Since we’re more than a week into the NBA Playoffs and over three weeks until the NBA Draft Lottery, news on the Golden State Warriors has been scarce. Today, that changed, and not in a good way if you were hoping to see how the current regime would build off what was mostly a developmental season in 2011/12.
Wojnarowski’s report shouldn’t come as a surprise to the Warriors or their fans, but it’s worrisome just the same. Mike Malone came aboard with Mark Jackson, and it was seen as a package deal. With Jackson bringing charisma, name value, undeniably strong character traits, and not much in the way of coaching experience (besides serving as a coach on the floor, as they say), Malone filled in the blanks.
Malone was also paid handsomely to usher Jackson through his rookie season: $750,000, the highest salary of any assistant coach in the NBA. That’s why this has to be at least a tad alarming for the Warriors. Did they really pay Malone more than Jeremy Tyler, Charles Jenkins, Mikell Gladness, Mikki Moore and Chris Wright to tutor Jackson for less than a year before taking off for another team? With that investment, one would have to think Joe Lacob and the Warriors were hoping to keep Malone around a little longer than one measly lockout-shortened season.
If Malone isn’t chosen for the Charlotte job or any of the other coaching vacancies that’ll need filling this off-season, the Warriors will go into next year with the same chain of command. If Malone leaves (which suddenly seems quite likely), is Jackson ready to take over? Jackson was the head coach this past season and handled many of the surface duties — the pregame and postgame interview sessions, standing up and walking around the sideline during games (without saying much), divvying up minutes to players. But even that last task could’ve been Malone’s job, since nearly everything else seemed to be on the assistant’s plate.
Malone was the one responsible for teaching team defense to a roster that had ignored that part of the game for several years. During timeouts it was Malone, not Jackson, who sat in front of the players with the white board, drawing up plays. While Jackson was tasked with instilling a culture, the perception among most was that Malone was the brains behind the operation.
Malone: knowledge-sharer or knowledge-hoarder?
Even if Malone doesn’t take the Bobcats job, he probably won’t be in Golden State much longer (unless the Warriors fire Jackson and replace him with Malone, which seems like a longshot). It’s hard to know the answer to the following question unless you’re a part of the Warriors organization, but did Malone teach Jackson along the way? The plan shouldn’t have been to let Malone handle the x’s and o’s for years; they had to prepare themselves for the possibility that he’d want to be the main guy somewhere.
Can Jackson handle conceiving and diagramming plays? Has he learned enough from working with Malone to take the defensive concepts the coaching staff tried to instill and build upon them? If not, can one or more of the other assistants (Pete Myers, Wes Unseld Jr. and Jerry DeGregorio) pick up the slack?
If Malone leaves and the Warriors aren’t sure whether Jackson and the rest of his remaining coaches can fill the gaps, they need to act quickly and decisively. If that means finding the next brilliant assistant and paying him more than market value, like they did with Malone, that’s what they have to do. Hiring Jackson was a gamble, a bet they hedged with Malone. If they set Jackson up to fail next season, it won’t matter what happens in the Lottery.