Salt City Hoops » karl malone coach http://saltcityhoops.com The ESPN TrueHoop Utah Jazz Site Thu, 18 Sep 2014 17:52:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 The ESPN TrueHoop Utah Jazz Site Salt City Hoops no The ESPN TrueHoop Utah Jazz Site Salt City Hoops » karl malone coach http://saltcityhoops.com/wp-content/plugins/powerpress/rss_default.jpg http://saltcityhoops.com Could Karl Malone Play in the NBA at Age 49? http://saltcityhoops.com/could-karl-malone-play-in-the-nba-at-age-49/ http://saltcityhoops.com/could-karl-malone-play-in-the-nba-at-age-49/#comments Sun, 23 Jun 2013 16:43:45 +0000 http://saltcityhoops.com/?p=6716 Author information
Kyle Hunt
Kyle Hunt
Kyle Hunt is an avid sports fan who follows college and pro basketball extremely close. He is a regular college basketball contributor for the Deseret News and runs his own sports blog in his spare time. During the day Kyle works as a digital marketing analyst, improving the credibility and web presence of more than 25 high-spend clients.
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What would it be like if Karl Malone suddenly uttered, in the third person language he so often uses, “Karl Malone is coming back to basketball”?

As all Jazz fans know by now, Karl Malone was recently hired as a part-time player development coach for the Utah Jazz—being given the specific responsibility to mentor the young and veteran post players in the organization. It’s true his return has created a stir among Jazz nation, with many critics of Malone’s free spirit personality claiming the decision to hire him was a poor one, especially considering his history of unfulfilled commitments since retiring from professional basketball in 2004. Even Jeff Hornacek, Karl’s former teammate with the Jazz, took time to make light of hiring Malone as a coach. Immediately after Hornacek accepted the head coaching job with the Phoenix Suns, he said he’d contact Malone about serving as an assistant, but claimed he had doubts about receiving a commitment because Karl would want to go fishing after a couple of weeks.

Not everyone is concerned about Malone’s commitment to his new part-time coaching gig, but some do wonder what fueled him to make a return to basketball. Most former NBA stars of Malone’s caliber (other than Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Isiah Thomas), choose to remain far away from the sidelines after they finish their careers. Of course, there may be varying reasons why many former greats practice intentional avoidance when it comes to basketball, but some undoubtedly do it because it’s painful to be so close to the action without putting on a uniform. Other retirees do it because they can’t handle watching other players fail to do things they did easily during their own playing careers. It seems this would be especially difficult for Karl Malone, one of the best power forwards to ever set foot on an NBA court. But it’s possible Karl Malone accepted this coaching job to see how he measures up against the young NBA talent of today.

Ever since the Jazz announced Karl Malone’s return as part-time coach, I can’t stop myself from imagining him in a Jazz uniform again. There’s a chance I’m consumed by illogical thinking, but is it silly of me to think that Karl Malone (age 49), could realistically make a return to the NBA? Is it also unrealistic of me to think that deep down, some part of Karl Malone has always wanted to return as a player? I would venture to say neither one of those notions are completely impossible or entirely out of the question. Remember, this is Karl Malone we’re talking about: the man who still exercises and trains the way he did when he played for the Jazz. The man who still has biceps larger than a human head. The man of many words, who never shies away from a challenge or showmanship, nor cowers from any opponent. The 14-time All-star, two-time league MVP, all-time leader in defensive rebounds, and second leading scorer of all-time. The Hall of Famer who, with the help of a man named John Stockton, kept the small-market Jazz on the map for nearly two decades. If there is any doubt about what Karl Malone has done for the NBA or the Jazz organization, just take a look at his statue outside of Energy Solutions Arena.

It is admirable that Karl Malone accepted the invitation to help the Jazz bigs develop and hone their skills, but you wonder if assisting these young bigs (who are nowhere near his talent level), will bring all the competitive memories flooding back. Maybe Karl Malone believes (with some help), he could elevate the Jazz to championship status as a player even at age 49. Maybe he’ll get fed up with coaching and decide he can still wreak some havoc on the court. Maybe he hasn’t forgotten the two NBA titles that Michael Jordan and the Bulls stole away from him in 1997 and 1998, or the one the Pistons stole in 2004—and maybe he wants another shot. Maybe he wants to prove that he can still average double digits in scoring and rebounding. Maybe he hears everybody telling him it’s foolish to think about, and maybe he doesn’t care. As Jazz fans, we may never know.

Most critics believe at some point down the road, whether it’s this season or next, Karl Malone will step away from the Jazz. The way he’ll make his exit is still up for debate. Some say he’ll ride off into the sunset on a horse, go back to meticulously cleaning his rifles, and take a few extra fishing trips with his buddy and fellow outdoor enthusiast John Stockton. Those critics might say that Malone is walking away because he doesn’t know how to keep a commitment, but I believe the reason could be quite different. If he does leave sooner than later, maybe it’s because he too realizes that returning to basketball is out of the question, and that truth alone becomes more than he can take. Or maybe he listened to Clyde Drexler’s response to a reporter when asked if he could still lace up his shoes for another NBA game: Drexler replied that he could play for the full 48 minutes, and then he’d be forced to sit in an ice bath the rest of the week.

Basketball fans (especially Jazz fans), love making predictions, even if it’s clear the opinions we express are sorely misguided. It’s obviously difficult to predict a future that isn’t yet realized, but for now we do know—“Karl Malone is coming back to basketball”, just as an assistant coach. The rest is partly imaginative speculation, and mostly wishful thinking.

