Golden State Warriors

After taking a gamble on Mark Jackson three years ago, Joe Lacob bet on himself today

Bob Myers Joe Lacob

I’m in the venture capital business and have been for 25 years. We do a lot of diligence and a lot of assessing of things. We do our homework. We’re analytical. But in the end, you’re starting businesses when there’s a lot of unknowns when you do start-ups. No matter how much analysis you do, there’s always going to be things you don’t know.

And what makes somebody good at this business, vs. somebody not good, is the ability to take risk. Calculated risk. And to be OK with that. To be a gambler, to some extent.

I think that yes, I like poker. I like the idea… of calculated risk. Doing my homework, and then you have to take a shot. You learn a lot in poker about people. Phil Hellmuth is a good friend of mine and you learn a lot about people when you play that game.

— Joe Lacob (August 17, 2010)

Lacob took a huge gamble in hiring Mark Jackson, a man with no coaching experience or local ties. Today Lacob made an even larger wager, firing Jackson after just three seasons. It was an expected move after the team’s first round exit, but still a curious one considering where the team currently stands compared to where it was before Jackson’s arrival.

Why were the Warriors in such a rush (less than three days after losing Game 7 in L.A.) to part ways with the guy who led them to consecutive playoff appearances, immediately after they shamelessly tanked to secure a lottery pick?

1. Not meeting the Warriors’ expectations of a top-four finish in the Western Conference and advancement to the Conference Finals.

2. An unimaginative offense that relied too much on isolation plays.

3. His “flow” coaching style, which included curious substitution patterns and a Phil Jackson-like tendency to sit or stand tranquilly while everyone watching the game is panicking and yelling, “Timeout! Call a timeout! What are you saving them for?!?!”

4. Discord amongst a coaching staff that was hand-picked by Jackson, including the reassignment of Brian Scalabrine and firing of Darren Erman.

5. Adrian Wojnarowski’s report that Jackson showed interest in other head coaching jobs while working for Golden State.

Most of all, it’s been clear for a while that the same kind of trust that Jackson and his players shared in one another was nonexistent between Jackson and his superiors. Half the team went with Jackson to his church on Easter, but Kirk Lacob and Jackson were no longer on speaking terms after getting into a recent spat over God knows what. In many cases, getting along with the boss’ significant other and children is just as important as getting along with the actual boss. That’s something Jackson should keep in mind if he gets the Lakers job and joins forces with the Buss family.

This was not about iso-ball, or even the losses to so-called beatable teams at home. If the Warriors were upset about the offense, they could’ve spent at least a week coming up with a suitable remedy that was amenable to both parties. (i.e. “Mark, you’re the defensive coordinator and point guards coach, and here’s a brand new assistant who’ll install an offense that isn’t stuck in the mid-’90s.”) If losing to the Nuggets, Wizards, Bobcats and Cavs was the main issue, one could just as easily point to an impressive list of road wins against elite teams over the last two seasons.

Salespeople are taught that buying decisions are made based on emotion. That’s why they wine and dine clients, take them to shows, arrange for massages, and do whatever else it takes to make the people with the money feel comfortable. We’re all selling ourselves in one way or another. Lacob is the one who controls the Warriors’ money, and Jackson didn’t make him comfortable.

Relevant: the Warriors have already talked to Steve Kerr. The Lacobs are, by all accounts, very comfortable with Kerr.

Lacob had two options today (yes, today — I have a feeling it’s not a coincidence that the Clippers flattened the Thunder yesterday, as an L.A. sweep would indirectly add another bullet point to Jackson’s resume): convince Jackson a stay with a lucrative multiyear extension offer or fire him. The extension would’ve been a financial gamble, and Lacob’s preference probably isn’t to hold his nose while spending $20 million-plus on something/someone. However, Lacob wouldn’t have faced questions from anyone — other than hoops analytics junkies, anyway — had he kept Jackson around.

But Lacob may be a little too intoxicated by the current roster. The idea of “#FullSquad” wasn’t just about having a good starting lineup, it’s a term that exists because some of the team’s best players rarely show championship-caliber durability. They’re in a monstrous conference that shows no signs of weakening. It’s not like Lacob is handpicking a coach to lead the 2016 Dream Team. Even with a smart, drama-free coach, winning 45 games and finishing ninth in the West isn’t out of the question.

It wasn’t long ago that Lacob was booed lustily on his own home floor. Two winning seasons have quieted things down, but removing the team’s spiritual leader, a forceful personality who enjoys the backing of several loud national voices, puts Lacob in the line of fire.

It’s HIS job to prove he values winning basketball over his own personal views. It’s HIS job to show the players that he values their opinions, which could be difficult since they weren’t even informed of the team’s decision, let alone consulted. It’s HIS job to spend whatever it takes to build a deeper bench. It’s HIS job to come up with a coach that’s just as good, if not better.

Time will tell if this move is looked upon as courageous and forward-thinking, or arrogant and ego-driven. The Warriors are right up against the cap, have no draft picks anytime soon, and Lacob has shown a reluctance to pay the luxury tax (despite what Bob Myers repeatedly says about that not being the case). Lacob and the Warriors think their coaching vacancy is the most tempting the NBA has to offer. They may be right, but not because they have Stephen Curry (whose support for Jackson fell on deaf ears). If the next coach fails, blaming him for the team’s slide will be an afterthought. Most of the vitriol would be saved for Lacob.

“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 Lacob in a statement released by the team. “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.”

Lacob says “we,” but this is undoubtedly an “I” situation. If the Warriors tread water or fade next year, it’s not on Myers, Peter Guber, Jerry West, Stephen Curry or Andrew Bogut. Lacob, who shot looks of disdain toward Jackson’s bench in a good percentage of the team’s games this season, just told us that what we witnessed over the last two years — the rare sight of Golden State Warriors players outscoring their opponents more often than not, and players actually wanting to come to Oakland and play hard — wasn’t good enough.

“It’s harsh to critique the record,” said Myers. “But this is a harsh business.”

If the Warriors fail to make it further than the first round of the playoffs, fans may finally show the kind of harshness Lacob displayed today. After being loyal to a fault for so many years, there’s a lot of pent-up anger in sports bars, living rooms and fan forums, as well as the lower and upper bowls of Oracle Arena. As the fans take their cues from Lacob, which they most certainly will, the days of patience are over. After a tumultuous season where Jackson was the story more often than not, the spotlight now shines on the gambler’s courtside seat.

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