As former Coach Jackson may have looked after finding he was removed from the Warriors Head Coach position.
FIRST ROUND EXIT LEADS TO THE AXE
The Golden State Warriors certainly have aired out some dirty laundry since pushing their new rival LA Clippers to seven games in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. I was certainly surprised and pleased by how the Warriors took it to the Clippers without starting Center Andrew Bogut. Inevitably, letting go of Head Coach Mark Jackson was deemed necessary by team management. It is impressive how split everyone seems to be on the decision that even Jackson himself saw coming. During the playoff series with the Clippers, he told his players in a timeout that he was coaching for his basketball life. After elimination, it sure didn’t take long for the news to break that Jackson was out as coach.
I am going to break down the issues I had with former Coach Jackson throughout the year, and specifically with the Clippers series. I had been calling for his firing since the ’12-’13 season for lack of coaching ability as well as a lack of preparation that was evident by the team’s play. The surprising leaks to the media by unnamed sources after Jackson and his staff were let go certainly deserve some comments as well.
The Warriors moved quickly to identify head coaching candidates to replace Jackson, and after a swing and miss aimed at Stan Van Gundy, the team identified Steve Kerr as the next possibility. After Kerr’s negotiations with the New York Knicks broke down, the Warriors management swept in and quickly agreed to terms with Kerr for a 5 year $25 million contract. I have to be impressed by the process that took place as described by GM Bob Myers and Kerr at the press conference held May 20th, and I am equally impressed with the hire and the man himself, new Head Coach Kerr.
I am excited at the prospect of Kerr leading this basketball team, and will expound on the possibilities going forward. Kerr himself brought up some very interesting ideas during the press conference, that gave some shape of things to expect.
How the Warriors retool with free agency, trades (all we need is Love!), and the lack currently of a draft pick will be very interesting. I will share the ideas I have read and heard, as well as what the ceiling of this team really is. When asked by the media if the team is NBA Championship material, Kerr simply stated that this is a very good team. I was certainly disappointed in that answer, as I would like to hear the Head Coach say that a Championship is the goal every year, and that goal is attainable with this team, even if it would be a difficult and even unlikely achievement. I certainly believe that with health, the Warriors current roster is a championship contender with the right coach. Jackson was certainly not that coach. It is certain that the team will look to improve the roster over the summer, and the possibilities seemingly endless. Many free game changing free agents could be available. Although unlikely, a breakup of Miami’s big three is even possible, as Lebron James and Chris Bosh could leave as free agents. There are other interesting names out there as well such as Carmelo Anthony and Dirk Nowitzki. Kevin Love is set to be a free agent in the summer of 2015.
THE PROBLEM WITH MARK JACKSON
Due to the improvement of the team during Jackson’s time as head coach, his performance is a very polarizing subject. The team improved defensively by leaps and bounds over the last three seasons and became one of the best rebounding teams in the NBA. I would point to that as a reflection of the players that were brought in over that period of time, much more than on Jackson. Adding Bogut, who has long been considered one of the best defensive centers, certainly helped. Andre Iguodala was a former Team USA Olympic member, and he wasn’t on that team for his scoring, but rather for his perimeter defense, ball handling and passing. Klay Thompson defensively has grown in his three years with the team, and as a rookie was an immediate upgrade to former Warrior Monta Ellis. David Lee’s defense is still shabby, but his rebounding has always been great. Pairing Bogut in the middle with Lee only made Lee and the team better.