Author information

Kyle Hunt
Kyle Hunt
Kyle Hunt is an avid sports fan who follows college and pro basketball extremely close. He is a regular college basketball contributor for the Deseret News and runs his own sports blog in his spare time. During the day Kyle works as a digital marketing analyst, improving the credibility and web presence of more than 25 high-spend clients.
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Return Delivery: Coach Mailman to Work With Bigs http://saltcityhoops.com/return-delivery-coach-mail-to-work-with-bigs/ http://saltcityhoops.com/return-delivery-coach-mail-to-work-with-bigs/#comments Thu, 30 May 2013 18:38:37 +0000 http://saltcityhoops.com/?p=6358 Author information
Dan Clayton
Dan Clayton
Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City where his hobbies include complaining about League Pass, finding good doughnut shops and dishing out assists for the Thoreau It Down team in the Word Bookstore basketball league.
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Enes Kanter will be working out with HOF PF Karl Malone. Can you imagine the possibilities?

Enes Kanter will be working out with HOF PF Karl Malone. Can you imagine the possibilities?

Just as one legend from the Utah Jazz’s glory days left the Wasatch Front, another announced his return to the organization.

Hall of Fame power forward Karl Malone is back in the fold. The NBA’s all-time second-leading scorer announced on his new (and old) employer’s radio station that he’ll be spending time developing Utah’s “stable” of talented young big men, starting this summer. This news comes days after Jeff Hornacek, whose first foray into coaching was a similar come-and-go skills coach gig that started in 2007, decided to leave for a head coaching job in Phoenix.

The move is a brilliant one for the Jazz, for all the obvious reasons and for a few less obvious ones.

Let’s start with the obvious. Any amount of time Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter get to spend with Malone working on their games is a positive. It’s unclear exactly how much time the Mailman will invest — heck, in the same breath as the initial announcement, he issued the caveat, “as schedules allow” — but it almost doesn’t matter. Let’s say it’s 30 minutes before Malone decides he’d rather be fishing. That’s a half hour of tutoring from a man who constantly and painstakingly refined his game to became one of the best NBA players ever.

Equally obvious is Malone’s gravitas in teaching big men how to play, especially relative to other Jazz coaches. You may not need to be 6’9″ and 250 to understand how to prepare a power forward for his assignment going into a game, but let’s be honest: Malone might have a few more tools and tricks close to the basket than, say, Sidney Lowe.

But the real reason this move is brilliant, and it borders on blasphemy for some fans, is that it allows Utah to kick the tires a bit on Coach Mailman. Nobody would even dare poke at his résumé where the game of basketball is concerned, but we don’t know what that means in terms of his ability to coach.

Here’s what we know about Malone’s skills as a player: he came in as an unprecedented combination of power and speed and then developed into a Hall-of-Fame worthy dominating force. He is the league’s second all-time leading scorer, third all-time Win Shares leader, a two-time MVP and 14-time All-Star.

Here’s what we know about his coaching skills: not much.

He was obsessive about preparing for opponents (that’s a positive for a prospective coaching candidate) and he was brash in addressing his teammates’ deficiencies, often times calling them lazy, fat, or both (not so positive).

It’s natural to assume that because someone was a top-tier player they’ll be a top-tier coach. Some of the same things that can make someone excel as a player are still required when you exchange the sneakers for a neck-tie: particularly the mental approach to the game, preparation and an understanding of Xs and Os. But history asserts pretty loudly that there are plenty of skills that don’t overlap.

In fact, I was curious to see how many of the top players in league history went on to be successful coaches. Of the top 25 players by career Win Shares, only five became head coaches, and usually with middling results. Only Larry Bird managed a winning percentage that was significantly above .500. The top players, historically, don’t make great coaches – if they become coaches at all.

Chart 1: Success rate of all-time great players as coaches

Superstars turned coaches

(It’s worth mentioning that even Russell’s coaching record is padded by the three full seasons he acted as a player-coach. If we start the clock on Russell only after his playing days were over, his record is 179-207 or .464.)

We find a similar storyline when we perform the inverse operation. I took the 25 winningest coaches (by regular season wins) and worked backwards to find out what type of playing career preceded their time on the bench.

Chart 2: Playing careers of all-time great coaches

Top coaches' playing careers

Eleven of the most successful coaches in basketball history never even played professionally (NBA, ABA or BAA). Of the 14 who did, Lenny Wilkens is the only one whose WS was even good enough to be in the top 100 all-time. Most of them – like contemporary giants Phil Jackson, Jerry Sloan and George Karl – were effort & energy players at best.

Obviously, this only looks at head coaching records and doesn’t address the more important (but harder to quantify) question of how many past greats turned into great mentors/teachers for younger guys, which is really what the Jazz need from Malone to start. Still, there’s a strong message in the fact that seven decades of basketball history have produced a list of top coaches and top players that are almost entirely mutually exclusive.

The message: coaching NBA basketball and playing NBA basketball are different skills, and it’s entirely possible to be phenomenal at one skill set and mediocre at the other.

None of this means that Karl definitively does not have the skills to coach, only that we don’t know for sure and that it’s naive to assume he does simply on the basis of his playing career. But giving him a chance to make Utah’s young core better is exactly the way to find out. The same arrangement put Hornacek on a career path that has led him to a head coaching role. We don’t know where this path will take Malone, but I love that we get to find out.

If one of the hardest-working guys ever to play ball has demonstrated a desire to get his feet wet as a special skills coach, then he should get a shot. The career of Coach Mailman has just begun.

Author information

Dan Clayton
Dan Clayton
Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City where his hobbies include complaining about League Pass, finding good doughnut shops and dishing out assists for the Thoreau It Down team in the Word Bookstore basketball league.
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