The Potentially Ugly Coupling of the Kings and Mark Jackson

News this week of Mark Jackson impressing Vivek Ranadive delivered an all too familiar yet agonizing blow to the morale of Sacramento Kings fans.

Just a month ago, a minority owner told Jason Anderson of The Sacramento Bee that “he believes McNair is calling the shots without interference.”

“Does Vivek have the right to approve trades or give his input? Yeah, but I don’t believe Vivek is micromanaging Monte,” the minority owner said. “I believe Monte is in charge and has total control.”

While Ranadive wasn’t involved in administering the first round of interviews, the reports nevertheless set up for a very telling decision. Should the Kings hire Mike Brown, who is McNair and the front office’s consensus favorite, per Jake Fischer—especially with the departure of the “very influential” Joe Dumars—then all this concern may have merit to simmer down. 

But if Mark Jackson gets tapped for the role, all reason to worry, and then some, will come crashing down.

It’s hard to say whether that happens or not at this point. The hiring process is moving particularly fast, and could wrap up in the coming days or hours, but the implications are massive.

Not only is it that a Jackson hire would infer relevant and therefore concerning levels of “micromanaging” on Ranadive’s part, but bringing in the television broadcaster has the distinct potential to be a horrible fit that could very well end disastrously based solely on the fit with Sacramento.

In his time as the head coach of the Golden State Warriors between 2011-14, Mark Jackson unquestionably produced winning results on the floor. Though it would eventually be brought over the hump when he was replaced by Steve Kerr, the core group was instilled with a defensive identity and a positive environment for players.

In the three years prior to his hiring, the Warriors finished in the bottom five defensively, and they did so again in Jackson’s first season. By year two, Golden State finished in the top half of the league defensively for the first time since the 1998-99 season. Then in his third season as coach—without the defensive-oriented presence of Michael Malone, who went to coach Sacramento—the Warriors finished fourth in defense.

He’s well regarded in the eyes of his former players, including Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and David Lee. Andre Iguodala said he was one of his favorite leaders and called Jackson “the ultimate players coach.”

Even his former assistant Malone spoke highly of his time working with Jackson and that they “still have a relationship.”

“We still speak,” Malone added when the two were coaching the two Northern California teams. “We never went weeks without speaking to each other, and it wasn’t just a conversation of, ‘Hey, how you doing?’ We spoke as an assistant coach and a head coach. He hired me to help him, and that’s what I did in my two years there. I think the record that they have right now, being 17 games above .500, speaks for itself. And Mark’s record as a head coach speaks for itself.”

Though he generated success and was credited with unifying the locker room, not all former players and assistants have the best history with Jackson.

During his final season in Golden State, Jackson butted heads with Andrew Bogut, suggesting at one point that his starting center had hurt his shoulder while sleeping. The Australian called the comments “ridiculous,” showing a potential loss of patience with Jackson’s rhetoric. 

Following his departure from coaching and return to commentating, Mark Jackson famously said a rim protector was “overrated” on an ESPN broadcast of a game in direct reference to his former big man.

“You look at the Warriors,” Jackson commented with an apparent bone to pick. “No Andrew Bogut, their defense stays or even improves because of the identity, because of what they force you to do.”

Bogut brushed off the comments, noting his satisfaction with the lack of communication he maintains with his former coach. Later on, following a Warriors championship run and after Jackson ridiculed Curry’s style of play, the center noted that anything Jackson says should simply be taken “with a grain of salt.”

While crediting his former coach with establishing the building blocks of the Warriors dynasty, Bogut has criticized Mark Jackson’s locker room environment, calling it “a church recruitment group.” 

“He was very big with religion, which is fine with me,” Bogut said of his former coach and the longtime pastor. “I have no issue with anyone being religious. I kind of draw the line when it becomes a door-knocking, recruiting process, which it kind of felt like at times.”

Jackson’s popularity with players is not exactly unanimous, and he’s proven to rub some people the wrong way, regardless of intent. He has also been involved with drama surrounding his staff.

In 2014, assistant coach Brian Scalabrine was demoted to the then D-League Santa Cruz Warriors. “In what’s become an increasingly dysfunctional atmosphere,” Adrian Wojnarowski reported at the time, “Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson has forced a reassignment of assistant coach Brian Scalabrine.” 

The incident that resulted in the move, as Scalabrine describes it, centered around a disagreement about reviewing a piece of game film where “there’s a lot of bashing Bogut on [a] particular play,” and Scal wanted to plead otherwise. 

