Welcome Coach Karl! Or maybe it’s Periodic Expat Demi-coach of a Largely Undesignated Nature and Frequency Charged with Development of Players 6’8” and Taller (preferably far, far away from the press) Karl, but hey, potato, potahto, our boy’s come home!
Whatever else comes of this adventure, it is good to know Greg Miller and Karl Malone have gotten past the difficulties of the last few years. The Mailman’s estrangement from the Miller family, and consequently the much wider Jazz family, could never be acceptable to any party. He is too much a part of our team, and that team will always be a significant part of who Karl is as well. That he’s back “on the team” is good news.
The implications for the development of Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, and possibly other Jazz players are far less simple to sum up. I love Karl Malone and always have, though that love has sometimes carried a legitimate component of frustration, resentment, and bitterness. In this, I think my feelings about Malone are shared by a large number of Jazz fans, and for good reason.
Karl Malone was a great, great player, one of the best ever. He was also sometimes erratic in attitude and speech, confrontational (including with people within his own organization), and, at times, selfish. I think Malone would readily admit to these negative marks in his past. While his glorious playing days are past, there is real question whether the same can be said of the distracting idiosyncrasies and vagaries of his personality. In turn, that forces one to wonder just what caliber of coach he can be.
I don’t think anyone can confidently answer that question—not the team CEO and Owner Greg Miller; not Jazz Head Coach, and former teammate of Malone, Tyrone Corbin (who apparently played a role in instigating the current arrangement); perhaps not even the Mailman himself. The demands on a coach are very different from those of an elite player, including in comportment and ability to communicate. How Karl Malone the player will transition to Karl Malone the coach/consultant is something I expect all Jazz fans will monitor with interest.
But with some questioning what virtues the Mailman brings to the table as a coach and already predicting a scandalous end to this experiment, I decided to share a few areas where I feel Malone really may produce tangible results in his work with the team’s young bigs.
1. Fitness and Conditioning
Malone changed the way NBA players approach fitness and conditioning, perhaps more than any other single player. He logged 53,479 minutes of regular season game play, or 891.3 hours, or 37.1 days, or roughly a month and one week straight of full court basketball against the greatest athletes in the world, full out, at all times. People still marvel at what his body was capable of enduring. That body was a product of work, and his game a product of that body. Thus, for Malone there was no separating in-game performance from training, both in-season and off-season.
In an interview with Muscle and Fitness, Malone said, “I will tell… anyone who cares to know that my conditioning in the off-season was what allowed me to play so many games, because I didn’t let my body get out of shape. It was harder than my in-season training. I knew once the season started, all I had to do was maintain. If I didn’t lift weights, I don’t think I would’ve had the career I had. Matter of fact, I know it.” But it wasn’t just about the weights. Add in running up hills with a parachute attached to your back and the other insane exercises in Malone’s repertoire, and the result is a program of self-inflicted agony greater than any basketball game could possibly match.
In his work with players, on court exercises and drills will rarely, if ever, be completely separate from fitness level. Malone will push for greater strength and speed and balance constantly, because that is the only way he knows how to approach the game. Stephen Jackson, who went on a New York hip-hop station and declared he never worked out in the off-season his whole career, would be killed by Coach Malone. Really, dead.
Assuming Favors and Kanter want to remain alive, working with Malone will provide them a constant, blunt, loud reminder that everything they do is dependent upon their bodies. Both young players have elite physical attributes, and may well be tempted to coast on those natural gifts. Not when they work with the Mailman. Physically, both Favors and Kanter are more likely to squeeze every ounce of superiority they have out of their bodies with Malone there periodically demanding that of them.