Defensive lapses still happened quite frequently with the Warriors. Weak side defense has always been non-existent, as defenders commonly turn their back to their assignment completely to watch the ball handler. Backdoor cuts and skip passes routinely create open looks. Stephen Curry is the biggest culprit here. It had been a commonly heard rumor that Curry received special treatment from Jackson, and this is just one of many examples that support the rumor. In the playoff series with the Clippers, many players were guilty of watching the ball handler and not their man. As Chris Paul advanced the ball, he found defenders eyes on him, not the streaking Blake Griffin who repeatedly raced down the opposite wing unopposed and found easy dunks off of Paul assists. Warriors forwards Lee and Marreese Speights were repeat offenders, failing to recognize the open Griffin. These were the fast breaks that featured Lee and Speights waiting at the Clippers basket to stop a penetrator, but other times, they were gassed and didn’t get there. Ironically, Curry found himself defending Griffin multiple times down the floor early in the series. Too many times Warriors bigs just didn’t get down the floor quickly enough to get to Griffin before he received the pass in the Clippers up-tempo offense. Curry vs. Griffin on the block was just a joke. Sadly, it took a lineup change to fix this issue. Moving Draymond Green into the starting lineup to defend Griffin, did the trick. An even bigger issue is that the idea didn’t come from the coach. Center Jermaine O’neal came up with the idea to remove himself from the starting lineup, in favor of Lee in the Center spot with Green in the Power Forward spot. The fact that Jackson failed to correct an obvious flaw in defense, and took suggestion from a player, shows that he didn’t bother to identify problems and attempt to correct them. The lineup change was successful, and no more in the series did we see Curry defending Griffin, thank God! Throughout the regular season and in the postseason, the team played to over help into the paint against the drive, and were always late to close out on three point shooters. Depending on the opposition, whether they are a shooting team, or a paint scoring team primarily, smart defenses adjust accordingly. The Warriors under Jackson always ran the defense the same regardless of opponent. The exception here is the occasional zone schemes that were employed based on Jackson’s hunches, but there seemed little rhyme or reason to those changes. Warriors zone defenses were normally ineffective. Generally straight up man to man with help when beaten likely would have been an improvement.
Scouting the opposition was lacking many times under Jackson. Wing defenders had an ugly habit of opening up completely to allow the ball handler to use his off hand. The defender would turn sideways, giving a right hander an open lane to drive, with the left hand. This is part of a common NBA defensive strategy to an extent, called ICE defense, that is used in pick and roll defense. Instead of allowing the ball handler to use the pick, the defender steps up in front of the pick and forces the ball handler in the opposite direction. This is a tactic I’ve seen the Warriors use, in all too limited cases. I’ve seen other scribes give the Warriors credit for this, but mostly, picks worked, since Warriors defenders were not warned of a pick coming in by their teammates. Too many times, when expecting a pick, the Warriors perimeter defender would get in this ICE position, to force a player a certain direction, and giving too wide of a driving lane. In the NBA, there are not many perimeter players that this works against as most can dribble with the off hand. The Warriors repeatedly were burned by this in Jackson’s tenure and it never changed. Warriors forwards, especially David Lee, often had trouble identifying forwards with shooting range. Specifically, the first time the Warriors played the Brooklyn Nets this year, Lee was guarding Mizra Teletovic who caught a pass about twenty feet from the basket, and Lee set up about five feet away, staring at him, expecting a drive or pass. Lee didn’t move, and Teletovic drained the jumper in the easy way he is known to do. Lee then looked at the bench putting his hands up like “what? He can do that?” Assistant coaches were seen on the bench nodding their heads to Lee with a roll of the eyes. I and everyone else can blame Lee for this, but Jackson ultimately was responsible for players knowing their assignments. Iguodala had an interesting quote after a game with the New Orleans Hornets (now Pelicans of course). The Warriors, having snapped a losing streak, “found their scout” according to Iguodala. That inspired the damning headline for the recap of that game…”Warriors found their scout in New Orleans.” Figure he (the scout) must have been on Bourbon Street, three sheets to the wind. It was interesting that there was no mention of coaches stressing the tendencies of the Hornets, but rather as Iguodala said, and I paraphrase, we as players have a book on other players in the league, and we paid attention to it tonight. That is on the coaching staff as well, to conduct video review with the team, walkthrough tactics in practice, and carryout a game plan based upon the book on the other team’s players.
Equally damning was a quote that just recently turned up from Jackson on game preparation, specifically asked of him on Bay Area sports radio station KNBR “Um, you won’t hear this from anybody else, but I think it’s overrated. Do you mean to tell me I gotta stay up to figure that Chris Paul is a superstar basketball player and he’s going to be tough defending pick and rolls on? Or Blake Griffin? I gotta stay up to figure out how to defend him in the post situation and keep him in transition. You do your work, you’re prepared, and then you go out and handle your business. But to me, I really believe it is overrated. That doesn’t mean you don’t do the job, but I’m going to get my rest, I’m not going to grow old and be stressed out and get gray hair.” (see thehoopdoctors.com/online2/2014/04/mark-jackson-calls-playoff-preparation-overrated/)
It also has been reported the Warriors had a 20 minute practice the day after a playoff loss to the Clippers. Throughout the season, it was rumored that the Warriors wouldn’t watch game tape as a team.
