Another round of coaching vacancies has come and gone, and Hall of Fame point guard Mark Jackson still didn’t get a second chance as an NBA head coach. It’s one of the most mysterious happenings in the NBA universe considering his qualifications and popularity on ABC’s lead broadcasting team.
Mark Jackson coaches from the sidelines at a Golden State Warriors game in 2013, above. So far, Jackson hasn’t gotten a second chance at coaching, but some say he deserves to coach again. (Image: Getty)
As soon as Monday night in Denver, Jackson will compete in his 14th NBA Finals with sidekicks Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy.
Last month, Jackson interviewed for the Milwaukee Bucks job, falling short again with Toronto assistant, Adrian Griffin, getting hired.
Here’s a wild stat courtesy of the Elias Sports Bureau.
Since Jackson got fired by the Warriors in May 2014, 84 different coaches have been hired for vacancies, including interims. If you count Jacques Vaughn’s two stints, The Knicks and Nets have had six head coaches in that span.
Whatever Jackson is doing to make his resume more impressive, it isn’t working.
Jackson’s three-year Warriors stint ended badly with many accusations, some petty and some legitimate.
Reports were that Jackson was too stubborn, didn’t say hello in the hallway to the owner’s son, mismanaged a dysfunctional assistant-coaching staff, and most damaging, impressed his religious beliefs on Golden State players. One NBA coaching source told me that Jackson came across as “too argumentative’’ in Oakland this week.
One NBA GM who thinks Jackson deserves another chance suggested the NBA’s fourth-leading assists leader return to the league next season as an associate head coach, imploring either Memphis or New Orleans to make a pitch.
The 58-year-old Jackson was regarded as one of the NBA’s most cerebral point guards and always found himself on the list of active players most likely to become the head coach.
His critics say Jackson’s unwillingness to be anything less than a head coach hasn’t served the Queens native well.
He needs to be open to be an associate head coach,’’ the GM said. “If he was on the bench in Memphis or New Orleans, he’d be perfect for Ja Morant or Zion Willliamson.’’
The executive was referring to two troubled young stars who represent the NBA’s future.
“Someone who has that experience would be great for them, to have an example like that,’’ the GM added.
Jackson, who weaved a 121-109 record at Golden State, is credited in some circles for getting the Warriors onto a dynasty track under his successor, Steve Kerr, specifically helping point guard Stephen Curry reach superstardom.
But the other “narrative’’ has Jackson, in his view, blackballed.
In a 2021 appearance on “The Board Room,” Jackson admitted the distorted rumors out of Oakland still damage him.
“When you make a statement and say I force folks to come to church — are you kidding me? What sense does that make?” Jackson said. “Never in my life have I forced people to go to church.”
Why Didn’t the Knicks Bring Jackson Home
When Jackson interviewed for the Knicks job that went to David Fizdale in 2018, sources told me Jackson wasn’t fully prepared in the interview to discuss what kind of assistant coaching staff he’d assemble.
Considering the fracturing of his Golden State staff, that element was deemed by then-president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry as a dealbreaker. Mills and Perry would have been saluted as heroes in the New York media had they brought Jackson home.
Jackson Passed Over Again
Six more openings were to be had this offseason. The Bucks hired Griffin with no head-coaching experience. The Rockets gave Ime Udoka a second crack despite tawdry issues in Boston.
The Sixers went with Nick Nurse, the Pistons took Monty Williams, and the Suns recycled Frank Vogel, now with his fourth team since Jackson’s 2014 firing. The Toronto Raptors nearly give a second chance to Steve Nash, who flopped with three future Hall of Famers in Brooklyn.
Maybe they like to hire younger now,’’ the GM said. “But people are afraid of Mark. He’s a very opinionated guy. But he’s also a guy who commands respect and would be good for a young team.”
Another league source says owners are leery of dealing with any controversy with their head coaches in the relentless digital age where the news cycles update by the minute.
Van Gundy: ‘Jackson Should Coach Again’
Van Gundy, who coached Jackson in his second stint with the Knicks, remains perplexed.
In 2020, Knicks president Leon Rose interviewed a dozen candidates but not Jackson, even as ESPN’s Jalen Rose told the New York Post he’d be his top choice. Tom Thibodeau nailed down the job.
I asked Van Gundy on an NBA Finals conference call a couple of years ago about Jackson’s continued snubbing.
What I saw in Golden State was truly a remarkable job of reconstructing a fragile confidence,” Van Gundy said. “Because over the years of a lot of losing, the demands defensive previously had not been asked of those past players. If he wants to do it again, in today’s game, I don’t see another guy who is better equipped than him of taking players who may not have achieved yet, but have hopes of becoming a winning player.
“If I was the GM right now, I would be really smart if I hired Mark,’’ Van Gundy added.
The Van Gundy, Jackson, Breen trifecta still makes for a wildly entertaining broadcast trio. Jackson’s catchphrases “Hand down, man down’’ and “Mama, there goes that man!” never get old.
But it’s time for Jackson to leave the broadcasting booth for a coaching seat, perhaps on the same bench as Morant or Williamson. The NBA might be better served.
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