Mark Jackson's mantra as a TV analyst for ESPN and ABC and as a head coach for the Golden State Warriors has always focused on personal pride. A common yelp from his seat next to Mike Breen was that a player who didn't show the requisite effort on any given play was "better than that!" In just about every post-game media session this season, Jackson has said something or other about being "proud" of his guys.
After Tuesday night's debacle at The Oracle, Jackson should get that word out of his mouth.
I'm not an anti-tanking evangelist. Earlier this month, I compared the War on Tanking to the War on Drugs -- and I was being serious. I think the vast majority of tanking concern is overblown. I can remember two clear tanking scenarios in the past decade: Mark Madsen firing up threes for the tanking 2005-06 Timberwolves and the 2006-07 Celtics, led by Doc Rivers, openly gunning for losses by benching good young players in favor of crappy veterans. That is not a record that needs a whole lot of time spent on it. I don't think what the Charlotte Bobcats have done -- stripped the cupboards bare -- equates to tanking. That's a-whole-nother subject entirely.
But the 2011-12 Warriors joined the tanking ledger on Tuesday. Golden State, you may remember, gave up the 2012 first-round pick in a retrospectively hilarious deal for Marcus Williams. But it's protected this season through the top seven, meaning if the Warriors end up with a pick in that range, they keep it. If their pick lands at No. 8 or higher, the Utah Jazz pick it up.
To essentially guarantee that the pick lands in the top seven at the NBA Draft Lottery in May, the Warriors need to finish the regular season with the sixth-worst record in basketball. That would allow Golden State to be "safe" should a team that is not the Warriors leap from No. 7 or lower into the top three, as seems to happen most seasons. At this point, though, the Warriors would gladly take the seventh-worst record and pray that no one leaps them.
But to get that seventh-worst record, they really really could not afford to win any more games. Enter the New Orleans Hornets, an awful team who is especially bad on the road, scheduled to visit the Warriors on Tuesday.
The Warriors, who have already traded Monta Ellis for an injured player, have shut down Stephen Curry and David Lee and have stocked the team with players like Mikki Moore (in the year 2012), led 64-61 going into the fourth. Klay Thompson, the Warriors' 22-year-old stud rookie, led the team with 16 points on 7-12 shooting. He's been the team's best player since the Ellis trade, without question. It's a tight game, he has young and healthy legs and ...
Mark Jackson benches him. For the entire fourth quarter.
The Warriors went on to lose as the Hornets pumped out an 11-2 run to end the game. Mission accomplished.
I thought it would be a great opportunity to see what these other guys have. It's easy to do it when the season is over with and it's easy to do it during summer league, but I really wanted to see what they could do against NBA players.
The players who played Thompson's swingman minutes in the fourth: Brandon Rush (1,700 minutes this season), Dominic McGuire (1,100 minutes), Richard Jefferson (whose career actually overlapped with Jackson's playing career) and Chris Wright, an early season D-League call-up. Charles Jenkins manned the point for the entire fourth, but Thompson isn't a point and Jackson said later in the post-game wrap that he "knows what Jenkins is." So, basically, Jackson benched his surefire All-Rookie team lottery pick for ... a guy who has been on the roster for months yet had only picked up 125 minutes of playing time despite the club's rampant injuries. And this decision to see what Chris Wright had just so happened to be made as the Warriors were winning a must-lose game with the lotto pick scorching the opponent heading into the fourth. In Golden State's three previous games, the Warriors trailed entering the fourth. Stunningly, Thompson remained in the game and Wright got little or no playing time!
The Warriors actually won one of those, against the Wolves on Sunday. Golden State trailed six entering the fourth; Thompson stayed in, and the Warriors went on a run. Jackson wasn't shameless enough to yank Thompson to kill the momentum then.
He was on Tuesday.
Before you accuse me of being selfish here -- the Hornets' win actually helped my favorite team. Dispassionately speaking, Kings fans should be cheering the Warriors' tank job because it put Sacramento in a three-way tie for the league's third-worst record. But it's impossible to ignore Jackson's egregious, obvious ploy. This is why the anti-tanking crowd has an audience: because sometimes, tanking is real. And it's ugly. We joke about how funny the end of the NBA season can be, and some day we'll laugh about The Chris Wright Game like we now laugh about The Mark Madsen Game. But right now, this is just an incredibly bad look for a franchise trying to remake itself in a positive image, trying to convince those impossibly loyal fans in the Bay Area that things are different.
Tuesday's night performance? That was as bush as anything that ever happened on Chris Cohan's watch.
The Hook is a twice-weekly NBA column by Tom Ziller. See the archives.