Issues from early in the season show Jackson’s shortcomings as well. I cringed every time Kent Bazemore operated the point for the second unit until he was traded for Jordan Crawford. Bazemore’s assits to turnover ratio was terrible, and many times it seemed inevitable that he would dribble the ball off his foot before he could make a pass. I saw a combination of any two of these three, Iguodala, Green, and Douglas, to be far superior to Bazemore. Case in point, after being traded to the Lakers, coach Mike Di’Antoni was able to use Bazemore as more of a slasher and 3pt shooter not off the bounce, but rather in catch and shoot situations. Without the ballhandling duties, Bazemore excelled.
Green seemed to be under used for his ball handling and passing. I don’t see it that Harrison Barnes’ development has been slowed by Andre Igoudala’s arrival, so much as Green’s development has been slowed. I see a small amount (but it’s there!) of Magic Johnson in Green. It’s not just the Michigan State connection, although that helps. It’s the way he keeps his head up handling the ball in transition. He’s sees the floor and is a solid passer. Otherwise, it’s a great thing Green has been able to learn from Igoudala realistically. I would Green utilized more and differently than Jackson did, specifically as a point forward.
Curry and Thompson are so very good and young that I just believe Jackson coached them at the right time. He established a faith and even a cockiness in the “Splash Brothers,” but there are fixable flaws in their games that hurts to watch at times. Curry has a habit of dribbling into traps and using an overhand flip pass into a taller defender’s hands. A bounce pass in this case would be an improvement. Not finding himself in this situation would be nice too, but when David Lee or Andrew Bogut set screens, they often roll off not looking for the pass, thus an immediate double on Curry. This is not completely Curry’s fault. Jackson absolutely deserves fault for this, as he was a point guard and never seemed to coach Curry to improvement in this area. Thompson himself has improved tremendously, but establishing more of a slasher mentality, going to the paint and using his length to finish would be very nice to see.
The “hockey line change,” the many games Curry and Klay played the entire second half, generally poor game management in the areas of time outs, and little offensive creativity are all common complaints of Jackson’s coaching style. It was stated by management that wins and losses were not what determined the coach’s fate, but I expect many of the losses were a part of it. Joe Lacob was quoted near the end of the season that many of the home losses to lesser teams was disturbing.
Jackson’s decisions on the firings of Scalabrine and Erman were in direct opposition of the front office. Jackson reportedly asked the “logo” Jerry West not to attend practices. The dirty laundry aspect of this is sad, and I don’t take much heed to it since only part of the story is being told. However interesting it is, the story that comes out ends up consisting of pointed fingers without answers. Unnamed sources are those who are no longer employed most of the time I would think in stories like these.
MAN ON FIRE : STEVE KERR
Steve Kerr and his 5 rings
The NBA’s all time best 3pt shooter by career percentage has been hired as the new coach of the man who would like that mark… I find this exciting. Curry might just be best coached by someone who also holds his elite skill. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that Kerr was a scorer, or the type of elite player that Curry is becoming. As a catch and shoot player, Kerr was one of the best ever, with many fewer attempts per game than Curry. The ability to shoot is still there, and the knowledge of how to get open for a shot, understanding where that open shooter will be, and the repetition of the mechanics are all things that can be improved with a strong teacher who has done it himself.
In addition, Kerr laid his offensive philosophies out, as well as taking a stab at starting Power Forward Lee during his media introduction. Taking ideas from the Spurs and Phil Jackson’s triangle, Kerr intends a flowing uptempo style using spacing, passing, off ball screens, and player movement before settling down into the Curry pick and rolls that Kerr called “devastating.” Big to big passing, as well as post to shooter/cutter passing are expected to be staples of the new Warriors offense. We saw these things often in the great games the Warriors lit it up in, but in too many others, isolations were more the norm. Kerr doesn’t seem to be into isolations, but rather team ball. When the questions of roster additions came up, Kerr stated he would like a stretch 4 added to the team. Love? He didn’t say, but I’m sure he’d love to . Lee’s spot seems a bit hot.
