NBA PM: Who Should Replace Mark Jackson?

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Who Should Replace Mark Jackson?

The Golden State Warriors fired Mark Jackson today after months of speculation that they would part ways with the third-year head coach at season’s end. They were eliminated from the playoffs this past weekend after a close seven-game series against the Los Angeles Clippers that they played without their starting center Andrew Bogut. Short of winning an NBA championship, though, it just didn’t seem like there was anything Jackson could do to save his job.

His dismissal has been met with a lot of public criticism of the Warriors front office, but this was truly a decision made due to what occurred behind the scenes. On the surface, Jackson deserved an extension/raise. He guided the team to back-to-back postseason appearances, a feat they haven’t accomplished since the early 90s, and had the complete and total support of the locker room. From Stephen Curry to Jermaine O’Neal, everyone backed Jackson.

The opposite was the case with the people in the front office who actually determined Jackson’s fate. According to reports, he butted heads with everyone from the team’s owner Joe Lacob to the highly respected Jerry West. Add in his conflicts with his own coaching staff and a high-profile extortion case last year, and Jackson’s off the court failures triumphed his on the court successes – in their eyes at least.

“It’s never easy to make a decision of this nature,” said General Manager Bob Myers.  “Mark has accomplished many good things during his three years with the organization, including his role in helping elevate this team into a better position than it was when he arrived nearly 36 months ago.  We’re appreciative of his dedication and commitment since his arrival and are extremely grateful for his contributions.  However, as an organization, we simply feel it’s best to move in a different direction at this time.”

“Mark Jackson has had a big impact on the improvement of our team and the success that we’ve had over the last couple of years,” said Owner & CEO Joe Lacob.  “Nonetheless, we must make some difficult decisions in our day-to-day operations of the club and this would certainly qualify as one of those examples.  We wish Mark the best of luck in his future endeavors and thank him for his contributions over the last three years.”

The Warriors may never fully detail their exact reasoning for letting Jackson go, but because of how well he did under the public eye (121-109 in three seasons), it will always be perceived as a questionable move. It’s not unprecedented, though. Three other 50-win coaches were fired last season: Lionel Hollins of the Memphis Grizzlies, Vinny Del Negro of the Los Angeles Clippers and George Karl of the Denver Nuggets. In order for the Warriors to come out of this looking good in the long run, they have to make the right hire to replace Jackson. The Clippers undoubtedly did so by replacing Del Negro with Doc Rivers, while the jury is still out on the Nuggets and Grizzlies’ decisions. The short list of candidates is already circulating, and in today’s NBA PM we rank them in the order they should be considered, starting at the bottom:

Steve Kerr
Kerr is already the heavy favorite to become the head coach of the New York Knicks, but with close ties to Lacob he could jump to the top of their list as well. When Lacob hired Jackson he hoped he was getting the next Doc Rivers. He could take the same gamble again with Kerr considering that it paid off in a lot of ways with Jackson. Kerr would be a risky hire, though, considering his lack of experience and the way that the Warriors players felt about Jackson. They’re going to be hard to win over, especially for a first timer like Kerr. It’s a high-risk, high-reward move. The Warriors need to hedge their bets a little better with more of a sure thing due to how popular Jackson was.

Alvin Gentry
With the success of the Clippers this year and the experience he has as a head coach, Gentry has the credentials to justify giving the position to. His offensive philosophies are highly respected and effective, which bodes well for his potential to excel in Golden State. However, Gentry has been a head coach with four different teams now and only has one extensive postseason run under his belt. For a Warriors franchise that is looking to take the next step forward to contention, Gentry would be hard to embrace considering that he’s never experienced the heights they’re aspiring for. The 2009-10 season was the last time a team of his finished over .500.

Fred Hoiberg
Hoiberg has built Iowa State, his alma mater, into a national powerhouse largely based off of their perimeter play and a system that relies heavily on quality three-point shooting. Sounds like a good fit, doesn’t it? With more coaching experience than Kerr but a background as a former player as well, Hoiberg stands a better chance to earn the respect of the Warriors right away. The transition from coaching at the collegiate level to the NBA is a difficult one that many have failed at, but this a hire that would be easy to sell to their fan base. Hoiberg has his ideal job right now, though, so it’s going to take a lengthy commitment and high salary to pluck him away.

