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Scott Howard-Cooper

Mark Jackson hopes to make a smooth transition from behind the microphone to the sidelines.
Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images

Confident Jackson ready to prove skeptics wrong again

Posted Jul 8 2011 10:10AM

OAKLAND -- The greatness right now of Mark Jackson as a coach, in the absence of actual evidence, is that he can out-conversation, out-spin, out-momma-there-goes-that-man anyone. He is a hired talker by previous trade and has a comeback for every question about his risky hire by the Warriors.

It is a risk, no matter how Jackson or Golden State owner Joe Lacob sell it. Maybe Jackson is a big success and they are both one day crowned geniuses -- there is no shortage of people who speak highly of Jackson, and Lacob has surely been willing in the one season since purchasing the team to strike with bold actions. Typical isn't their thing.

But this is quite a gamble for the Warriors, a team on its third coach in as many seasons, desperately needing stability on the sideline, and long past being able to plead roster inexperience for the latest collection of lottery picks. There is uncertainty whether the new arrival will even have a training camp to get acquainted with the roster, or instead have to rush through a prep period to squeeze in a possibly abbreviated 2011-12 season. That's a lot for a rookie coach.

Not a first-time head coach.

A first-time coach.

Jackson has never spent a day working from a bench, implementing scouting reports, managing minutes, juggling personalities, organizing practice plans, drawing the final possession on the dry-erase board during a timeout with four seconds remaining and his team down two.

That part about being a coach on the court for 17 seasons as point guard for the Knicks, Clippers, Pacers, Nuggets, Raptors, Jazz and Rockets? The line will get trotted out a lot as Jackson enters his first season, and there obviously is a benefit to having the ball in his hands in a lot of pressure situations on playoff teams. But that isn't close to experience as an actual coach, assistant or No. 1 man.

And, yes, he was an analyst for ABC and ESPN, with all the opportunities to watch games unfold from a courtside perspective. Jackson had the advantage of playing scenarios through in his mind without the outcome riding on his decision. But put it this way: If teams really believed broadcasting was ideal preparation to become a coach, they would be handing their brightest young minds a microphone and makeup kit for a couple seasons.

Yet here Jackson stands, at the Warriors' downtown practice facility early in a very uncertain offseason, guaranteeing an immediate playoff berth, raising the stakes on the hire that much more. They could have a 2011-12 of improving by, say, 12 games -- certainly measurable forward progress -- and still be back in the lottery, putting Jackson in position to be asked about another Golden State fail.

"I've been preparing for it my whole life," he said. "As a kid, I dreamt of playing, dreamt of announcing, dreamt of coaching. I've been able to do two out of the three, and now this opportunity presents itself. I'm thrilled about it."

A comeback for every question.

"I believe there were skeptics about my ability to play in this league too, because of the facts," Jackson said of the skeptics who understandably wonder if he is properly prepared for his new job. "I ignore the facts and I put myself in position to succeed and I'm smart enough to put people around me that are going to make life a lot easier. I'm thrilled about this opportunity. The crazy thing is, there are teams that would hire me today with the same resume, because somebody pulled the trigger. I'm so grateful to Joe, to this ownership, to this front office for pulling the trigger. It's going to be a great time."

The analogy to his playing career is a decent comparison. Jackson had a starring role his final two seasons at St. John's, but still lasted until the 18th pick of the 1987 Draft before being taken by his hometown Knicks as the fourth point guard off the board, following Kenny Smith (sixth to the Kings), Kevin Johnson (seventh, Cavaliers) and Tyrone Bogues (12th, Bullets). Then Jackson won Rookie of the Year and put together a career that, despite including just one All-Star appearance, finished with him third on the career assist list.

Now he's trying to make another big leap, this time from zero coaching experience to being good enough to have the kind of long run the Warriors need after so much turnover.

"Whenever you hire someone, whether it be a coach or any other position, there's always some risk that they won't work out," Lacob said. "But I would say ... he has every quality that you could possibly look for in a head coach to be successful except for one, which has been pointed out, obviously, over and over again: He has not been a head coach. But neither had Doc Rivers. Neither had Jerry West. Danny Ainge. Larry Bird. All were successful coaches for a while in the NBA.

"Mark Jackson, bottom line, is going to be a very good head coach, I believe."

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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