The Golden State Warriors, still undefeated a quarter of the way through the season, are doing things we’ve never seen an NBA team do before. They’re boggling minds, breaking records, changing television schedules and re-writing history on an almost nightly basis.
Catalyst Stephen Curry has drilled 102 threes in the first 20 games, on pace for a mere 418. For perspective, Larry Bird, a shooter of some renown, never made more than 98 threes in any season during his career. Curry’s feats are practically Ruthian — he’s made as many threes this season as the Miami Heat and more than the Brooklyn Nets and Minnesota Timberwolves. No matter how much we celebrate Curry, we can’t possibly do him justice.
Curry and the Warriors are doing the unimaginable, and it’s causing some older analysts some difficulty. They simply don’t know how to process it rationally. Some, like ESPN.com’s Stephen A. Smith, are losing their minds over it.
Smith went on a long diatribe Thursday afternoon on his radio show about how former Warriors coach and current ESPN analyst Mark Jackson wasn’t getting enough credit for the team’s success. The burning hoops he jumped through to arrive at his thesis was a fascinating display of mental contortion.
Essentially, Smith stated that interim coach Luke Walton’s undefeated record, despite his lack of experience, proved that A) the Warriors don’t need a coach and B) that what Jackson’s successor Steve Kerr accomplished last season in winning an NBA championship in his first year even though he had no prior coaching experience was overrated. In other words, the success that both men have enjoyed is symbiotic evidence that invalidates both of their achievements. Then, after stating how coaching doesn’t matter for Golden State, he heaps praise on Jackson for the work he did coaching Golden State.
How’s that for circular logic?
Jackson deserves some credit for the team’s dramatic turnaround. He changed the culture and got the team, a longtime doormat, to play some defense. How much of it really had to do with him and how much had to do with circumstances is up for debate. Former Jackson assistant Brian Scalabrine — who was demoted by Jackson mid-game for disagreeing with him about something — said during an interview on SiriusXM NBA that fellow assistant Darren Erman was the team’s real defensive guru and the one breaking down film and getting players in the right position. Jackson, who was notoriously averse to the mundane work of film review and scouting reports, also fired Erman during his final season with the club for recording their conversations.
The part Smith really glossed over, either on purpose or out of carelessness — with him you can’t ever tell — is that Warriors general manager Bob Myers was the one who radically remade the team’s roster. The only players on the title-winning team when Jackson signed on in 2011 were Curry, Klay Thompson in his rookie year and David Lee, who was a bit contributor by the end. It was Myers who drafted Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green and Festus Ezeli. It was Myers who signed Shaun Livingston, Leandro Barbosa and Marreese Speights to fill out the bench. Most importantly, it was Myers who spent lavishly on Andre Iguodala when no one predicted he’d join the Warriors as a free agent, and it was Myers who orchestrated the trade that shipped out the popular Monta Ellis for center Andrew Bogut.
That’s the real reason the Warriors started playing defense. They finally got some players who could. Smith never mentioned Myers’s name during his long rant, only briefly referring to team adviser Jerry West, and even then in disparaging terms. Smith accused West of wanting to trade several key players on what turned out to be a championship-winning club and alleged that it was Jackson who stumped on those players’ behalf with management.
It’s all so revisionist and silly. Smith points to a few random examples of Curry’s brilliance, his ability to “pull up from 30 feet” as proof that the Warriors don’t run any more of a sophisticated offense now than the iso-heavy muck they labored under with Jackson. In the next breath he gives Jackson credit for Green averaging nearly a triple-double. The Warriors lead the league in assists this season just as they did the last. In Jackson’s final year they had the fewest passes of any team in the league.
Smith implied that race and religion had something to do with both Jackson’s firing and his inability to get another coaching job elsewhere. He referenced that Jackson alienated the team’s brass for wanting to spend Sundays in church rather than hobnobbing with executives. The degree to which Jackson poisoned his own well was vastly ignored.
Let’s count the ways: Jackson repeatedly refused to beef up his assistant staff despite ownership making it clear that money wouldn’t be an issue there. He clashed and fired assistants on staff and didn’t replace them. He banned West from team meetings. He expressed anti-gay views in an organization that had an openly gay executive in Rick Welts and was less than supportive when Jason Collins came out and became the first openly gay player in the NBA. Collins’s twin brother Jarron is now a Warriors assistant. Jackson ignored and dismissed the team’s analytic department, which is headed up by owner Joe Lacob’s son.
Most of all he created this contrived atmosphere where it was the players against the world, where even the team’s own suits were seen as the enemy. Countless coaches in all sports do this, including Jim Harbaugh, and it always ends badly.
Smith’s soliloquy was pure gibberish. He might think he’s helping a friend, but he’s doing Jackson more harm than good by serving as a public ally. Maybe Kevin Durant had it right after all. It’s hypocritical for us to critique Kobe Bryant for doing his worst work in his final season when people in all walks of life command their highest salaries right at the end of their careers, when the quality of their work is the poorest.
Have you seen what Smith’s making?