Oakland, Calif. • Two years ago, the Golden State Warriors could only dream of a 51-win regular season and back-to-back playoff appearances. Now that kind of success is expected — not celebrated.
On the surface, the Warriors completed the franchise’s best two-season stretch in 20 years. They overcame injuries that sidelined key players — including center Andrew Bogut in the playoffs — and took the Clippers to a decisive seventh game in the opening round, losing 126-121 on Saturday night in Los Angeles to end a series overshadowed by a race-related scandal.
"It’s disappointing," Warriors coach Mark Jackson said. "There’s a difference with being disappointed and being a disappointment. This team, we are disappointed with the way it ended."
While discriminatory comments by Clippers owner Donald Sterling rocked the NBA last week, the Warriors were no strangers to lesser drama this season.
Jackson had two assistants curiously dismissed before the playoffs. Co-owner Joe Lacob never publicly supported him beyond this season, and players were left in the middle trying to defend their coach.
The Warriors will need to address whether Jackson returns for a fourth season before they can begin any other business this summer. Jackson’s job has been under pressure for most of the last year after the Warriors decided to pick up his contract option for the 2014-15 instead of negotiate a long-term deal.
Several home losses to lesser teams cost the Warriors a chance to earn anything more than the sixth playoff seed, which they also had a year ago, when they upset Denver in the first round before falling to San Antonio. And for most fans, failing to reach the second round again — despite all the injuries — feels like the team regressed.
"I think we did enough to save Mark’s job," Warriors power forward David Lee said. "We stayed together and all year long we didn’t have any finger pointing."
Losing two assistants in a 12-day span before the playoffs brought attention on Jackson and the Warriors for all the wrong reasons.
The Warriors reassigned Brian Scalabrine to the team’s NBA Development League affiliate in Santa Cruz on March 25 because of what Jackson called a "difference in philosophies." Then, the Warriors fired Darren Erman on April 5 for what the team called "a violation of company policy" but declined to reveal the policy he violated.
Last week, reports surfaced that Erman — who has since been hired as a scout for the Boston Celtics — secretly recorded conversations of coaches’ meetings, conversations between coaches and players, and even informal discussions.
Support still remains high for Jackson in the locker room, evident by the heart and hustle the Warriors showed in the Game 7 loss. Everybody from All-Star point guard Stephen Curry to veteran center Jermaine O’Neal has gone out of their way to applaud the job Jackson has done.
"We did everything we could do to fight for coach, and he did everything he could do to fight for us," forward Draymond Green said.
Jackson has repeatedly refuted reports that the atmosphere around the Warriors was dysfunctional or that management has told him his job is in jeopardy. Instead, he just called it "sideline music" and reminded anybody who would listen that building a championship contender "is a process that takes time."
Since Lacob and Peter Guber bought the Warriors for a then-NBA record $450 million 2010, they have — with the help of Jackson, Myers and others — transformed the perennially losing franchise into a winner.
The Warriors, who finished 23-36 after the NBA labor lockout in Jackson’s first season, made the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since the 1990-91 and 1991-92 seasons. And the team’s core — Curry, Lee, Bogut, Green, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala and Harrison Barnes — is locked up for the future.
If not for Bogut badly fracturing his right rib in the final week of the regular season or O’Neal spraining his right knee in Game 6 against the Clippers, the Warriors might’ve found a way past the frontline of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
But as long as Jackson has been the coach, the Warriors have been a "no-excuse basketball team," as he has often said. And he knows management will evaluate him the same way after falling short of the expectations he helped create.
"I work every single day with a passion and a commitment like it’s my last," Jackson said. "I’m trying to be a blessing to people. I’m trying to impact people, and that’s the way I live my life. That’s the way I coach. I don’t get caught up in it. I’m totally confident and have total faith that no matter what, I’m going to be fine, and that’s even if I’m a full-time pastor. It’s going to work out."
AP Sports Writer Greg Beacham in Los Angeles contributed.
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