None is more compelling than the case for Mark Jackson. Just don’t try selling him on the idea.
In his second season on the Golden State bench – his first with an actual training camp and some practice time – Jackson has engineered a 30-game turnaround. The Warriors, who face the Pacers tonight in Bankers Life Fieldhouse, were 20 games under .500 last season (23-43) but now are 10 games over (33-23) despite injuries to key players.
For those who’ve known Jackson since his days as the Pacers’ coach on the floor during their most successful years in the NBA in the 1990s, this comes as no surprise. If ever a man was born to coach, it’s this one.
“His personality is not hard to adapt to,” said Jarrett Jack, another ex-Pacer currently a leading contender for the Sixth Man award. “One through 15, all of us have our own individual relationship with him and feel comfortable in the way we can talk to him and know that the belief is there that at any moment in the game he can put any of us in a position to excel.
“Personality-wise, motivational-wise, and Xs-and-Os-wise, he’s done a tremendous job of acclimating such a young group that hadn’t played with one another. We haven’t been core group that’s been together for years. We have a number of rookies, second-year guys and to have us playing with the focus and the mentality we have today is a testament to him.”
SIMILARITIES BETWEEN WARRIORS, PACERS
There are parallels between Jackson’s Warriors and Vogel’s Pacers. Both teams have found ways to thrive in the face of major injuries. For the Warriors, the biggest hit has been center Andrew Bogut, acquired last season from Milwaukee for Monta Ellis, has played just 12 games this season, is currently battling a back injury and is not with the team. Another former Pacer, Brandon Rush, was lost for the season when he blew out his knee in the first home game of the season.
Indiana has risen to the No. 2 seed in the East without Danny Granger, who will make his home debut tonight after scoring two points on 1-for-10 shooting Saturday in Detroit.
And both teams are flying well beneath the national radar.
“To me, the only thing I let people know is we’re not going anywhere,” Jackson said. “We lost six in a row and people thought, ‘It’s a wrap; the fairy tale is over.’ We’re not going anywhere.
“And the same thing when you look at the Pacers, their body of work, the way they practice, the way they prepare, the comments they make, you know that’s a team that’s going to have to be dealt with at some point down the road if you’re in the Eastern Conference. It says a lot about the organization, it says a lot about the players and it says a lot about the job the coach has done for them.”
JACKSON’S TROPHY IS ON THE COURT
When I mentioned the Coach of the Year possibility to Jackson in our conversation after practice Monday at the Chase Legacy Center, you’d have thought I insulted him. He frowned, shook his head and proceeded to list all the reasons everyone else in the Warriors organization deserves credit before the coach.
“This is a players’ league. It always has been and it always will be,” he said. “At the end of the day, my ownership group and management did an outstanding job of improving our talent level via the draft, via trades, via free agency. We’ve got a group that’s tied together, that enjoys one another and is the best group that I’ve ever been around. They’ve been a joy to coach.”
There will, and should, be votes cast for Vogel, Chicago’s Tom Thibodeaux, the Clippers’ Vinny Del Negro, and others. Jackson honestly doesn’t seem to care one iota. When he looks out on the practice floor and sees players that come early and stay late and go about their jobs with smiles on their faces, he knows he already has won something much more important.