going to do a better job with this team that Mark did.''

[RELATED: Report: Kerr could decide between W's, Knicks this week]

Such a sentiment is similar to that expressed among TNT's popular "Inside The NBA'' panel. Host Ernie Johnson said he "didn't understand'' the move, while panelists Kenny Smith and Grant Hill both indicated Lacob was guilty of unrealistic expectations.

Charles Barkley was, of course, the Chuck we've come to know and expect.

"Mark needs to do a better job of surrounding himself with people he can trust,'' he said. "Clearly, some of those guys up top and some of those guys with him didn't have his back. And he has to take some of the responsibility for that. But I thought him getting fired was 100 percent unfair.''

Jackson even questioned the handling of his firing, saying that details were being leaked while he was meeting with Lacob and Myers. Moreover, the former coach was surprised the team had not informed Stephen Curry prior to the point guard hearing from Jackson.

"Think about that,'' Jackson said. "This is the franchise player. That’s not how this league works.''

Maybe Jackson has a lot of friends around the league, folks willing to support him but unwilling to attach their names and risk jeopardizing relationships with the Warriors.

But the near-unanimous opinion is that the Warriors are taking a huge risk.

"Maybe Mark was too cantankerous,'' said one. "But it says something about the ownership when it can't work through that – or doesn't want to.

"The Warriors have a great fan base. If they are worse after this, those fans are going to go right after Lacob.''

And Lacob, for his part, says he'll be waiting. Whether it's praise or criticism, he has no plans to leave his courtside seat.

"There is no chance – and I mean no chance – that whatever we do, whatever Bob does as the GM of this team, is going to be loved by everybody,'' Lacob said. "It is not going to be universally acclaimed by everybody.

"What's popular is that we deliver a good product, that we deliver a winner and that people that came here are entertained. And we've done a pretty good job in the three years that we've been around increasing win totals. Our season-ticket base has climbed tremendously. Fans seem to have a good time at the games. So we're popular in that sense.''