The Golden State Warriors’ loss of lead assistant coach Mike Malone is undoubtedly going to sting.
Malone, whose hire as head coach of the Sacramento Kings was officially announced Sunday, was certainly part of the successful recipe in the Warriors reaching the Western Conference semifinals this past season.
In hiring head coach Mark Jackson in 2011, the Warriors made sure the first-time coach would have an experienced right-hand man, so they made Malone the highest-paid assistant coach in the league.
Now the former Cavaliers and Hornets assistant is gone, and the upstart Warriors have a crucial void to fill. Jackson can withstand the loss of Malone, but he’ll need to start flipping through his heavily populated Rolodex to find a replacement.
Jackson’s coaching was unfairly discredited during the postseason as a result of in-huddle camera time that showed him motivating more than strategizing.
Local Bay Area sports writer Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat expressed little respect for Jackson’s actual coaching in a recent column. Cohn essentially writes that Jackson was the face of a staff actually run by Malone:
Malone was the Warriors’ strategist. Jackson doesn’t want you to believe that. It’s a bad look when the head coach is not the strategy guy. You never in a million years could imagine the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich ceding strategy decisions to someone else.
Jackson did. You’ve watched Warriors’ games on TV. You’ve heard Jackson do the rah-rah routine during timeouts — he loves to put on the microphone so fans can hear him. Never once did he give his team a play.
With respect to Cohn, it’s hard to agree with such overly simplistic summations. TV networks wait for moments of viewer-friendly narration to relay to its audience. That thought is as tired as the cliches thrown out on camera.
Now, if Popovich tops the list of the NBA’s lead strategists, it stands to reason that the less experienced Jackson is much further down on that list. But Jackson also has played the 13th-most games in NBA history and he’s third all time in assists; it’s safe to say he learned something along the way.
In other words, Jackson knows what he is doing, too. Yes, he will need another strategic top assistant, and yes this makes him very similar to most coaches in the league.
It’s obvious Malone was an excellent assistant and it’s going to be tough to replace him. Clearly people in the organization thought highly of Malone, and he was going to land a head-coaching job eventually. So if Jackson wants to repeat his team’s success in 2013-14, the goal will be to seek a replacement that closely fits the skill set of Malone.
Malone is known as a defensive savant, and Golden State finished as the sixth-most efficient defensive team in the west in 2012-13 despite a roster without much defensive prowess. The Warriors’ next lead assistant should bring a similarly high dexterity for scheming defensively.
With a young team, Malone’s experience developing talent was an additional asset that also would ideally be possessed by a new hire.
The 42-year-old Malone began coaching in the college ranks in 1995 as an assistant at Providence College before continuing on in assistant roles at University of Virginia and Manhattan College. In 2003, Malone took his first NBA job as an assistant with the New York Knicks.
With Golden State, the maturation of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes unfolded in the playoffs. Their production can be linked to Malone’s coaching. (It also must be noted that assistant Darren Erman was incredibly hands on working with Golden State’s young talent. The Warriors could promote him or fellow assistant Pete Myers.)
But yeah, about Jackson’s Rolodex. All those years of playing beside or underneath a variety of coaching minds makes the Warriors head man an ideal recruiter. He knows more than anyone what he needs.
So does Warriors owner Joe Lacob, who has already shown a willingness to spend on quality assistants. Bigger names like Stan Van Gundy, Brian Shaw and Nate McMillan will likely all hold out for the right head-coaching fits. However, guys like Mike Dunlap (recently fired by the Charlotte Bobcats), Robert Pack (served under Vinny Del Negro with the Los Angeles Clippers) and David Joerger (served under Lionel Hollins with the Memphis Grizzlies) all bring top-tier assistant credibility.
The loss of Mike Malone will certainly sting, but Jackson and Warriors ownership have made all the right moves in management thus far. It stands to reason they won’t settle for anything less than another top-flight assistant.