With recent news that Golden State Warriors lead assistant coach Mike Malone is no longer being considered for the vacant head coaching job in Orlando, fans and the Warrior organization breathed a sigh of relief.
Malone, Mark Jackson’s top assistant, is the Warriors’ primary “Xs and Os” strategist. Malone’s strengths provide a necessary foil to Jackson’s abilities, which are harder to quantify, since most of Jackson’s “coaching” seems to consist of him blowing hot air and preaching cliches. In a poll of NBA GMs, Malone was voted the league’s best assistant coach last season. You’ll note Jackson received no votes in the head coaching category in the same poll. And if you think I’m being hard on Jackson, or overrating Malone’s importance, just watch any Warriors game and see who’s holding the clipboard and drawing up plays. It’s never Jackson; it’s always Malone.
The respite afforded by Orlando moving on from Malone is sure to be short-lived, though. News broke in the last few hours that Portland is looking at Malone as a head coaching candidate. He’s also already interviewed with the Charlotte Bobcats. With interest coming from multiple teams, it seems like it’s only a matter of time until Malone is hired away from the Warriors’ bench.
When he eventually moves on, it’ll be a serious blow to a team that desperately needs his guidance. Known for his ability to turn a poor defensive team into a good one—a trick he pulled off in Cleveland and New Orleans—he’s the biggest key to the Warriors’ often-discussed culture change.
If ever there was a time to kick Jackson to the curb and promote Malone to the big chair, that time is now. Of course, if it hasn’t already happened, it’s hard to imagine such a change will take place. After all, Jackson was hired with no coaching experience, piloted the team to a 23-43 record and shamed himself and the organization with his extortion scandal. If that wasn’t enough to cost him his job, it seems like nothing is.
Apparently, the Warriors are committed to Jackson, so much so that they’re willing to let the league’s best young coaching prospect walk away. When Malone eventually leaves, and the Warriors are stuck with Jackson, they’ll look back with regret on the summer of 2012.