By John Schmeelk
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On the surface, Mark Jackson becoming the Knicks’ head coach makes sense.
He coached the Warriors to the playoffs for two straight years. Under his watch, Golden State went from one of the worst defensive teams in the league to one of the best. Jackson was a great motivator, got his players to play hard and had their support when his job was on the line at the end of the season. And even though Jackson signed a contract to work for ESPN as a game analyst, there’s no evidence that he wouldn’t be interested in coaching next year if the right opportunity came along.
When Jackson played in the league he was an intelligent point guard, and he is even a former Knick. His time working in the media should prepare him well for the media cauldron that is New York City. What’s not to like?
Plenty. In these circumstances it is always important to see why Jackson was not retained by the Warriors, and the reasons are far more complicated than “he did not get along with the owner.”
According to Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News, Jackson got along with almost no one in the Warriors’ front office, including staffers. There was virtually no one who would go to bat for Jackson when the owner, Joe Lacob, solicited opinions from the Warriors’ staff. He even had clashes with his own assistants, leading to the dismissal of Darren Erman — who recorded their conversations, a fireable offense — and the demotion of Brian Scalibrine. For assistant coaches to turn on their leader like that is rare. But Jackson did things his own way, and was by his own admission very stubborn.
The Byzantium ways of the Knicks’ front office and corporate environment are well-known. Does anyone think Jackson would last long, or be effective, if he constantly battled the corporate hierarchy of the New York Knicks? There would be distraction after distraction. It’s also important to consider that Phil Jackson would like whomever he hires to adopt some of his own methods when coaching the team.
Based on Mark Jackson’s past history of dealing with the Warriors’ hierarchy, it would appear that a Mark Jackson hire would lead to conflict with Phil Jackson, not harmony. What’s the point of having Phil Jackson as your general manager if he can’t exert his influence on the coach?
The other issue with Jackson comes on the offensive side of the ball, where many have accused Jackson of not having a real offensive system beyond letting his guys play. While the Warriors improved defensively every year Jackson was there, they never cracked the top nine offensively despite having players like Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and David Lee.
While Jackson was able to craft a well-put together defense, his offensive sets were often stale and not much more than spreading the floor with an isolation or high pick-and-roll at the top of the key. There were rarely secondary options if the first part of the play failed.
Jackson was obsessed with attacking mismatches, rather than getting shots within the flow of the offense. If this sounds like Mike Woodson, that’s because it is the exact issues Woodson had. They become especially apparent at the end of games when opposing defenses locked in, making creative offensive sets imperative.
There were also substitution problems over the course of his time with the Warriors where he would have units with no scorers on the floor at the same time.
The third and final problem stems from quotes that Jackson made on the radio during his team’s playoff series against the Clippers.
When asked how much sleep he gets during the playoffs, he responded, “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 out that Chris Paul is a superstar basketball player and he’s going to be tough defending the 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 controlled 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.”
If Mark Jackson said that in New York, this city would explode. It also links up to his issues of offensive creativity. If you don’t do extra work studying your opponents, it’s hard to create the type of inventive sets that can work against them. It’s the coach’s job to give his players an advantage over the opponent by preparing them and putting them in situations in which they have the advantage.
Based on that quote, it is fair to ask if Jackson does that. Or is he simply willing to bet that his talent can win out over the talent of the other team? That type of attitude might not hurt much in the regular season, but the playoffs are a different animal. Two teams play each other seven times, and the chess game between the two head coaches becomes even more intense and integral to wins and losses.
Even if the extra film work just gives your team a 5 percent greater chance of winning a game, it’s worth doing. Jackson, apparently, would prefer to not stress out too much. Tell that to Doc Rivers, Gregg Popovich, Rick Carlisle and Tom Thibodeau. All four, some of the best and hardest-working coaches in the game, would fire an assistant coach for having an attitude like that.
These are all red flags that are raised even higher when you consider his career as a player and broadcaster. As a player, even a veteran, Jackson often acted like a jerk on the court. Everyone remembers the shimmy he liked to whip out, and the cross he liked to make with his arms that we all saw often in playoff series against the Knicks.
He came off as extremely arrogant and brash, the same type of issues that many reported he had with Warriors ownership. As an analyst with ABC, he more often speaks in clichés, rather than really dipping deep into the games and breaking down the nitty-gritty tendencies of both teams. That’s a reflection of people’s complaints about his lack of an in-depth offensive system.
It’s all too much to take. There are positives to Jackson, especially his ability to coach defense. The Knicks certainly need that, but there are simply too many negatives to counteract. Jackson might grow as a coach and fix some of those issues.
If Phil Jackson interviewed him, perhaps Mark Jackson would promise to make changes. If he did, maybe it could work. But for the Knicks, that’s a bet they cannot afford to make.
Follow John on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and the world of sports.
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