For Lacob, firing Jackson far bigger gamble than hiring him

For Lacob, firing Jackson far bigger gamble than hiring him
April 2, 2014, 10:30 pm
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A word of advice, Joe: Remember this is the NBA, where the most valuable commodities are the players. Ignore them at your own peril.
Monte Poole

Jermaine O'Neal recently said that firing Mark Jackson would be "the most ridiculous thing" he's ever seen. (USATI)

Joe Lacob and the Warriors have reached the 45-win mark in successive seasons for the first time since 1977. (USATI)

When all the joy and agony and noise of a Warriors season rife with hairpin turns finally subsides, one man will be left to sift through it all, with nothing more at stake than the immediate future of the franchise.

Sometime in May or June, after his research is complete, having searched his soul and engaged his advisers, Warriors CEO Joe Lacob must decide whether he will continue to ride with Mark Jackson or whether it's time to find another coach.

If this season ends anything short of the Western Conference finals, this will be the toughest decision in Lacob's 42 months atop the organizational chart.

He either fires Jackson and starts anew, or extends his contract. There are no other rational options.

Keeping Jackson without an extension would invite a full season of rumor, speculation, innuendo and general discomfort. Lacob is savvy enough to realize this would destroy the open, professional environment he has worked so hard to create.

But Lacob, a first-time owner, should know this: Dismissing Jackson would represent a far bigger gamble than hiring him.

The players in the locker room, from All-Star point guard Stephen Curry to the end of the bench, either love Jackson or comfortably coexist with him. They are in tune to his message. That's uncommon in today's NBA and nothing besides a wealth of talent can take a team further.

Andre Iguodala signed with the Warriors largely because of the atmosphere and chemistry he sensed when facing them. This vibe was a product of Jackson's carefully orchestrated bonding mechanisms. Taking the chemist away seriously threatens the chemistry – the most impressive aspect of this team.

Curry, whom Lacob concedes is the franchise player, says he is 100 percent behind the coach who "inspires everybody in the locker room."

"I love coach and everything he's about," Curry says. "I love playing for him, and that's all that matters to me."

Says Draymond Green: "Coach is a guy we fight for – and we're going to continue to fight for. He's given his all to us, and we're going to give our all for him."

Jermaine O'Neal, in his 18th season, is considering retirement. He says Jackson is the No. 1 reason he might consider coming back. He adds that firing the coach would be "the most ridiculous thing" he's ever seen.

[REWIND: Jackson addresses 'dysfunctional' allegation]

Power forward David Lee, who last year became the first Warrior selected for the All-Star team in 16 years, says allegations of "dysfunction" are absurd because Jackson is a primary reason for the franchise turning itself around.

"That could be something that maybe was said about the Warriors of old, that was a losing franchise and had all sorts of issues," Lee told FM 95.7 The Game. "But the direction this franchise is heading in these past two years has been firmly positive.

"You can see that one of our strengths over the past two years here has been our chemistry."

Lacob knows the NBA well enough to understand he can't simply dismiss such statements, particularly when there is evidence to support them.

The Warriors have reached the 45-win mark in successive seasons for the first time since 1977. They were a second-round playoff team last season and are positioned to make a second consecutive postseason appearance for the first time since 1992.

And yet there is such commotion about them, nearly all of it swirling about Jackson. And it boggles the mind of one of his former broadcast partners, who also happens to be a two-time NBA coach – and is mentioned among potential replacements.

"Look at the results," Jeff Van Gundy told the New York Post. "(The Warriors) were horrible before he came, (and) now they are excellent. He has developed players. They defend. If the media has a problem with winning, then I guess the alternative is to lose against like they did for the previous 15-20 years.

"I don't understand what there is to complain about, seriously."

Jackson is unpopular in some circles because of his reputation for making grand statements, speaking in brash tones and displaying a measure of defiance. He also is a preacher, literally and figuratively, and therefore a bit too bold for some, while others wonder if his faith gets in the way.

Lacob's decision may come down to what he and his confidants think of the roster. Remember, Jerry West is in the room and he's a big, forceful voice. He also understands that the Warriors have good, not great, talent.

I suspect Lacob also will concede that much.

He'll face a moment of tremendous magnitude. Does he fire the most successful coach in recent memory? Or does he extend the coach when there are clear indications of discord between coaching staff and upper management?

A word of advice, Joe: Remember, this is the NBA, where the most valuable commodities are the players. Ignore them at your own peril.