Newly minted former Golden State Warriors head coach Mark Jackson won’t be unemployed long enough to get his EDD paperwork filed.
This very morning he’s likely noshing on a breakfast sandwich and waiting for a fax to take his talents to Staples or home again to MSG from Jerry Maguire’s oceanfront condo in Newport Beach as Jonathan Lipnicki spits out factoids about the weight of his sizable dome.
And that’s good for Mark Jackson. That’s good because within a half a contract’s time, he
could will be the head coach of a NBA champion.
By every account of his charges, he is a players’ coach in the NBA. And that is a most valuable commodity for a franchise which wants to win multiple trophies, or rather, a franchise that has won multiple trophies which wants to start winning them again on the regular.
The passive-aggressive layman’s knock on the NBA is it is a superstars league. In reality, the NBA is a 30-team league with its top 20-percent represented by superstar franchises. Players and coaches are merely endorsement-ready interchangeable social media-friendly pieces.
With no previous experience, Jackson coached his way into that top tier in just two seasons at Golden State — turning the moribund franchise into a winner, playoff contender, but, more importantly for those in power — a watchable, likable product.
Proselytizing fundamental basketball in the NBA is merely a trail of vapor from Red Auerbach’s victory cigar. Coaching, actual coaching in basketball? Leave that to John Wooden’s wooden pyramid (of success) scheme and the occasional Ivy or Patriot League squads that get past the round of 32 every third year in the NCAA tournament.
When it’s showtime and when apparel, beverage, shoe and mobile device sales are on the line — there’s only a small portion of franchises whose players are allowed to flop and walk and smirk their way into prominence.
And that’s how it’s always been.
You know that pen board elite NBA coaches crouch over during TV time outs? You see it once in awhile after the cut-away from the hair whip, and they’re scribbling and talking with intent. Well, the lucky coaching few who have at least two starters with more than 20 million followers each are simply saying, “Carry the ball, draw the foul, look scorned when you don’t draw the foul. Help each other up, gaze deeply into the camera; and victory will be yours.”
The NBA regular season itself would become something of a likable proposition were the league contracted to the six teams that matter: the Miami Heat, the New York Knicks, the Boston Celtics, the Chicago Bulls, the San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Take the match-ups down to a friendly NFL-sized 16-game schedule, one “event” per week with every team making the playoffs. The postseason would be one wild-card round for the five and six seed and then seven game sets (two games per week) for the top four. Winner gets to maul the trophy and individuals get to tweet without prejudice in the third person for the duration of offseason.
Including the occasional Motor City hiccup, the Walter A. Brown/Larry O’Brien Championship trophy has been coddled and kissed and sweated on profusely by members of these half-dozen franchises — ready — 49 of the 66 times it has been awarded since the league fielded a championship at the end of the 1947 season.
So we know who’s going to win. Or at least we have a better than 98-percent chance of knowing at least one of the half dozen franchises that will be tipping off for the title before each season begins.
No, parity is not something that can be introduced to the league. Like the fabric of its own host nation, parity among the elite and the elite only is coded in the NBA DNA.
This lack of verisimilitude is why the front office can’t wait to get its valued pieces in their prime to the correct franchises. Usually it works: Shaq to LA, KG to Boston, LeBron to Miami. Sometimes, the experiment needs a little more time to marinate: Marbury and Melo to New York seemed to have hit the self-destruct button, but that’s all part of the anticipation Knicks fans have come to cherish over the last three decades.
The NBA subsists and persists solely because of its marquee squads (unless you ask the 1979 Supersonics. Though, to be fair, everyone was on coke that year — or at least nobody was hiding the fact that everyone was on coke that year) and, by association, a marquee player or two embedded within them.
If you’re not one of the elite splashing down the net in a Gatorade ad, creating beats with your Samsung device guaranteed to need replacing one third of the way through your contract, quaffing a Sprite with headphones on for some reason, or wearing shoes that look incredibly more like tiny spaceships each season, you’re not in the game, you’re not going to win a championship and you’re not in the NBA conversation.
Now that Mark Jackson is a part of the conversation, he has been miraculously freed from the shackles of a second-tier franchise. Regardless of how it’s portrayed, it wasn’t because VC guy/Golden State owner Joe Lacob was looking for an xs and os puppet. If he did, they’d unfreeze PJ Carlesimo from the hell of his studio sentence in Bristol. It’s not because Jackson bickered with his bosses, every good coach does that. And it’s DEFINITELY not race as some somnolent sports scribes would like to text it in.
It is simply that the league is ready for Mr. Jackson to have his moment. And no single owner can stand in his way of stepping up to helm one of the big six. Lacob, amongst others, understands this and, as a businessman first, was complicit as he was compensated for this.
The Buss family is ready to move back in the fast lane and will do so this offseason. By keeping its nucleus of Kobe Bryant and adding a lottery pick plus one or more of the following pieces from this year’s fecund free-agent market: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, Kyle Lowry, Eric Bledsoe, Luol Deng and Greg Monroe, they will be right there with a former Knicks point guard likely in the driver’s seat.
In the event the Lakers cherry pick LeBron who, after winning three in Florida may be tiring of a constant barrage of rollerblades and Pit Bull in South Beach and ready to roll with Magic and the other Mr. Jackson (Phil) for a bit in Hollywood, it is game on again for the purple and gold. Three to five more trophies for the Lakers’ case by 2020 and “parity” will have been restored to the six-team superstar league.
Though we think he’ll go Hollywood, Mark Jackson could choose Midtown. Either way, he’ll be smiling all the way with a contract just south of $10 million/year and a perennial shot at the title with or without your support — or need of a pen board.