Kevin Ollie
Ollie’s stock as a coach is hotter than it ever was as a player coming off of UConn’s run to a national championship. Like Hoiberg, though, he’s very comfortable at his alma mater. Initially they were hesitant to commit and trust him in replacing the great Jim Calhoun, but Ollie has proven to be the ideal replacement. They are currently in negotiations to double his salary. However, Ollie is still willing to listen to the Los Angeles Lakers, who reportedly have interest in him, and would likely be willing to give the Warriors the same courtesy considering they’re a more attractive opening right now. With a long playing history and a system that clearly utilizes quality guard play well, Ollie is another hire that could garner some excitement in the Bay Area.

Stan Van Gundy
Two years removed from his last head coaching stint, Van Gundy has had plenty of time to rest and recharge his batteries for what seems to be an inevitable return to the sidelines. His brother Jeff has stayed away far longer than anyone ever anticipated, though, and Stan does seem content with life away of coaching. He’s caught on as an analyst now and enjoys being able to spend more time with his family in Florida. Northern California is a long way from home, but the potential of this team could be too great for him to pass on like he has the other openings that have come his way over the last two years. No disrespect to Jackson, but Stan could be sold as a clear upgrade. He’s led a team to the NBA Finals before and was let go by the Miami HEAT in-season the year they won it all in 2006. He’s been where they want to go as a franchise, knows what it takes to get there and should easily be able to pick up where Jackson has left off.

Tom Thibodeau
Thibodeau has three years left on his current contract with the Chicago Bulls, yet the Warriors are the second team along with the Lakers that feel like there’s a good enough chance to get him out of his contract and consider requesting the right to speak to him about it. He does have a reputation of overworking his players, leading to them being out of gas in the playoffs, but few get the most out of their teams like he does. It’s hard to imagine many other coaches in the league being able to guide their team to back-to-back playoff appearances without their MVP and best player like he has. While he may come with a high price tag in terms of compensation the Bulls would demand to let him out of his contract, he brings the defensive philosophies this offensive juggernaut of a squad could need to become true contenders.

Honorable mentions: Lionel Hollins and George Karl – You can’t go wrong in hiring either one of these two proven, veteran head coaches. Hollins in particular brings similar defensive credentials to Thibodeau, but wouldn’t cost them any draft picks. Early reports from Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski and local beat writer Tim Kawakami indicate, though, that the above candidates are the ones gaining the most consideration at this early point in the process.

What Happens to Jackson: Another big question now is what happens to Mark Jackson? While he was wrongfully fired in the eyes of many, the Warriors did do him a favor by letting him go early enough in the offseason to where he can go after any of the other openings in the league. Here’s some quick thoughts on how Jackson would fit with every team that is looking for a new coach right now.

  • Los Angeles Lakers – The Lakers are currently doing their homework on a long list of candidates that Jackson will probably get added to. Given their misses on previous head coaching hires, though, it’s somewhat unlikely that they would be willing to take a chance on him given all of the off the court discord that happened in Golden State. They’re looking to hit a home run and bring in someone premiere free agents want to play for. Jackson may not run guys off like Mike D’Antoni did, but he doesn’t check every box they’re looking for in their next head coach.
  • Minnesota Timberwolves – This is an intriguing fit for Jackson. The personnel certainly fits his system, although they are in desperate need of an overhaul defensively. That’s where hiring the right assistant coaches would come into play. Jackson’s players loved him and with their top player, Kevin Love, set to hit free agency, hiring a player’s coach like Jackson could help them keep one of the best players in their franchise’s history.
  • Detroit Pistons – If Jackson is going to catch on with a team immediately, it seems like it’s either going to be here or in Minnesota. They have some logjams at certain positions and a point guard in Brandon Jennings who can be difficult to utilize properly at times; Jackson could go a long way in helping both of those issues. Problem is, they need a new general manager as well. It’s hard to gauge his chances at the job without knowing who is going to be calling the shots.
  • Utah Jazz – There’s an outside chance that the Jazz could look at the improvements the Warriors made under Jackson and feel like he’s the right guy to guide their young team moving forward. If they could make similar strides over the next three seasons, they’d be very pleased. It’s early enough in the process to where Jackson can still get in the mix; no favorites have surfaced as of yet. However, based on some of the names being thrown around (Ettore Messina, Jim Boylen), they could be looking for someone who is a first-year head coach, not a second-chacne guy like Jackson.
  • New York Knicks – This could probably be classified as Jackson’s, a Brooklyn Native, dream job. He campaigned for it when Mike D’Antoni was let go, but was unable to get it. His chances probably aren’t any better now while Phil Jackson calling the shots, unfortunately for him. Jackson is looking at guys who he is familiar with in order to see his triangle offense implemented. Mark would have to be willing to completely change his philosophies and adopt Phil’s, unlikely for someone who proved to be a very capable doing things his way over the last three years.