Could Jazz bring Malone in to help teach defense?

Published August 25, 2008 12:31 am
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Question: I used to love watching Karl Malone frustrate opposing teams' power forwards with his defense. Have the Jazz ever considered bringing Malone in to work with [Carlos] Boozer, [Memo] Okur and [Paul] Millsap? The defensive toughness Karl brought with him to every game would benefit the current Jazz team immensely.

-- Saul Saldana, Idaho

Answer: I agree.

The Jazz could use the physical presence that Malone always gave their frontcourt, as well as his general determination to play rock-solid defense, especially at critical times of the game.

Because he was such a prolific scorer, Malone's defensive ability was often overlooked by the fans. But he made the NBA's All-Defensive first team three times (1997-99) and the All-Defensive second team once (1988).

(Note: His initial first-team honor came when he was almost 33 years old).

When the game was on the line, Malone almost always guarded the opponents' top inside scorer -- players like Shaquille O'Neal, Tim Duncan, Chris Webber, Shawn Kemp, Kevin McHale, Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon or Kevin Garnett.

In those matchups, Malone often gave away some size, but his physical strength and quickness helped him keep those opponents away from the basket and forced them into tougher-than-they-wanted shots.

On the other hand, Malone also played defense with some finesse, especially late in his career.

One play I will always remember came in 1999. The Jazz and Kings met in the first round of the playoffs. The best-of-five series was tied, thanks to John Stockton's last-second jump shot in Game 4 at Arco Arena.

The Jazz came home looking to close out the up-and-coming Kings in Game 5, but Sacramento played well. The decisive game was tied in the final seconds of regulation. With a chance to win the series, the Kings dumped the ball into Vlade Divac who, back to the basket, was working against Malone.

Divac had spent previous five or six possessions trying to hold his position on the low post, which meant leaning into Malone with all his strength. On the final possession of regulation, Divac did the same thing, except Malone suddenly took a quick step backward.

Thrown off balance, Divac stumbled and probably should have been called for traveling. He wasn't, but the wild shot he threw at the basket as he staggered across the lane had no chance, and the Jazz eventually won in overtime.

After the game, I remember assistant coach Phil Johnson talking to Malone and saying something like, "I've seen you do that before. I just didn't think you'd do it at that point in the game." Neither did Divac, obviously.

I covered Malone's career for many years and, to this day, I have not seen anyone who worked out or kept himself in better shape. I often thought that the abilities which made him a good defender would have translated to other sports.

I thought Malone would have made a tremendous heavyweight boxer, given his quick hands.

I thought he would have been an outstanding football player, too. Perhaps a tight end, because of his hands. Perhaps a pass-rushing defensive end, because of his quickness. Perhaps an oversized linebacker, because of his ferocious on-court mentality.

But back to your question.

If Malone came back to Utah in a Jeff Hornacek-like capacity -- a part-time assistant focused on helping one player or improving one aspect of the game -- I think he could help the Jazz.

I doubt it will ever happen, however.

Just over a year ago -- prior to the Jazz retiring his jersey -- I was sent to Ruston, La., to do a story on Malone and his life in retirement. I spent a couple of days down there and got the impression that he has no interest in returning to the NBA in any capacity.

Malone seemed very happy and content in a life without pro basketball. He has moved on and, personally, I don't think he'll ever want or need to come back to the NBA.

-- Steve Luhm

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