Who could have ever dreamed that the turmoil surrounding the Los Angeles Clippers and the future of their owner, Donald Sterling, would be resolved more quickly than that involving the Golden State Warriors and the future of their head coach, Mark Jackson?
Yet that's exactly where the two teams stood Tuesday. While NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced a lifetime ban of Sterling from any and all NBA activities after the release of secret recordings, it is far less clear where Jackson and the Warriors stand after secret recordings by an ex-assistant coach.
ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard reported several hours before Silver's announcement that assistant coach Darren Erman was fired earlier in the month because he had been secretly tape-recording various behind-the-scenes meetings and discussions, with one source claiming that Erman admitted to have been doing so for weeks.
Erman, team and league sources told Bleacher Report, was indeed fired as a result of his phone being discovered in record mode in the coaches' office at Oracle Arena with two hours of tape-recorded time on it. All this occurred shortly before the Warriors faced the New York Knicks on March 30. The Warriors suffered a disappointing 89-84 loss to the Knicks that night.
The team then fired Erman six days later for violating "company policy" but didn't offer any other details, except that the team's human resource and general counsel departments had been involved. It is illegal in California to record someone's conversation without their consent, so the team potentially would've left itself liable to legal recourse by any employee on the recording if it didn't fire Erman.
Sources with knowledge of Erman's thinking say he suspected someone else on the basketball staff was talking behind his back and merely sought proof in order to have it addressed by Jackson and/or the team. Those sources also insist the discovery before the Knicks' game was the first and only time he did it. Erman could not be reached for comment.
Jackson, team and league sources say, was willing to retain Erman and essentially give him a second chance, but the potential legal ramifications were too great for the team to allow that to happen. The head coach has not publicly discussed the details of Erman's departure other than to laud his contributions and say he was "pulling" for him to resume his coaching career.
Erman, of course, was not the first assistant coach to leave the staff this season. Several days before the loss to the Knicks, assistant coach Brian Scalabrine was reassigned to the team's NBA Development League squad, the Santa Cruz Warriors, because of "a difference in philosophies" with Jackson. Scalabrine was the third assistant in his first coaching stint after 11 seasons as a player. Although Jackson aggressively pursued Scalabrine despite his lack of experience, sources say Scalabrine almost immediately became disenchanted with Jackson's coaching style and, for his last five weeks with the team, carried out his duties while refusing to speak to Jackson. One source said Scalabrine found fault with Jackson's level of accountability of the players, particularly in comparison to Scalabrine's last two coaches, Doc Rivers and Tom Thibodeau.
Another source, however, says that Scalabrine was unhappy that the team's power structure did not more clearly delineate a difference between the third assistant coach and non-coaching positions such as video coordinator. Scalabrine's frustration came to a head shortly after a halftime dispute between him and lead assistant coach Pete Myers over how the team executed a particular defensive set in the first half of a March 22 loss to the San Antonio Spurs. Sources say sometime afterward, Scalabrine shouted at Jackson, "If you were Tom Thibodeau or Doc Rivers or Jeff Van Gundy, you would've fired me five weeks ago!"
At the time of Scalabrine's reassignment, a report from Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports suggested Warriors management wanted him to remain on the staff until the end of the season but that Jackson insisted on his transition.
Although Scalabrine worked closely with Harrison Barnes and Erman did the same with Klay Thompson, the players have remained steadfast in their allegiance to Jackson.
The collective public and private support by the players of Jackson, in light of all the coaching staff turmoil, has been noticeably different from that of ownership. Owner Joe Lacob hasn't blamed Jackson, but he also hasn't offered the same kind of public support, nor has he challenged reports that suggested Jackson was the source of the issues with both Scalabrine and Erman. Combined with Lacob acknowledging that he has been disappointed with a number of the team's losses to inferior teams and the team's reluctance to negotiate an extension, some have speculated that Jackson's tenure with the team could ride on how well it does in the playoffs.
The palace intrigue surrounding the Warriors goes even deeper because Scalabrine, Erman and Lacob have all been part of the Boston Celtics organization, which hired Erman as director of scouting not long after the Warriors fired him. (Lacob was a minority owner in the Celtics before buying the Warriors; Erman served as an assistant coach and Scalabrine played five seasons for them.)
In fact, league sources believe a Warriors source leaked the Erman tape-recording story to ESPN as retaliation for Erman's quick hiring. One Warriors source speculated that Scalabrine initially served as a mole for ownership to keep tabs on how Jackson was running the team and that upon his reassignment, Erman took over those duties. As devious as that sounds, a former player and team executive with another organization says he had been asked to play a similar role. Sources close to Scalabrine and Erman, however, deny either assistant ever had such a role.
Scalabrine and Erman also played for and coached under, respectively, Clippers coach Doc Rivers, making one team source wonder about whether they've provided their former boss any inside information. That, too, remains unfounded, but that somebody has such a notion illustrates the level of suspicion in the organization.
Amazingly enough, the Warriors players have soldiered through all of it to improve on last year's record and, coming into Tuesday's Game 5, play the higher-seeded Clippers to a draw. The latter, of course, were dealing with the revelations about Sterling as they fell on Sunday, 118-97. Silver's decree now should allow them to move forward and perhaps even regain some solidarity and momentum.
The Warriors? There will be no resolution for them, but then again, they seem to thrive in muddy waters. After all, by all indications, they've been swimming in them for nearly a month now.
Ric Bucher covers the NBA for Bleacher Report.
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