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Mark Jackson, amusing catchphrases, sure, but the coach to bring Brooklyn to the promised land?

Throughout the 2020 coaching search, we’ll be taking a loo at candidates. Nolan Jensen takes a look at Mark Jackson of Bishop Loughlin High School, Brooklyn N.Y.

Golden State Warriors v Brooklyn Nets

Nothing is written in stone, of course. At this point, everything is still sheer speculation, from rumors of Tyronne Lue to Gregg Popovich ... to Mark Jackson. That feels like a good place to start.

So, Mark Jackson?

Brian Windhorst, on his pod, “Hoop Collective,” recently entertained the idea of Mark Jackson coaching in Brooklyn, proverbially connecting the dots by acknowledging the “good relationship” the former Warriors head coach has with Kevin Durant.

“You know, (Kleiman) pretty much said he liked the idea. It is known that Mark Jackson and Kevin Durant have a good relationship. Those Tweets and the Jackson/Nets possible connection with Durant have not gone unnoticed in the NBA.”

Apparently, KD is not the only fan on the roster. We unearthed this June 2017 tweet from Jamal Crawford.

Listen, I can’t say I had Mark Jackson to Brooklyn rumors in my 2020 Bingo card after the conclusion of the 2018-19 NBA season. But the NBA is vastly unpredictable, situations change on a dime. So does the overall dynamic of the entire league.

Before June 30, 2019, there weren’t many of us that expected Brooklyn’s gravitational pull to extend all the say up to Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving’s magnitude . Anything is possible. Yes, Mark Jackson, a Brooklyn native who attended the high school closest to Barclays Center, returning home to coach the 2020-21 Nets included.

So, let’s entertain the hypothetical. Why not? Sean Marks is going to do his due diligence, no metaphorical rock will be left unturned. So let’s do the same. What’s to make of Mark Jackson? Could he reverse his fortunes and narratives as a head coach; essentially, could he play the role of Steve Kerr in Golden State (which he knows all too well) and take the Nets to that next level?

His most recent and only tenure as an NBA head coach provides a glaringly obvious response. No.

In the first half of the last decade, the Golden State Warriors we’re seemingly a young team on the rise. In the latter half, they were a dynasty. They won 72 playoff games from 2010-2019; Steve Kerr won 63 of those games, Mark Jackson won nine.

However, to say Jackson’s time in Golden State was a failure wouldn’t necessarily be fair. He took over in the abbreviated 2011-12 season, commanding his new squad, which were injury-plagued and depleted to the umpteenth degree, to a 23-43 record in his maiden campaign behind the bench.

That next season, the “Dubs” nearly doubled their win total, accumulating 47 victories, and he received three first-place votes for Coach of the Year. After that, the Warriors won 51 games and took the Los Angeles Clippers, an evergreen threat to take home the Larry O’Brien Trophy, the distance in the first round of the playoffs—eventually losing Game 7 at Staples Center.

Fun fact: Steve Kerr won 13 of his first 14 matchups against the Clippers as coach of the Warriors.

So how did Jackson follow up his 51-win season? Glad you asked. He was fired. “Life comes at you fast”— Ferris Bueller (and Mark Jackson, probably).

Yes, the Warriors improved every year under Mark Jackson. Yes, he helped turn a once abysmal defense (27th in the NBA in his first season) to one of the better defensive units in the league (fourth in his final year). And finally, yes, the Warriors did have the best five-man unit in terms of net rating in his final year in Golden State (Per NBA Stats). No, these technically aren’t bad things.

But that’s the thing, though he was never technically bad...he was never exactly great either. He had reached a ceiling with the Warriors. He did not know how to fully maximize the roster at hand. Kerr did.

Curry was already arguably the greatest shooter the world had ever known around the halfway mark of Jackson’s tenure. Thompson was emerging as a legit budding backcourt partner that complemented Curry’s game incredibly well. They were young; they were exciting, but their skillsets had not been completely unlocked quite yet.

Steve Kerr devised a beautiful motion-spread offense that complemented the playmaking acumen of Draymond Green—who Jackson never really figured out how to utilize—and amplified the off-ball prowess of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson by getting them quality looks off a barrage of off-ball screens.

In Kerr’s first season with Golden State, the team finished first in the NBA in assists. In Jackson’s final year in Oakland, they were dead last in the league in passes per game. He ran plenty of isolation and went the traditional route of posting up; Kerr helped revolutionize the game with a modern, analytically-inclined offense that shook the NBA to its very core.

And it wasn’t just on that end of the court that the Warriors made headway either. Their defense, which was admittedly impressive under Jackson, started to do this thing where’d they switch...literally everything. Warranted, Kerr did have three—and I don’t use this term lightly—generational defenders at his disposal in Green, Thompson and Andre Iguodala, but then so did Jackson.

Under Kerr (and plenty of Hall of Fame talent), the Dubs wouldn’t stop switching ball screens. The catch-22 for opposing offenses who thought they could exploit mismatches found the Warriors were such a cohesive unit and communicated so effectively that they could clog the paint in a fraction of a second. At the same time, they still accounted for pesky perimeter hang-outs beyond the arc ready to lock and load ... swarming them off kick-outs or methodically doubling to trap players giving them nowhere to go.

