Mahlalela, Warriors embark on crucial summer of development originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area
As far as his staff stood behind teenagers Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody getting meaningful minutes, Gary Payton II becoming an impact player and Andrew Wiggins reaching his potential, Jama Mahlalela’s first season as Warriors director of player development was a resounding success.
Playing a vital role in a victorious NBA Finals in Year 1 is not only confirmation, but also sets a high standard.
Year 2 will be even more dramatic, Mahlalela says, as it will give a glimpse of what’s possible from James Wiseman, Kuminga and Moody. They are considered the core of the next phase of Warriors basketball, which will not include Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson.
The real work kicks off this weekend, with California Classic Summer League games at Chase Center, and accelerates next week, with Mahlalela as the head coach of the Warriors in the Las Vegas Summer League, which will be held July 7-17.
“I believe the NBA’s first summer is the most important summer of growth for so many players,” Mahlalela told NBC Sports Bay Area on Tuesday. “What (Kuminga and Moody) can do from now until we go to training camp will be crucial for next season and also for their careers.
“We want to add some nuance to their games while also trying to perfect the things that keep them on the basketball court. The ability to catch and shoot, to attack downhill. Those are some of the basics that we really want to refine. “
Wiseman’s Summer League status has not been disclosed, but there is optimism that he will compete in Vegas. Although Ryan Rollins is back in the Bay Area from the 2022 second round and is expected to play this weekend and also in Vegas, there is still some uncertainty about Patrick Baldwin Jr. with a dislocation sustained in his senior year of high school.
All the youngsters have been placed under the care of Mahlalela, whose Vegas staff includes assistant coach Dejan Milojević and two members of the development staff – Kris Weems and Jacob Rubin – as well as Khalid Robinson, who spent the last four seasons as special assistant to head coach Steve Kerr.
The signings of Kenny Atkinson, Milojević and Mahlalela last summer marked a new direction for the Warriors. Instead of spending a lot of money for a free agent, they were sitting on two lotteries and the front office thought it made sense to invest in the future.
“It was great,” Kerr told NBC Sports Bay Area. “I knew we needed some changes in our staff. I knew we needed help in important areas. That kind of support from the front office, where they bring in people who fit so well, that’s what it’s all about.”
Executive Director of Development Kent Lacob forged a relationship with Milojević during his trips to Europe that allowed the Warriors to recruit the man who coached two-time MVP Nikola Jokic. Nike U’Ren, executive director of basketball operations, got to know Mahlalela over the years and helped win Jama over from the Raptors.
Add Atkinson, and it was a stir that turned out to be auspicious.
“It gave us a different vibe,” Kerr said. “Jama, with his player development operation. Kenny, who brought a lot more analysis into the process than before. ‘Deckie’ works with the big boys. We had very specific roles that needed to be filled, and they filled them in very well.
It was an overhaul of our entire coaching and player development operation.”
Milojević was hired as a sort of personal coach for Wiseman, but proved to be an essential figure in Kevon Looney’s best season. Meanwhile, Wiggins and GP2, who both raved about their work with Mahlalela, also exceeded expectations, especially in the play-offs.
“The season was special because everything fit, and I mean from the squad to the coaching staff to the executive staff,” said Mahlalela. “Everyone got along, found their own niche and discovered a way to contribute. It doesn’t happen often, where everyone has a sense of having a home, a sense of having a role. And it allowed everyone to be the best version of themselves.”
The departure of top assistant Mike Brown leaves a void in the front seat alongside Kerr, Atkinson and Bruce “Q” Fraser. Internal candidates are being considered, with former assistant Chris DeMarco and Mahlalela being logical options.
Oddly enough, Mahlalela’s success last season and his influence on the young players might make him too valuable at the top of the player development map to move into an assistant role.
Then think about his work this summer – he’s been in the gym with players since the draft – his immediate assignment. Much is at stake, given the franchise’s hopes for the youngsters in its charge.
After all, Stephen, Draymond and Klay can’t be great forever.