I couldn’t say too much about Kerr’s defensive ideas , although it has been reported he fired D’Antoni due to a difference in defensive philosophy. Apparently, to Kerr it is a requirement for basketball, and he didn’t feel D’Antoni was in agreement. Considering this came during his experience as the General Manager of the Phoenix Suns, I give it weight towards Kerr’s professional NBA experience. I don’t see Kerr as the inexperienced first year coach on Jackson’s level when he took the job.
My personal excitement level for the Kerr Era is very high. I expect intelligent basketball.
LOVE THE POSSIBILITIES
Kevin Love backs David Lee down.
I consider Kevin Love to be worth the asking price. What’s the asking price? We don’t know, but whatever it is, I’m buying.
One of the issues with Love landing on the Warriors is whether The Minnesota Timberwolves would consider acquiring Lee in exchange. The salaries are very similar. Lee would be considered a downgrade in every area: size, shooting, scoring, rebounding, and likely defense as well. The only area I might think Lee would be a bit better would be with moves off the high block putting the ball on the floor to attack slower bigs, but I still see Love as much more able to score in this area of the floor due to his height. I’m certain Minnesota and Golden State would agree, hence the issue. We don’t want him… they have made bad deals before and will do it again? Crossing fingers!
Of course there are other ways to do things. There are so many trade ideas out there including the mega three team deals that seem always to get things done. I like the idea of sending Lee to Orlando, Love to Golden State, Barnes and Thompson or Barnes and Green to Minnesota. A player like Maurice Harkless along with Aaron Afflalo could come back to Golden State. In addition, the Warriors would probably send their 2015 first round pick to Minnesota. This pick cannot be traded until after the NBA draft per league rules that prohibit trading multiple year’s picks. That leaves the Warriors with a potential championship level roster…
PG Curry, Nemanja Nedovic
SG Igoudala, Afflalo
SF Green, Barnes, Harkless
PF Love, Speights
C Bogut, Festus Ezeli, Ognjen Kuzmic
I think that’s a starting 5 Curry, Igoudala, Green, Love, and Bogut that would be the best starting 5 in the league. (wait didn’t we have that last year? Sure but this version knocks the crap out of that version.)
The second unit is also improved. Afflalo has many of the same qualities that Thompson does… Long lock down perimeter defender, 3pt marksman, ball handler. Afflallo is also more under control and has the veteran plus of being a fully formed player. Klay could easily become an every year All-Star, but this is worth the risk. Harkless is very young, but he provides athleticism and size.
This team is lacking an established backup point guard again, but I wouldn’t want to see Steve Blake back. I would rather stay younger, but a veteran like Detroit’s Will Bynum could be inexpensive and perfect for the team.
I would not be surprised if Kevin Love is a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves to start the season. Reports state that is what the team intends. If that is true, I could believe Love will be traded at the trading deadline. For the Warriors, this may be the best case scenario. Seeing Coach Kerr do magic with young players like Barnes, Green and Thompson may change opinions on this whole deal. If Kerr and the Warriors do not start out as “Men on Fire” then that can affect deals as well.
Just to add possibilities, here’s a rundown of interesting free agents and players who could opt out and become free agents this year…
PGs Mario Chalmers UFA, DJ Augustine UFA, Jerryd Bayless UFA, Steve Blake UFA, Eric Bledsoe (Very Interesting) RFA, Darren Collison RFA, Kirk Hinrich UFA, Shaun Livingston (Very Interesting) UFA, Kyle Lowry (Very Interested) UFA, Shelvin Mack UFA, Patty Mills (Very Interesting) UFA, Nate Robinson RFA, Ramon Sessions UFA, Isaiah Thomas UFA, Greivis Vasquez (Very Interesting) UFA, and Mo Williams (Very Interesting) RFA.