A major component in this was that Kerr, to be quite frank, viewed Green as a revolutionary player and not a clunky small forward taken midway in the second round (with a Nets pick, we might add.)

Jackson didn’t have the foresight to see where the NBA was trending; hell, he didn’t even know what he had — a damn dynasty.

It’s not just that Jackson wasn’t some X’s and O’s mastermind; it’s not just that he didn’t know how to utilize anything more dynamic than “pawns” on a chessboard, no. It’s been documented, through Joe Lacob—the majority owner of the Golden State Warriors—that the relationship between Jackson and the Dubs had turned internecine, that is destructive to both parties.

When discussing Jackson’s approach to the game, Lacob now—rather infamously—had the following to say: “You can’t have 200 people in the organization not like you.”

Big yikes. And in fact, Andre Iguodala thinks that Jackson clashed culturally with ownership, setting up church services in the Warriors practice facility and expressing anti-gay opinions.

Lacob’s is not the only account of Jackson either being difficult to work with or having it out in some form or fashion with the organization that employed him. There is more where that came from...

In the 2002-03 season, Jackson, 38, signed with the Utah Jazz in the twilight of his career. He joined a roster that featured the NBA’s All-Time assist leader, John Stockton, who was also in the final chapter of his illustrious career.

He’d serve backup to Stockton that season. But not without him having few reservations about slighting the master. Jackson may not have started a Deron Williams-sized mutiny in that locker room, but the schism he helped create in that locker room dynamic almost caused Jerry Sloan to call it a day prematurely (per Ian Thomsen of Sports Illustrated).

“They say that over a period of weeks, he succeeded in turning several teammates against Stockton by repeatedly remarking that those players would be better off if Jackson were the Jazz’s floor leader,” wrote Thomsen.

Greg Ostertag, resident big man on the Jazz for 10 seasons, called into a radio show in 2008 and confirmed that Jackson liked to “stir the pot.” Or how about that time he all-but-forced Brian Scalabrine’s departure from the Warriors organization by reassigning Scal to the D-League with only a few weeks left in the 2013-14 regular season? Scal, by the way, also believed that the Warriors’ upside was not being captured under Jackson’s direction.

Scal late said the following on Adrian Wojnarowksi’s “The Vertical Podcast:”

“Then we started getting into the talk of team and how I thought that they were really good, and he thought that they were not good as they really are. And at the end of the day, I got fired, and I went to the D League, and it was an adventure.”

And he seemed like he was gobbling down sour grapes in 2015 when he said Steph Curry had “ruined the game.”

“Steph Curry’s great. Steph Curry’s the MVP. He’s a champion. Understand what I’m saying when I say this,” Jackson said during the Warriors’ victory over Cleveland. “To a degree, he’s hurt the game. And what I mean by that is I go into these high school gyms, I watch these kids and the first thing they do is run to the three-point line. You are not Steph Curry. Work on the other aspects of the game.”

Curry responded coolly. “I have to talk to him. I don’t know what he means by that,” Curry told Yahoo at the time. “If you can shoot, shoot. If you can’t, stop.”

Now, let me briefly (but only briefly) play Devil’s Advocate on my own article! I totally understand those who claim that Jackson’s hiatus from the bench back to the booth to join dear pal Jeff Van Gundy may have done him good. Not only he can speak in weird catchphrases until his heart was content, he saw, first-hand, how the game has rapidly changed since Bob Myers showed him the door.

Also, his simplified offensive philosophies, which do allow for chef’s to cook up some of their favorite dishes, could work with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Durant did have issues with Kerr’s motion offense, saying it “only works to a certain point.” Under Jackson, a diet of isolations would be in order.

That said, can Jackson be malleable enough to not just adjust in a regular-season game, but when it really matters? Under someone like Ty Lue, who has also been rumored to Brooklyn because of his relationship with Kyrie, both stars, called “KD and Ky” inside the organization, would be afforded the luxury of operating in their comfort zones, just like with Jackson. The major difference is we know that Lue can adjust if needed and that he knows what it takes to win. A ring and three visits to the Finals cannot, should not be dismissed.

Jackson never captured that all-so-elusive Larry O’Brien trophy as a player or as a coach, Lue—no matter how much credit you want to award him—has. I’m not advocating for him as the Nets next coach, I’m just trying to illustrate that there are more alluring options out there or in-house even. Pause here for hat tip to Jacque Vaughn.

To say Jackson didn’t have success in this league would require a certain degree of blasphemy. He finished his career fourth all-time in assists. And though his philosophies may align with that of the Nets’ two best players, at some point, he’s going to be required to actually coach. KD may have a “very loud voice” in discussions about the Nets future, as Sean Marks has said and Ky knows what he likes as well. But the ultimate decision will rest with the GM and the owner.

Is Jackson the best possible option on the market to meet the criteria? Or is it in his destiny to remain where he currently sits, watching the in-game heroics and theatrics of either KD or Kyrie while elatedly telling everyone at home that if the opposition foolishly keeps their hands down, it will result in man being down? I’ll take the latter in this instance.