OAKLAND — As co-captains and team leaders, Stephen Curry and David Lee carry the loudest voices in the Golden State Warriors locker room, which is why what they said Monday is significant.
Curry and Lee sent a clear message to co-owner Joe Lacob and team management, saying players want Mark Jackson back as coach and an end to all the uncertainty that surrounded him this season.
“I’ve said pretty much all I can say about how I feel about Coach, and they know how I feel,” Curry said. “And I’m sure with exit interviews and however they go about making decisions — if they have any decisions to make — I’m sure we’ll be in the loop. But at this point, conversations will be had and I’ll continue to express my feelings and that’s all I can do at this point. It’s unfortunate that a 50-win team that we’re in the position where these questions are being asked.”
Lee echoed Curry’s sentiments.
“I’ve said it all year that he has my support,” Lee said. “Who knows if there’s even a decision to be made? Who knows if we’re going to even be asked about it? But we’ve made it clear we’re in support (of Jackson) if and when we’re asked.”
For a franchise enjoying its best two-season stretch in 20 years, the Warriors have been dealing with distractions involving Jackson and his staff since last summer.
The pressure on Jackson began when the Warriors decided to pick up his contract option for the 2014-15 season instead of negotiating a long-term deal as he had wanted. Management also encouraged Jackson — who has been allowed to choose his staff — to hire a strong tactician after top assistant Michael Malone left for the Sacramento Kings.
Jackson promoted Pete Myers and other assistants and hired Lindsey Hunter and Brian Scalabrine. And while reports of rifts within the team surfaced on occasion, dismissing two assistants in a 12-day stretch before the playoffs perpetuated the idea that Jackson has led an environment of dysfunction.
The Warriors reassigned 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 reportedly recording conversations during coaches’ meetings and discussions between coaches and players without their knowledge.
Lacob, who bought the franchise in 2010 along with Peter Guber, has yet to publicly support Jackson beyond this season. General manager Bob Myers has not spoken publicly about Jackson’s future since the season ended, and players have been left in the middle trying to defend their coach.
“As players, both of the situations that happened were shocks to us,” Curry said. “And I know Coach was in a tough situation having to deal with those. Obviously the details have come out about what exactly happened. We back coach in his decisions, making sure that his staff was together. As players, you want to be led by a group that’s unified. If there’s dissention within the coaching staff, we’re already a step behind when it comes to becoming a successful team.”
Jackson’s bombastic personality also has, at times, not played well with the Warriors or their fans. But the one thing he always has pointed to is the results, which are hard to question.
The Warriors, who finished 23-36 after the NBA labor lockout in Jackson’s first season, went 47-35 last season and 51-31 this season. They have made the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since the 1990-91 and 1991-92 seasons and have become one of the NBA’s top defensive teams.
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. The Warriors still showed a lot of fight — and an ability to make adjustments — with center Andrew Bogut out with a fractured right rib in the playoffs, pushing the third-seeded Los Angeles Clippers to seven games.
“We understand we’re right there. We’re in the mix,” Curry said.
Whether Jackson is the coach Warriors management believes can lead the team to championship-contending status is about the only basketball business to handle this offseason. The team’s core players — Curry, Lee, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Andrew Bogut, Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes — are all under contract.
The Warriors are set up for several more playoff runs. Players credit Jackson with helping to engineer the turnaround, so it’s no surprise they hope he has the chance to see it through.
“Have we won an NBA championship? No, but the change in culture has been unbelievable,” Lee said. “So many more positive things going on. Team chemistry has been unbelievable, and the chemistry throughout the whole organization has completely changed the past couple years. It’d be strange to see a main part of that not be here.”