Boston Celtics v Golden State Warriors

Scalabrine says Mark Jackson didn’t push Warriors’ players hard enough


There are a number of reasons Mark Jackson is not now the coach of the Golden State Warriors. While some of that is on-the-court — management thought the Warriors offense was too vanilla — a lot of it was just a divide of organizational vs. locker room culture and how both Jackson and ownership dealt with that.

But there may have been another basketball issue — did Jackson push his players hard enough?

Former Warriors’ assistant coach Brian Scalabrine — who was demoted to the D-league in the middle of last season and has an ax to grind — said he didn’t think Jackson was demanding enough. Scalabrine, who is returning to the media side of the table in Boston for this season, spoke with the Bay Area News Group about Jackson’s coaching style.

“I think to win in this league you have to drive and push, and I feel like the players will respond to that,” Scalabrine said. “And I think that was the biggest thing about this disappointment in our staff as a staff, right? We could have done more, and we didn’t, and I think he kind of sensed that.

“At the end of the day, to say it was a difference of philosophy, a difference of opinion, I mean, that’s really what it was. And I’m so used to seeing like a Doc Rivers and a Tom Thibodeau (his former coaches), and it kind of threw me for like kind of a loop and a surprise that it was not as hard-pressing as I thought it was going to be.”

Thibodeau is an old-school, grinder coach who works his guys hard, plays them hard and demands accountability each time out. Rivers is different in style, there is no coach in the league who cancels in-season practice more than Rivers (it’s not close), but he does demand a high-level of performance from a veteran team. Rivers has the advantage of having Chris Paul (and Blake Griffin and others) in his locker room to demand that accountability from teammates.

But all great coaches demand a lot of their players. Doesn’t matter the level or the sport, the best coaches set the bar high and challenge/motivate/teach players to reach it. One of Phil Jackson’s great gifts was that he convinced players that where the bar was set or what role they needed to play to get there was their own idea, not his (we all buy into our own ideas faster than those imposed on us).

Jackson certainly worked hard as a player and led teammates to get to that level, but doing it as a coach is a different dynamic.

That said, the players on that team LOVED Jackson and didn’t like how his exit went down (notice there were no “looking forward to working with Steve Kerr” tweets when he was hired). They played hard for him, if not always smart.

Whether Kerr can get that same level of commitment and whether he can push those players harder remains to be seen. But he needs to if he wants to best his predecessor.

Report: David Lee, Tyler Zeller in line to start for Celtics; Jared Sullinger, Jonas Jerebko out of rotation

MADRID, SPAIN - OCTOBER 08: David Lee of Boston Celtics attacks during the friendlies of the NBA Global Games 2015 basketball match between Real Madrid and Boston Celtics at Barclaycard Center on October 8, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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Brad Stevens has a big challenge this year – sorting the Celtics’ deep roster of similarly able players.

It seems that process is shaking out at power forward and center.

A. Sherrod Blakely of CSN Northeast:

it appears Boston’s first four bigs will be starters David Lee and Tyler Zeller, with Amir Johnson and Kelly Olynyk off the bench.

That leaves Jonas Jerebko and Jared Sullinger, potentially on the outside looking in as far as the regular rotation is concerned.

Lee is the best passer of the bunch, which could partially explain why he’s starting. Boston’s most likely starting point guard, Marcus Smart, is still growing into the role of the lead ball-handler at the NBA level. Lee and presumptive starting shooting guard Avery Bradley can take some pressure off him.

Olynyk can space the floor for Isaiah Thomas-Johnson pick-and-rolls with the reserves and run pick-and-pops with Thomas himself.

I’m a little surprised Zeller is starting over Johnson, though. The Celtics just signed Johnson to a $12 million salary, and I thought they’d rely on his defense to set a tone early. Like Johnson, Zeller is a quality pick-and-roll finisher who can thrive with Thomas.

This is particularly bad news for Sullinger, who – barring a surprising contract extension – is entering a contract year. It seems those reports of offseason conditioning haven’t yet paid off. Jerebko’s deal also isn’t guaranteed beyond this season, but at least he has already gotten his mid-sized payday. Sullinger is still on his rookie-scale contract.

51Q: Does Ty Lawson vault the Rockets into the top tier of championship contenders?

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets controls the ball against Ty Lawson #3 of the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on March 7, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockets defeated the Nuggets 114-100. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

I see five clear upper-echelon championship contenders –  Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Cavaliers.

Do the Rockets belong in that group, or do they fill the next tier by themselves?

Ty Lawson – acquired for pennies on the dollar – could put Houston over the top.

But, really, this premise might not be fair to the Rockets. They earned the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference last season and reached the conference finals last season. James Harden finished second in MVP voting. Dwight Howard looked like a star during the playoffs. The supporting cast – Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer and even Jason Terry – played better than anyone expected. Young players like Clint Capela, K.J. McDaniels, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell could make a leap at any moment.

There’s a case to be made we should have taken Houston more seriously even before trading for Lawson.

I didn’t, though, and I don’t think many others did either.

I suspect one of the biggest reasons is the Rockets’ balance. Houston – 12th in points scored per possession, sixth in points allowed per possession – was one of only two teams to win more than 51 games last season without ranking top five in either category. Of the seven teams with so many victories, the Hawks – sixth, seventh – were the only other. Atlanta was a darling team, winning 60 games after going 38-44 the season prior. The Rockets’ modest win increase, from 54 to 56, drew less attention.

But balance shouldn’t be punished. Houston’s surprisingly strong defense should be celebrated. Lawson might push its middling offense over the top.

There are reasons to question that, though.

The biggest is Lawson’s sobriety. If he’s not focused and engaged, this all goes out the window. His comments about going to rehab only because it was court-ordered raise doubts, though they hardly foretell anything.

Let’s say Lawson’s off-court problems are behind him. How big of an upgrade is he? The Rockets already had a pretty good point guard who fit well with Harden in Beverley. Lawson is a clear offensive upgrade, but in the biggest moments, the ball will still run through Harden. At that point, would you rather have Beverley or Lawson on the floor? Beverley is a far superior defender, and his off-ball offensive game isn’t far from Lawson’s. Beverley is is a fine spot-up shooter, and Lawson’s strengths involve having the ball and creating. Lawson’s biggest boost could come when Harden sits, but that was fewer than 12 minutes per game last season.

Sure, a secondary ball-handler could ease pressure on Harden throughout a long regular season. Lawson and Harden can take turns running the attack.

But we’re talking about title contention, and in those high-leverage situations, it’s Harden’s show. How much does Lawson matter then?

The Rockets have a chance to win a championship. As good a chance as the NBA’s five best teams? I’m not so sure.