Make no mistake about it: This offseason, and the moves the Golden State Warriors make - and do not make - will be immensely significant to the Warriors in how they are regarded in the future and whether their terrifically high ceiling can be realized.
Playoff hopes, internal and external expectations, impending free agents, and fan response, among other things, will affect how the Warriors play their stacked hand. Joe Lacob and Bob Myers are playing a zero-sum game with their impending coaching hire and player decisions: nail the moves and be rewarded, or fail and become considered embarrassments once more.
With Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, and Andrew Bogut under team control until 2017 at least, the Warriors' core is in place to make additional (and hopefully longer) playoff runs in the foreseeable future. That's a pretty nice core, only to get better if Klay Thompson is signed to an extension as expected.
However, we've seen that great teams on paper don't always win the championship: injuries, coaching, chemistry, and front-office moves play key roles in determining where a team may finish, as Warriors fans have noted all too often. As reported outstandingly by Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News, Golden State's front office obviously felt, with reason, that Mark Jackson was "not the right guy for us, going forward," and guillotined him despite Jackson having improved the team's record every year and leading the team to back-to-back playoff appearances - something the Warriors hadn't experienced in over 20 years.
Jackson responded to the firing yesterday on numerous radio shows, including Dan Patrick's NBC show, discussing everything he went through with the Warriors. He compared it to a woman going through childbirth (which could offend women, who actually know what it takes to carry a baby), "going through all the labor pains...and then seeing that someone else is going to be able to grab that baby."
What was interesting was that Mark seemed to deny any sense of dysfunction within the Warriors organization: "I don't believe that (they had problems with him); I stay in my lane; it doesn't match what they're saying." Jackson has attempted to deflect the blame to the front office. "When people lie against you, that's what people are going to look at. I'm going to walk and take the high road. I don't know how to dance with the business folks."
"51 wins [wasn't] enough," Jackson said. "It was a long, taxing, draining season."
Jackson was gracious in his firing, saying that: "That's a championship-caliber team. That's a team that's prepared and ready. Someone's going to inherit a great group of individuals." But he also said that "it will be entertaining to see what their next step is, because having a real chance is not enough. 51 (wins) is not enough. They've got to do it."
Although there's a lot of controversy surrounding this move, SB Nation's Tom Ziller noted Wednesday morning that coaching turmoil is extremely common in today's NBA. Just look at last year, when Denver unprecedentedly fired George Karl and Memphis gave Lionel Hollins his own pink slip. Karl was awarded Coach of the Year and guided the Nuggets to their best single-season record ever; Hollins led the Grizzlies to the Western Conference Finals and still was axed.
There were valid reasons for both the Nuggets and Grizzlies to despise of their coaches - Karl had extended a long streak of not advancing past the first round, and Hollins had come to blows with the Grizzlies analytical front office over how to coach and run the team. Both teams decided they, like the Warriors this offseason, wanted someone else coaching their team; however, Memphis and Denver have each headed in vastly different directions after their coaching hires, showing that coaching can (to use the saying) help a ship sail or bring it into a tailspin.
Nate wrote about the various Warriors coaching candidates yesterday. A Steve Kerr hire would represent another bet in the area of broadcasters-turned-novice-coaches - but Kerr would not at all get the same leniency shown to Mark Jackson during his first season. Stan Van Gundy and Mike D'Antoni would be offensive geniuses excellent for this team, but would their personalities fit inside the locker room? While there are important questions to ask when it comes to each possible hire, each has strengths that are well-suited to Golden State's current roster.
The Warriors will be back next year in the thick of the postseason race, without a doubt. But where they are fighting for will be a result of what the Warriors do this offseason. The West is a bloodbath filled with dominant teams - the Clippers, Blazers, and Thunder each have two All-Stars, and the Spurs are the preeminent force they've been for the last two decades.
As Zach Lowe of Grantland.com writes, the Warriors have "a very good ... versatile roster" loaded with talent on both sides of the ball. David Lee and Andre Iguodala have been named All-Stars; Andrew Bogut is as elite a defensive player as there is in the NBA; Klay Thompson has improved every season and is one of the top shooting guards in the league; and Stephen Curry is Stephen Curry, a consensus top-ten player and one of the most destructive offensive forces in the game today. When healthy, Golden State has the potential to be one of the best teams in the NBA, a roster replete with elite shooters, passers, rebounders, and defenders.
However, there's room here for a possible upgrade. Golden State will test the waters to see if there are any teams willing to buy on Lee and his mammoth contract; the promising-but-unsatisfactory Harrison Barnes (a common person of scorn among many GSoM writers and commenters) is also a valuable trade chip. The Timberwolves could be one such team, with disgruntled franchise player Kevin Love unhappy with the direction of the team and could want out of cold Minnesota. Golden State reportedly attempted to acquire Love during this season's trade deadline, and could do so again this offseason.
Who will the Warriors hire as head coach, how will the players welcome and embrace him, and what type of offensive system will he implement to maximize Stephen Curry and the offensive potency of the team? How much power will the front office give the next head coach, and will he be willing to compromise, something Jackson wasn't willing to do? Will the team stay the course with the current roster, one of the top defensive teams in the league, and let #FullSquad remain intact? How will the Warriors retool the bench, a definite area of need going forth next season? Could the Warriors make a splash and bring in a superstar, one they may think is necessary in order to, as Joe Lacob said, "meet their goals?"
It's Joe Lacob and the rest of the front office on the hot seat now. Let's see how they respond.