With no Malone, can Mark Jackson silence the whispers?

Jackson names starters, Barnes out first two games

With no Malone, can Mark Jackson silence the whispers?
October 30, 2013, 1:45 pm
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Warriors GM Bob Myers: "He’s (Mark Jackson) taken veteran players and young players, and they’ve all improved under his watch.’’ (AP)

Programming note: Catch the Warriors' season opener tonight when they host the Los Angeles Lakers at Oracle Arena -- coverage begins at 7 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area   

OAKLAND – With Stephen Curry as the NBA’s newest poster boy, Andre Iguodala as the missing piece and Andrew Bogut saying he’s ready to play a full season, the Warriors are expected to improve on what was a memorable 2012-13.

Which, beginning with Wednesday’s night’s season-opener against the Lakers at Oracle Arena, puts the pressure squarely upon the players – but no less upon head coach Mark Jackson.

Jackson has to silence the whispers. He has to prove, even if he deftly declines to acknowledge it, that he and his retooled staff are perfectly capable of thriving without departed assistant Michael Malone.

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My suspicion is Jackson and Co. will do just fine in the wake of the respected assistant leaving to become head coach in Sacramento.

For one, head coaches at this level don’t succeed as a direct result of in-game strategy. No less an authority than Phil "11 Rings’’ Jackson will tell you games are not won with clipboards, for the tactical effect of coaches on NBA players tends to be overrated.

For two, Mark Jackson has grown on the job. It’s evident to anyone, certainly to former Denver coach George Karl, that he’s a better coach now than he was as a rookie. He has more to say, and better ways to say it.

The third and final reason why Jackson should accomplish this is the same reason the expectations are higher. When his roster is healthy, it’s the best to represent the Warriors in at least 20 years – maybe since the outstanding clubs of the mid-1970s.

When I ask Jackson to measure his growth as a head coach, from two years ago to now, he turns away from himself and cites a legitimate reason: "I've got better players.’’

Which brings me to the Lawrence Frank Rule, which states that no amount of clipboard wizardry, or even preparation, can overcome talent deficiencies.

From 2000 until 2004, Frank was a terrific young assistant in New Jersey under head coach Byron Scott. Scott was the voice, Frank the clipboard. When the players grew weary of Scott, ownership replaced him with Frank, whom the players respected for his know-how.

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Jump-started by the move, the Nets won 13 in a row. They reached the 2004 Eastern Conference finals. Frank, then only 33, was a budding genius. He coached five more seasons in New Jersey, never going any further than he did in ‘04.

The Nets under Scott, with Frank as an assistant, had made consecutive trips to the NBA Finals.

The point cannot be overstated. Players make all the difference. Phil was superb largely because he had Michael and Kobe. Jerry Sloan was good because he had Stockton and Malone. Doc Rivers got better when Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joined Paul Pierce in Boston. Some consider Gregg Popovich the best coach in the league, but he’s always had the marvelous Tim Duncan.

Jackson last season had All-Star power forward David Lee, joined by a rapidly rising Curry. Klay Thompson, in his second season, improved. Rookie Harrison Barnes made significant contributions. Guard Jarrett Jack often was splendid, and backup big man Carl Landry filled in admirably while Bogut missed 50 games.

Those Warriors were much better than the 2011-12 team, which was without Curry for 40 games and often stood around watching Monta Ellis going one-on-one. Andris Biedrins started most games at center and only Lee played more minutes than Richard Jefferson.

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The Warriors of this season should be improved over those of last season. Jackson has shown he is a strong leader, which is the essential component of a head coach. He gets an awful lot out of his players.

When I told general manager Bob Myers about Jackson’s "I’ve got better players" comment, he had a quick response.

"Mark is part of the reason they’ve gotten better,’’ the GM said. "I would argue that a good coach makes his players better, and he has. He’s taken veteran players and young players, and they’ve all improved under his watch.’’

If that sounds like a GM supporting his coach, it is. Yet that same GM neither ran from nor shielded the coach from the raised expectations for the Warriors.

"One thing we feel as an organization is that we have a healthy amount of talent,’’ Myers said. "That doesn’t always win the day. It gets you to a certain point, but we recognize from the top down that it’s only a start.’’

It’s Jackson’s job to take that talent and finish. And it’s fair to say if he can’t do it without Malone, he wouldn’t have done it with him.