Mark Jackson/Jerry West/Joe Lacob/Stephen Curry; Sammy Watkins; Madison Bumgarner/Michael Morse/Clayton Kershaw; Sonny Gray/Scott Kazmir; Tony La Russa
WOW! Just when it seemed the drama surrounding the Warriors was starting to abate, coach Mark Jackson got fired yesterday, despite getting the Warriors to the playoffs the last two seasons.
There have always been issues with Jackson. His treatment of assistant coaches, usually by demoting them, has been abysmal. His self-confidence is paper-thin, strange for a man who was a successful player and announcer before becoming a coach. His relationship with Jerry West has always been contentious, though that became public only in recent weeks. His religion (he and his wife are co-pastors at a Los Angeles church) has no tolerance for gays, and Warriors president Rick Welts is openly gay.
Nor is Jackson a wizard with the Xs-and-Os, but frankly, I think that’s a much overrated ability because the NBA is a players league. Phil Jackson won championships with his Triangle offense, but was the offense the key or the fact that he had great players, most notably Michael Jordan with the Bulls and Kobe Bryant. My vote would go for the players.
One of my Examiner readers is bothered by the fact that Jackson doesn’t carry a clipboard with plays on it, as many NBA coaches do. For most of them, though, the clipboards are an affectation. I suspect the “plays” you’d see written on most of them are something like, “Get the ball to the hot shooter.”
Coaches are certainly important but their chief duty is to motivate the players, which Jackson seems to do very well. His players love him, which is usually an important factor. Not always. I can’t say Don Nelson’s players loved him but they did play for him – except for Chris Webber, who has always been a headache for his coaches.
I think the primary criterion for a coach should be whether he gets the most out of his team, and I think Jackson did that. I don’t blame him for the Warriors loss in the first round of the playoffs. I think that everyone realized the Clippers were the better team. Well, not everybody. Bruce Jenkins was so convinced that the Warriors would win that he was already writing about their second round opponent before the final game of the first round. He based that on the belief that Clippers point guard Chris Paul would break down. Paul was in such bad shape that all he could do was play 44 minutes with 15 assists (and only two turnovers).
The fact is that, when Andrew Bogut was ruled out of the playoffs with a broken rib, the Warriors chances of going anywhere disappeared. The Clippers (and everybody else) got distracted by the Donald Sterling episode but I believe they’d have won that series in six games if everything else had been normal. The way they’re playing now, it wouldn’t surprise me if they won the NBA championship.
Bogut gives the Warriors a solid inside presence, offensively and defensively, that they haven’t had since Nate Thurmond. But, he can’t stay healthy, and he will be 30 in November. Do you know anybody who got healthier after 30?
If you want to replace a coach, you also have to ask yourself who you’d get who would be better? Maybe owner Joe Lacob thinks he knows somebody but the answer isn’t obvious.
Though Lacob portrayed this as an organizational decision, it was clearly his. And, this time, I agree with Jenkins: He overreached and made a mistake.
Now that Lacob has fired Jackson, he could face a rebellion by his players. Stephen Curry, who has become the team leader, has already hinted at that. Even if Curry backs off from that, Lacob has alienated his team and fans.
That probably doesn’t bother him. He made his money in Los Angeles and he has the swagger that comes with that, deciding that he wanted a monstrosity of a building, including an arena, on the waterfront, until enough San Francisco residents forced him to change his plans before voters did it for him. (His planned building was described as iconic, which is easily the most used and abused description in the dictionary. Can we please declare a moratorium on the use of iconic for anything that is just somewhat different?)
Lacob obviously wants to become part of San Francisco society by having his team play in San Francisco but San Franciscans on any level find the brashness of rich men from Los Angeles offensive. Lacob will learn that his swagger doesn’t sell well in San Francisco.
And now, he has to find a coach. Good luck with that.
AT LEAST, the Warriors didn’t match the choke job by the San Jose Sharks who won the first three games of their first playoff round and then lost the next four, including a lopsided loss in the seventh game. Didn’t bother me a bit. I think the Sharks get far more media attention than they deserve because their audience doesn’t extend much beyond those who go to the games. Hockey is a big sport in Canada and the northern tier of the U.S. where kids can play the game on outside ice rinks, as I did when I lived the first 10 years of my life in northern Minnesota. No outside ice rinks in the Bay Area.
OOPS: As readers have pointed out, I wrote that Donald Sterling’s suspension was for one year, but it was lifetime. This is why newspapers have copy editors. Writers see what they intended to write, not what’s actually there. But, I don’t have a proof reader so you’ll just have to bear with my mistakes.
NFL DRAFT: Despite the many mock drafts, nobody really knows what teams are going to do on draft day because they can’t see the draft boards. The teams, except for the one drafting No. 1, don’t know, either, because teams ahead of them may make unexpected moves – or they may get involved in trades to move up or down.
I am surprised, though, by how many writing on the draft think the 49ers will go after a receiver on the first round. Unless they can trade down to get Sammy Watkins, it would make much more sense to go for defensive help, with NaVorro Bowman out with a torn ACL and Aldon Smith facing an indefinite suspension from the NFL.
