OAKLAND (AP) – It’s easy to envision Mark Jackson’s other life as a pastor.
He is confident. He makes bold proclamations. He does things his way.
Jackson wasted no time guaranteeing a playoff berth in his first season.
He hardly cares that he has never coached an NBA game, or a game at any formal level for that matter. He plans to be a winner right away leading the Golden State Warriors.
“I signed up to coach this basketball team and that’s exactly what I told those guys,” Jackson said. “I’m thrilled to be in this position.”
The preacher’s declaration that his Warriors will reach the postseason is a strong statement that goes along so well with all the high-profile moves this franchise made in shaking up the management team ahead of this season in hopes of finally turning things around for good.
Golden State has reached the playoffs just once since 1994, a run to the second round in 2007.
“We’re not going to make any excuses and we’re going to get better every single day no matter what the situation is,” Jackson said. “I’m proud of my guys because I feel like we’ve done that.”
When the Warriors take the court for Jackson’s debut against Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers in Sunday night’s nationally televised season opener, it will mark a new beginning for a franchise that has been overhauled from the top to bottom since last season.
They hope point guard Stephen Curry’s troublesome, surgically repaired right ankle isn’t seriously injured after he sprained it in Tuesday night’s exhibition loss at Sacramento.
Warriors owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber hit their one-year anniversary running the team last month – and they have made a big splash. They replaced former coach Keith Smart with Jackson, with Lacob acknowledging he wanted his own guy on the bench.
Lacob and Guber bought the Warriors for a record $450 million in July 2010 from longtime owner Chris Cohan and immediately went to work putting their mark on the organization.
In April, Lacob gave general manager Larry Riley a new contract to stay in his current position as GM and executive vice president of basketball operations. Former sports agent Bob Myers was hired as the team’s assistant GM and vice president of basketball operations to serve as Riley’s right-hand man and contract expert.
Hall of Famer Jerry West came aboard to serve in an advisory role for the front office. Former Phoenix Suns executive Rick Welts was hired as the Warriors’ new president and chief operating officer in late September.
Jackson has demanded defense since Day 1 of practice on Dec. 9, saying of last season’s efforts on that end: “That wasn’t defense.”
“I think we all have it in us,” said star guard Monta Ellis, who was hit with a sexual harassment lawsuit Wednesday from a former team employee. “That’s what he’s bringing this year, for us to really talk more and be as one, not everybody on their own.”
Before training camp, Jackson visited a practice by the San Francisco 49ers to observe how fellow first-year coach Jim Harbaugh is making it work after a lockout-shortened offseason. Jackson has said he hopes to drop by and see first-year Oakland Raiders coach Hue Jackson at some point, too.
Again this summer, Ellis heard his name as one on the trading block. He’s used to it by now. The team’s leading scorer averaged 21.1 points and 3.5 assists per game last season.
“Every year I go through that. I was just another summer of rumors. I’m here now, so I’m just glad that’s behind me,” Ellis said. “I want to be a Golden State Warrior. I love it here.”
The Warriors didn’t land the elite big man they’d hoped to acquire – and seem set to give 7-footer Andris Biedrins every chance to make a comeback at center.
Biedrins – bulked up by 15 pounds to a muscular 256 – believes he can get back to being that double-double force he used to be, and Golden State is counting on that to make the Warriors that much better in the paint.
The 25-year-old Biedrins, the 11th overall pick in the first round of the 2004 draft, has averaged only 5.0 points and just more than seven rebounds per game the past two years. He missed 23 games last season with a sprained left ankle, including the final 14.
He will be pushed by second-year player Ekpe Udoh.
“Now is my chance. The last two years were horrible for me. I know that and everybody knows that,” said Biedrins, who is approaching this season as a fresh start. “(Jackson) was basically saying we’re starting from the beginning and he will be open to everybody. I think all the guys understand him really well.”
Rookie first-round draft pick Klay Thompson is expected to make an immediate impact – as long as he plays defense in Jackson’s system. Lacob already has set a high standard by saying he figures Thompson to be in the running for NBA Rookie of the Year.
“I’m really humbled they would make a statement like that,” Thompson said. “I think I have the perfect opportunity to win that award and that’s my ultimate goal for the season, individual goal that is.”
These Warriors are accustomed to the challenges of beginning anew under a new coach. Jackson will face the task of improving a team that went 36-46 last season for a 10-game improvement under Smart in his lone season after being promoted as a last-minute replacement for NBA career wins leader Don Nelson. Smart quickly landed as an assistant with the Kings for this season.
“It’s a business,” Ellis said. “I’ve been around seven years and for seven years there’s been something new. You’ve just got to come in and adjust to whatever adjustments you need to do. This is a positive because it is a new beginning.”
(Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.)