“I wanted to watch the clip that we were talking about, which means watch the tape, right? And they wouldn’t put it on,” the former assistant recalled. “So I was like, Let’s just watch the tape, and let’s figure it out. I don’t want to argue. Let’s watch the tape.”

“Afterwards, it s a big thing. Like, we’re having a meeting afterwards… [Jackson’s] the leader, so we had this meeting of clearing the air, and the meeting was… like a bombardment of he’s trying to get everyone to say that I’m a bad guy, and I’m a bad coach, and I should be off the staff.”

Ultimately, as Wojnarowski noted, management wasn’t willing to let Scalabrine be booted from the organization, hence the reassignment, but Jackson effectively fired his assistant as his job security was beginning to decline, choosing to point fingers at a difficult time.

The extent of the rotting relationships with the organization extended even further up the ladder.

“I do think our coach has done a good job—we have had some big wins, a lot of wins on the road, and that’s usually a sign of good coaching,” Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob told Tim Kawakami shortly before the All-Star Break in 2014.

“But some things are a little disturbing—the lack of being up for some of these games at home, that’s a concern to me.”

That was the first of several shots Lacob would take at his former coach.

While Steve Kerr was in his first year leading the team, Lacob condemned Mark Jackson’s character, saying he “couldn’t get along with anybody else in the organization.” The owner added that he respects what Jackson accomplished, but “you can’t have 200 people in the organization not like you.”

The impassioned owner also threw jabs at his inability to “hire the very best” coaching staff, saying this prevented the team, and Jackson himself, from reaching the maximum potential, referring to the logic as “Management 101” and calling into question his former coach’s determination to win.

Another major and relevant reason—related to what Bogut said—why Jackson wasn’t very popular in the organization, as Andre Iguodala said on The Breakfast Club radio show, centered around some of his stronger religious beliefs.

Just as Bogut had clarified, it wasn’t being religious alone that caused any issue, it was Jackson’s particular opinions on homosexuality that caused the most derision. Rick Welts, the Warriors president and COO, is gay, “so there were conflicts with that that were widespread,” Iguodala commented.

Jackson was also alleged to have declared, “Not in my locker room!” to the idea of Jason Collins joining the Warriors, though he denied the allegation.

It’s hard to imagine, as Jason Anderson posited, that these issues aren’t being addressed and heavily considered in the interview process. Even with all things considered and understood, and as much as he has produced winning results, it’s equally as clear that there’s a line with Jackson where things have a tendency to fall apart.

Welts has recently agreed that what Jackson did to revamp the locker room culture of the Warriors was invaluable, but hindsight makes it easier to separate that undeniable fact from the other fact that, in Jackson’s brief history as head coach, things have a tendency to spoil for one reason or another. 

Whether or not some of the more damaging accusations are true, the track record nevertheless includes baggage.

If hired, it’s not like there is a reason to definitively say the Kings won’t do well next season—they very well could. Beyond that, however, is where things get less certain. 

Alvin Gentry expressed a desire to establish a culture of “sustainable winning,” something sorely needed in Sacramento, where the playoff drought lingers. Jackson has discernable coaching abilities, but he does not paint the brightest future in terms of sustainable winning.

Sure, the Warriors just took it to another level when they moved on from Jackson, but with all the dysfunction, that could have easily have derailed things. Luckily, they had a plethora of talent and a competent organization, so things panned out, but for the long-scuffling Kings, there may not be much to fall back on.

What’s so interesting about Vivek Ranadive’s apparent fondness for Mark Jackson is that there’s good reason to see that relationship degrading and leading to a case of Sacramento dysfunction in the classic style of the Ranadive regime.

Whether pertaining to basketball disputes with either coaches or the front office, or if it has to do with some off the court matter where non-basketball related viewpoints bleed into the narrative, there is distinct potential for disaster. 

If ever there was an owner to potentially lock horns with Jackson at some point, it’s Ranadive. They may have, by all appearances, a relationship that is fine and dandy, but that can change quickly with two strong personalities that can come off as quite abrasive at times should they cause any friction.

Jackson has a history of successful coaching, particularly on the defensive end, but there’s too much potential for things to blow up in a bad way.

The Kings are really in a position to do something great with the foundation of players they have. This team is poised to succeed next year, and could continue to do so for years afterwards. Stability is probably the most necessary quality in a coach, and while he may be a good option elsewhere, Mark Jackson makes almost no sense for the Sacramento Kings.

If the Kings hire Mark Jackson, not only is it a sign that Ranadive is continuing his destructive habit of overreaching, it’s an indication that the absence of “sustainable winning” may very well continue.

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