While veteran leaders Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry are certainly going to be hard for the Golden State Warriors to replace, neither marks the team's biggest loss of the 2013 offseason.
That would be Michael Malone, one of the best assistant coaches in the NBA and the man behind Golden State's defensive turnaround over the past two seasons.
Despite an improved starting lineup, deeper bench, apparent health and playoff experience, the Warriors will not improve in 2013-14 if Malone's shoes are not adequately filled.
New to Golden State's bench are assistant coaches Brian Scalabrine and Lindsey Hunter. Gone are Malone and Bob Beyer. The former is now the head coach for the Sacramento Kings while the latter has joined the Charlotte Bobcats' bench.
Replacing Malone will not be easy (the same cannot be said about Beyer).
Before looking at what Scalabrine and Hunter can bring to the Warriors' sideline, it is first important to know what the team is missing without Malone.
Malone's defensive credentials go back further than his time in Oakland. He was instrumental in turning LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers into a defensive powerhouse from 2005-10. In 2010-11, he turned the New Orleans Hornets defense into the most-improved unit in the league.
Malone is known as one of the great defensive strategists in the NBA, but his offensive X's and O's are also well above average. Some reporters even believe Malone was 100 percent responsible for the Warriors' offensive sets over the past two seasons, and that the Warriors are in danger of a big strategic drop off on both ends without him.
While that seems dramatic (the recently promoted lead assistant coach Pete Myers is fully capable of calling plays), the Warriors will miss Malone's discipline and defensive expertise.
A common response to those who questioned the hiring of Mark Jackson straight out of the broadcast booth to a head-coaching gig was that he has played in more NBA games than all but 13 human beings ever have. He's fourth on the all-time list among point guards, which is considered the best coach-breeding position.
A very different argument can be made for Scalabrine's credentials.
Although I could not find a statistic on this, it is likely that the former big man (he's still big) is among the NBA's all-time leaders in minutes spent on the bench. This theory is based on the fact that Scalabrine spent 13 years in the NBA but averaged only 13 minutes a game.
So while Jackson's on-court leadership and play-calling experience may help him work the sidelines, Scalabrine's experience of watching NBA games from up close may in fact translate more directly to the sidelines.
Since retiring in 2012, Scalabrine had been working as a Boston Celtics commentator. Having only been out of the league for a year, he should bring a deep knowledge of opposing players and what it is like to play against them—at least more so than most assistant coaches in the league.
His relative youth—along with a fun-loving persona and famous sense of humor—should also make him an excellent player's coach and a bridge between the rest of the staff and the team.
Whether he has any credence as a play-caller remains up in the air, but it stands to reason that the rest of the staff outranks him in that area.
The 42-year-old Hunter falls right in between Scalabrine and Jackson in terms of age (Scalabrine is 35; Jackson is 48) and NBA experience (937 games for Hunter, 520 for Scalabrine and 1296 for Jackson).
He also ranks in the middle of that trio coaching-experience wise. Unlike the other two, Hunter skipped the broadcast booth and immediately became a player development assistant with the Chicago Bulls following retirement.
He joined the Phoenix Suns' staff last summer and replaced Alvin Gentry as the head coach halfway through the season.
While Hunter's time in Phoenix did not go well by head-coaching standards, he couldn't have been expected to do any better considering his lack of experience and sudden insertion midseason, not to mention his terrible roster and its questionable personalities.
Now, Hunter comes to Oakland as a highly qualified assistant. It is always a plus to have multiple coaches on the roster with head-coaching experience, and Hunter's background in player development will be crucial to this still-young roster.
Filling Malone's Shoes
Scalabrine was a great add to the staff for multiple reasons—knowledge of the league, personality and ally for players—but Hunter will go much further toward replacing Malone.
Hunter was known as a very good defensive point guard during his 17-year NBA career, and has already assisted in the development of quality young defenders in Chicago and Phoenix.
Also to that end, Malone's role as the Warriors' main player development coach will be completely filled by Hunter.
Holes still remain due to Malone's departure that Hunter and Scalabrine are unlikely to fill. Neither has ever designed nor called plays. Fortunately, Myers, assistant Darren Erman and Jackson worked closely with Malone and should be able to adequately assume the role (Myers is likely to take the lead).
The team is still likely to suffer a slight step backwards with their coaching staff overall, but the additions of Scalabrine and Hunter will go a long way toward maintaining this group's position among the upper third of staffs in the league.
All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com
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