Two teams. Two Game 7s. Two days apart (roughly). Same result. Different reactions from the fans.
Of course I’m talking about the San Jose Sharks and Golden State Warriors. Both took their opening-round playoff series to the ultimate end — Game 7 — and both came up short. The Sharks, the higher seed against the Los Angeles Kings, have been excoriated for a historic collapse, while the sixth-seeded, short-handed Warriors are being praised for taking the Los Angeles Clippers to the final few minutes of an epic series.
Sharks fans are gnashing their teeth over yet another early playoff exit and this one hurt more than all the others combined. San Jose built a 3-0 lead, torching the Kings’ net in the process — and then promptly turtled, curled up into a ball, played not to lose and yet that is what happened. This collapse — just the fourth in National Hockey League history in which a team with a 3-0 series lead failed to advance — has Sharks fans screaming for the heads of the general manager, coach and majority of the core players, who help the team to fantastic success during the regular season, only to disappear and seemingly cower when the lights are the brightest in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Warriors fans, on the other hand, applaud the team for one of the greatest regular seasons in Golden State history. Fans seem to understand that if center Andrew Bogut had not broken a rib in the penultimate game of the regular season, it might be the Warriors — and not the Clippers — playing in the Western Conference semifinals against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
About the only similarities between these two franchises is the fact it could be a very interesting offseason for both teams. The biggest question, first and foremost, is the future of both coaching staffs — and there are even differences in that question. Sharks general manager Doug Wilson has more than given coach Todd McLellan the dreaded “vote of confidence,” he’s has all but absolved McLellan of any breakdown, putting the blame squarely on the players — where it rightfully should be. Unfortunately, that decision is not Wilson’s to make. Ultimately, McLellan’s — and Wilson’s — future hang on the decision of owner Hasso Plattner, the German billionaire who owns SAP. By all accounts, Plattner seems to be a hands-off owner, leaving nearly all hockey decisions to Wilson. But Wilson’s job needs to be closely evaluated as well and that’s in the hands of Plattner.
Meanwhile, the future of Warriors coach Mark Jackson twists in the wind. And unlike the Sharks, Warriors general manager Bob Myers will probably not have much say in the decision. Despite seeing Jackson turn around a moribund franchise and shaping it into one of the best up-and-coming teams in the NBA, owner Joe Lacob allegedly has a problem, inexplicably, with the job Jackson has done. Not even a 51-win season and taking a better Clippers squad to the brink with a short-handed team seems to be good enough.
So while it seems to be a good bet McLellan returns to the Sharks, Jackson appears to be on the way out. Which would be a shame, as far as the Warriors are concerned, because they are a couple of solid bench players — and a legitimate back-up center — away from making some serious noise in the NBA. Point guard Steph Curry is a bona fide superstar, shooting guard Klay Thompson has assumes the role of Scottie Pippen of the Michael Jordan-era Chicago Bulls and forward Draymond Green has become the most invaluable member of the team — behind Curry.
The Sharks? Oh boy. This franchise is at a crossroads and no one would envy the rebuilding job the team obviously needs. The problem is, this project is severely hampered by the fact the team, before the start of the 2013-14 season, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau — two of the biggest reasons for the Sharks’ regular-season success and biggest culprits in their consistent playoff collapses — signed contract extension, reportedly with no-trade clauses included. That doesn’t mean they can’t be traded, it just makes it that much harder.
If it was up to me, I would ship out both those guys, along with goalie Antti Niemi, not re-sign defenseman Dan Boyle and start rebuilding around Joe Pavelski, Thomas Hertl and Matt Nieto. Even if it weakens the team for a couple years, a statement has to be made by the Sharks organization that these playoff flameouts will no longer be tolerated with the status quo.
The Stanley Cup playoffs will continue sans the Sharks, as will the NBA playoffs go on without the Warriors. The baseball season is in full swing and the NFL never really goes away in the offseason. But keep an eye on Golden State and San Jose. There should be no shortage of intrigue between now and the start of training camp in the fall.
Nathan Mollat can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: 344-5200 ext. 117. He can also be followed on Twitter @CheckkThissOutt.