PFs and or Cs Chris Andersen (Very Interesting) RFA, Andray Blatche (Very Interesting) RFA, Aron Baynes UFA, Michael Beasley UFA, Dejaun Blair UFA, Chris Bosh RFA, Elton Brand UFA, Ed Davis UFA, Boris Diaw UFA, Tim Duncan (not gonna ever leave SA) RFA, Channing Frye (Very Interesting) RFA, Pau Gasol UFA, Drew Gooden UFA, Marcin Gortat (Very Interesting) UFA, Udonis Haslem RFA, Spencer Hawes (Very Interesting) UFA, Jordan Hill (Very Interesting) UFA, Kris Humphries (Very Interesting) UFA, Chris Kaman UFA, Ryan Kelly (Very Interesting) UFA, Josh McRoberts RFA, Greg Monroe (VERY INTERESTING) RFA, Dirk Nowitzki UFA, Jermaine O’neal UFA, Zach Randolph (Very Interesting) RFA, Mike Scott UFA, Ekpe Udoh UFA, Jan Vesely UFA,
Others of interest Ray Allen UFA, Alan Anderson RFA, Trevor Ariza (Very Interesting) UFA, Shane Battier UFA, Kent Bazemore UFA, Jae Crowder RFA, Luol Deng UFA, Jimmer Fredette UFA, Rudy Gay RFA, Danny Granger RFA, Gordon Hayward RFA, Xavier Henry UFA, Lebron James RFA, Shawn Marion UFA, Chandler Parsons RFA, Patrick Patterson UFA, Paul Pierce UFA, Brandon Rush (Very Interesting) UFA, Lance Stephenson (Very Strange but Very Good) UFA, PJ Tucker UFA, Evan Turner UFA, Dwayne Wade RFA, Nick Young RFA.
Well there you go. First off, there are a high number of stretch 4s that could come in and take Lee’s spot, if we could trade him… or a sign and trade for Greg Monroe? Even though Monroe is not a stretch 4, he does have range, and is a very talented two way post player, who is well suited for the Power Forward or Center positions, which is nice considering the injury history of our starting Center, Bogut. Nowitzki is not sold on Dallas, you heard it here first. Playing next to a healthy (when’s that gonna happen?) Bogut could help extend the number of years Nowitzki will play. As it is, he would be amazing with Curry, as would Love. Diaw could work well for this team off the bench if we add shooters… or keep Crawford and add someone like Lowry at the backup point? What happens if we bring in Jan Vesely or Ryan Kelly and either one becomes our stretch 4? Does Lee come off the bench? Making 15 mil a year, he’d better be the 6th man of the year. Realistically, that could be the future for Lee, on the Warriors, or another team. Josh McRoberts is another stretch 4 who could fit in as a starter or contributor.
The most interesting thing about the FA list is the Heat could potentially be cleaned out of talent next season. Every player of importance is a Free Agent or could become one… Lebron, Wade, Bosh, Andersen, Chalmers, Battier, Allen, Haslem, ummm yeah that’s the team. Not likely to happen, as guys with player options tend to remain with a successful team, but if they fall apart against the Spurs, who knows? Bosh as a replacement to Lee would be very nice, as Bosh has developed a 3pt shot. Bron bron as our 4? Hmmm…. Well dreams are nice.
Regardless of additions during the offseason, there certainly is a new level of excitement for our Golden State Warriors. Coach Kerr will be in position to take blame and criticism as well as praise and glory. He seems well prepared to move the Warriors toward the goal of championship contention every year. I just would like to hear him phrase it that way. I believe with a healthy roster, Kerr would take this current roster to the Western Conference Finals next year. I don’t see growing pains for him that will impact the team more than Jackson’s shortcomings. Kerr has said he wants head coaching experience next to him, and that helps. Whether it is Alvin Gentry, Lionel Hollings, Lawrence Frank, Vinny Del Negro, or even Mike Woodson, I am sure Kerr will lean on his assistant coach as well as the rest of his staff. With minor changes, especially bringing in a backup point who is an upgrade over Blake, and a talented stretch 4 who doesn’t have to start, I expect the Golden State Warriors to make the Conference Finals at a minimum. Every year, the goal should be stated to win a NBA Championship. I never heard Scott Brooks say it. He seemed to be afraid to. I haven’t heard Steve Kerr say it. He needs to.