|ESPN.com: NBA Playoffs 2014||[Print without images]|
Watching and listening to Mark Jackson lately reminds me of Ned Stark near the conclusion of the first season of "Game of Thrones." There's an air of resignation to him, an acceptance of the fact that this won't end well for him.
On the night the Golden State Warriors secured their second consecutive playoff berth, something this franchise has not done since 1991 and 1992, Jackson offered this fatalistic comment:
"It's not our goal to just be a playoff basketball team," Jackson said. "We want to chase the mark of winning, set a standard for the next group of Warriors -- players, coaches, whoever -- down the road, and put the pressure on them."
The best present the Warriors have enjoyed in two decades and he's already talking about the Warriors of the future? Maybe it's because he realizes it won't be too long until his time with the Warriors is up. He has been around the NBA since 1987, experienced it on the court, the sidelines, the locker room and the broadcast table. He knows all the sights and sounds, and understands that sometimes the most telling thing of all is silence.
|Stephen Curry and his teammates have stood by their coach. Can they win for him in the playoffs?|
There has been nothing at all from the upper levels of Warriors management to curtail the speculation swirling around that the team isn't progressing at a satisfactory rate and nothing short of a trip to the conference finals would be enough for Jackson to keep his job. There certainly hasn't been news of the kind of lucrative contract extension that Don Nelson was able to parlay from his lone playoff trip with the Warriors during his last stint there. That leaves Jackson to ponder just like everyone else.
Begging would be a bad look. So would campaigning, so he simply states the achievements and leaves it to everyone else to interpret.
Jackson knows more about the dismissals of assistant coaches Brian Scalabrine and Darren Erman than he can tactfully or even legally disclose, although I've talked to enough other people to draw the conclusion that they were in "gots-to-go" situations. So while those moves scream dysfunction, Jackson has to remain quiet.
Once again, it leaves us to interpret the words Jackson does say publicly. I've noticed a change in those as well. It speaks to a sense of urgency. Usually he's the same guy you see in those mic'ed up huddles, constantly using positive reinforcement with his players. It's the way he was on Christmas night, when the Warriors trailed the Los Angeles Clippers 53-51 at halftime, and Jackson was walking back to the court for the start of the third quarter.
"We're fine," he insisted. He ran off the things that hadn't gone their way -- yet they still trailed by only two points."We're fine," he said again.
Indeed they were. They went on to win a contentious game.
There was a slight change in tone last Friday, the day after his team had blown a big lead to the Denver Nuggets and he was asked about the learning curve required for the team to become more like, say, the San Antonio Spurs.
"Hopefully the process speeds up, because we've got to figure that out," Jackson said. "We're getting too comfortable. At times we get too comfortable and you give teams life. It's happened more than once. Not to say it does not happen to the Spurs and other teams in this league, but it's not acceptable. We've got to find a way to close this thing out the right way."
In other words, they're not fine. Good isn't good enough. Better be better.
Isn't that similar to the message -- subliminal or otherwise -- being sent by Warriors owner Joe Lacob? And isn't it within the rights of an ownership group that spent $450 million to buy the team in 2010 to expect some return on investment? Fifty-five wins and a 4-seed don't sound so far-fetched when you consider the 51-win Warriors lost home games to the Charlotte Bobcats, Cleveland Cavaliers, New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets (twice).
Something's a little off, as Stephen Curry addressed recently.
"We have to figure out how not to have lulls in games," Curry said. "If we give full energy and lose on our terms, that's fine. But the way that we've given up huge runs and blown leads, you've got to figure that out. We've got to do that sooner or later."
But there's also something to be said about appreciating what's good while you've got it. The Warriors won 50 games for the first time since 1994, a number the players celebrated with an on-court group hug around Jackson.
"We want to support him," Draymond Green said afterward. "He put us in a great position."
The Warriors won more than twice as many games as they did in 2011-12, Jackson's first season.
"We're not that far removed from dreaming of this moment," Jackson said.
Until the Warriors have one of the league's top five players, championships will remain the stuff of reverie. Curry might be getting close -- there's a strong case for him as a first team All-NBA guard -- but you'd have to go back to the Bad Boy Pistons to find the last time a point guard-oriented team won a championship. It's possible that the ceiling is simply beyond their reach.
The one word you won't hear from Jackson is "unfair." He knows that the professional sports concoction of money, expectations, pressure and egos can be toxic despite the best of intentions -- or even results.
"Great organization, great management; I'm thrilled to be part of it," he told reporters, apropos of nothing, after a recent game.
The bases are covered. If he's going to go, he won't inadvertently write his own resignation letter. And he's not going to suffer from an inadequate résumé. If he wins two games against the Clippers in the opening round it will give him eight playoff victories in the past two years, more than any Warriors coach in a two-year span since Al Attles took them to the conference finals and the championship in the mid-1970s. If the Warriors advance, Jackson will join Attles and Bill Sharman as the only Warriors coaches to do so in back-to-back seasons since the franchise moved to California in 1962.
Make history or be history. It's a proposition of extremes for Jackson. He's dealing with this reality just like the fictional Ned Stark, who said, "I grew up with soldiers. I learned how to die a long time ago."