Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob thinks that with the hiring of Mark Jackson as head coach, he's made a clean break with the Warriors' past. Lacob thinks he's making a fresh start.
With the hiring of Jackson, the ESPN basketball analyst and former longtime NBA player with zero coaching experience, Lacob thinks that, unlike with Keith Smart, this past season's coach, the franchise's divorce from Don Nelson is unequivocally official, the relationship and its effects finally and forever in the past tense. Smart, after all, had been a longtime assistant under Nelson.
Lacob realizes it also helps that, unlike this past season, when a tidy $6 million was still being paid to Nelson, the Warriors are finally financially free of the NBA's all-time winningest coach, too.
But wait a second. Hold on. Whoa, Nellie.
Are you familiar with a parlor game of sorts called Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon? It's a clever, albeit nerdy, mental exercise in which a seemingly unrelated actor or director or film is mentioned and by dint of making no more than six rational (if, at times, far-reaching) connections, you end up with Kevin Bacon. Well, with the Warriors' hiring of Mark Jackson, it's time to play Six Degrees of Don Nelson.
Jackson was a teammate of Chris Mullin, both at St. John's and the Indiana Pacers.
Well, Mullin grew into a bona fide NBA star under Nelson, who used him, Mitch Richmond and Tim Hardaway to create a dazzling, uptempo style of offense that became known as Run TMC, and with which the Warriors had 50-win seasons and playoff berths.
As Warriors general manager, Mullin brought Nelson back to the franchise after an 11-year absence, spent mostly in turning the Dallas Mavericks from doormat to dominating. And, as Warriors fans know, with Mullin as GM and Nelson coach, the Warriors made the playoffs (with a sensational first-round upset of the top-seeded Mavs), followed by a 48-win non-playoff season.
Jackson played under head coach Larry Bird with the Pacers, even made it to the NBA Finals in 2000 playing for Bird.
Well, Larry Bird is of course a Boston Celtics Hall of Fame legend who, with future Hall of Fame teammates Kevin McHale, Robert Parish and Dennis Johnson, helped lead the Celtics to three NBA championships in the 1980s. Bird came to the Celtics a mere three years after Nelson retired as a longtime Celtics player who, with teammates such as future Hall of Famers Bill Russell, K.C. Jones, John Havlicek and, later, Dave Cowens, had played a key supporting role in five NBA titles from 1966-1976.
Hall of Fame coaches for whom Jackson played include Jerry Sloan, Larry Brown, Pat Riley and Lenny Wilkens. Brown, Riley and Wilkens won NBA titles as coaches (Riley won one as a player, too), and it can be assumed that Lacob wouldn't mind that kind of magic rubbing off on Jackson.
OK, connect the dots. All have longtime, intimate NBA familiarity with Nelson, having played and coached against him over a span of some 50 years.
Championships aside, Lacob also probably hopes that some of Sloan's consistency, Brown's strategic brilliance, Riley's motivational skills and Wilkens' ability to parlay a heady playing career into a heady coaching career will rub off on Jackson, too. On the other hand, Lacob wouldn't want to see Jackson emulate Sloan's dull grumpiness, Riley's owner-threatening ego, Wilkens' all-time loss record or Brown's apparent addiction to filling out change-of-address forms.