The fact is, no matter which receiver the Niners draft, they can’t know whether Colin Kaepernick will throw to him. Kaepernick has a habit of picking one or two favorite receivers and looking for them only in tight situations. This has not escaped the attention of other teams. The Ravens played three men on Michael Crabtree in the final minutes of the 2013 Super Bowl as Kaepernick threw three straight incompletions to end the game. In the 2014 NFC championship game, he challenged Richard Sherman as he again tried to hit Crabtree. Interception and end of game.
So, unless coach Jim Harbaugh can get Kaepernick to change his pattern, the Niners are probably wasting their time if they pick another receiver.
It’s quite possible, though, that the Raiders will go for Watkins, if he is still there when they pick at the fifth position – and if GM Reggie McKenzie doesn’t trade that pick to get an extra one.
McKenzie did a good job of signing free agent talent and trading for veteran quarterback Matt Schaub to solidify that position, so he doesn’t have to gamble on a quarterback from the current crop. Most likely, he’ll take a quarterback in a later round for development purposes but he’ll be looking for immediate help earlier.
The Raiders need it because they will have what looks like the toughest schedule in the NFL this upcoming season, including a “home” game in London. Isn’t the NFL hierarchy aware that Al Davis has died?
FOR THE first time in many years, I didn’t go to the Cal spring game this year. What’s the point? There’s no reason to think the team will be substantially better this year, not with an offense that only works in small colleges or with overwhelming talent, neither of which applies to Cal.
Meanwhile, the rate of academic advancement for athletes inched up a bit, which means, well, nothing really. I would imagine the graduation rate for football players will go up some, but that will be because far fewer will be leaving early for the NFL than in Jeff Tedford’s heyday.
There are only two bits of good news about Cal sports, the first being that Sandy Barbour’s ridiculous plan to hold the 2014 Big Game at the 49ers new stadium, has been scuttled. Barbour has no idea of Cal history. This would have been virtually a home game for Stanford, which is only a few miles from the 49er stadium. Because of this and other very questionable decisions, Barbour is on a very short leash. The new chancellor made the decision on a replacement for retired basketball coach Mike Montgomery, overruling Barbour. The next decision the chancellor should make is to get a new athletic director.
THE A’S vaunted pitching depth hasn’t been able to survive the losses of top starters Jarrod Parker and A. J. Griffin to season-ending surgery. They’re struggling to find a starter for one of the games of today’s unusual day/night doubleheader with the Seattle Mariners, making up a game rained out in the opening series.
The top of the rotation, Sonny Gray (named pitcher of the month for April), new acquisition Scott Kazmir and Jesse Chavez have all been excellent at the top of the order but Dan Strally and Tommy Milone have struggled. Strally has the pitches to be a winner but has struggled with his control. I remember the first time I saw Milone, in an exhibition against the Giants in the Bay Series in 2012 and I thought he wasn’t a major league pitcher. He’s been decent until this year but his control really has to be sharp because his pitches aren’t going to overwhelm anybody.
Meanwhile, the A’s still have a home for Daric Barton, who basically has been a late inning defensive replacement at first base. Really? Couldn’t the A’s find a player who could help them more on a regular basis? We all know the answer to that but Billy Beane can’t let Barton go and he’s certainly not trade material. When he’s been put on waivers, no team has claimed him.
With all their problems, the A’s have remained at the top of the AL West standings. They’re certainly not a great team but they have hitters who can hit home runs, and that part of their game is improved as Josh Reddick regains his form.
The Angels have remained close, with Albert Pujols once again hitting as he did before plantar fascia brought him down last year, but the Angels pitching is not very good. Texas is probably not as good as the previous four years. Seattle seemed to be much improved with the addition of Robinson Cano but the Mariners are still muddling around the middle of the division.
The Giants probably shocked themselves by sweeping the Braves in Atlanta but questions about their starting pitching remain. Madison Bumgarner has been surprisingly ineffective, Matt Cain is briefly on the DL with a cut finger (he should be back for the Dodgers series on Saturday). Tim Lincecum had a good outing against the Braves but six innings is his limit. Ryan Vogelsong also looked good against the Braves, but if you check the ERAs for both Lincecum and Vogelsong, you’ll have a better idea how they’ve been pitching. But shutting up those tomahawk-waving idiots in Atlanta is always a good thing.
The Giants do seem to have much improved power. Michael Morse has been everything the Giants wanted, Hunter Pence and Buster Posey have picked up the pace and Brandon Belt, though locked in a slump, hit his eighth homer in a pinch-hit role. Pablo Sandoval is mostly lost at the plate.
And, the Dodgers loom. Clayton Kershaw returned from the DL on Tuesday night and pitched seven shutout innings. He’ll be ready for the Giants this weekend.
BASHOF: My wife and I are going to the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame dinner tonight. I’ve been a longtime supporter of the program and have written a bio for an inductee in all but one year. This year, I’ve written the bio for Tony La Russa, who taught me so much about baseball, the game I thought I knew. I’ll probably write on the proceedings in next week’s column.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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