As I’m sure you’re aware, Hornets assistant coach Mike Malone will be heading to the Golden State Warriors next season. Obviously, this negatively impacts the Hornets since Malone was instrumental in turning the 22nd ranked defense into the 8th. But is it going to have a huge impact next season? And how will it affect Chris Paul? Let’s do this…
Make no mistake, Malone is a great defensive coach. For the last few years he worked as (the now Lakers head coach) Mike Brown’s lead assistant in Cleveland where the team consistently ranked as a top five defensive team. In his only year with the Hornets, the team jumped up 14 spots in the defensive rankings.
But let’s look at the Hornets defensive rankings the past three seasons. 09/10 they finished 22nd. 08/09 and 07/08 the team finished 9th and 7th respectively. If you look at the 09/10 team as a fluke (due to the Paul injury and Jeff Bower not actually being a head coach), it’s not as if the Hornets have been consistently terrible on defense for years. I’d say the main rise for the defense was head coach Monty Williams bringing in a defensive first mentality and players like Paul and Trevor Ariza and not Malone. The defensive play may suffer slightly but the culture Monty has put in place remains, so I’m not too worried.
Assistant coaches change all the time and usually it is not a huge deal. Malone’s case seems different since everyone following it is (presumably) a Hornets or Warriors fan. It’s also important to note that it is a lot harder to restrict a coaches movement than it is with players (I’ll get to how this may impact Paul further down).
James points out that the Hornets need to end the trend of talent leaving and start making it come to New Olreans. That’s the case for any team. Look at the two main offers Malone had after none of the head coaching opportunities worked out: Go to the Los Angeles Lakers or take a bunch of more money and head to the Warriors. Those are two pretty good deals. College football has 20 or so ‘destination’ schools where a head coach will almost always accept the job if offered it. The NBA doesn’t have many jobs like that but the Lakers are one of these few ‘destination’ teams. Even if their team is worse than the Hornets, most coaches would seriously consider moving. Malone’s other option was to receive a hefty raise. You can’t fault him for taking either of those options. Malone didn’t leave for the same position on another team; Golden State will most likely give him the title of associate head coach. This is just one of those circumstances where the other options were simply better.
What this whole situation points out is how important it is to have a rich owner who is willing to spend. If the Hornets had an owner willing to match the offer Malone accepted from the Warriors, would that have been enough to keep him? We’ll never know, but Ryan Schwan of Hornets247 points out there may have been more motivation than just money.
Now, how does this affect Chris Paul? Honestly, I doubt this matters very much. Malone was here for one year. He may have been important during that year but the entire culture shift in the Hornets organization was not due to him. During the playoffs Paul said one of the Hornets strengths against the Lakers was their coaching staff. Yes, Malone was a part of that, but really it all boils down to Monty. He’ll still be on the Hornets sideline next year and he will still have the same defense first mentality. Paul and former Hornets coach Byron Scott were/are very close and after he was fired Paul wasn’t acting like Carmelo Anthony and trying to muscle his way out of town.
So while losing an assistant coach of Malone’s caliber will hurt, I don’t foresee it having any large impact on the Hornets next season. So, let’s wish him the best of luck and laugh when the Hornets beat the Warriors next season with Mark Jackson standing on their sideline.
And in honor of Rush coming to town and Malone flying away (see what I did there?), I’ll leave you with this…