Warriors shake up coaching staff: add new assistant, and player development experts

That sense of stagnation was real, so Golden State has made some big changes

It doesn’t matter what you do, things can stagnate over time. The problems that once excited you are now background noise, coworkers and recurring assignments blur past like scenery on a boring car drive.

So Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr predicted a shakeup already. Just last month, he told Tim Kawakami of The Athletic that “there are going to be changes.”

"We're now in a position where we've been together for so long -- and we haven't had the type of internal change that we had [since Luke Walton]…

"A staff is no different from a roster where you get a little stale and you need some new blood, you need some new energy, you need to maybe move some things around [and] change roles.

Last night, news broke via Anthony Slater that Golden State is adding three new members to their coaching roster. Bringing in former Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson, as well as lesser known Dejan Milojević and Jama Mahlalela, this is the most significant coaching change of Kerr’s Warriors tenure.

It’s a clear signal that the Warriors are taking their internal player development as seriously as they can, since all of these names are known as mentor/development specialists.

With second year player James Wiseman, as well as two important incoming draft choices, there’s a tremendous amount of pressure on the entire organization to expedite whatever development is needed to reload the dynastic cannon for another moon shot.

Joey Lightyears has opened the team coffers and brought in meaningful help for that endeavor.


Kenny Atkinson is the highest profile hire, and as reported by Slater, he’ll be the lead assistant, alongside another former head coach in (returning) Mike Brown. It’s a an experienced triumvirate that may need to seriously tweak Kerr’s aging system in order to maximize a roster that has a distinctly different profile than the one Kerr planned for back when he took the job in 2014.

Listening to that snippet, it’s not hard to see why he’s a natural fit on Kerr’s staff - there are some very Kerrsian vibes when discussing his broader approach to coaching; The sort of stuff that would make Phil Jackson smile and nod over some obscure book that he wants you to read. It’s a holistic approach, featuring flexible parameters and goals for each player, and an ongoing chase for continual improvement.

Atkinson rose to prominence as the head of a Brooklyn Nets team that grew to unexpected excellence while young talent like Spencer Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen, and Caris LeVert developed into solid rotation players. After the Nets pivoted to a superstar coach to run their superstar squad, Atkinson pivoted away to the Los Angeles Clippers last season - where he again seems to have done well.

While the other two names may be less well known, all these hires point toward a franchise that knows the days of low stakes tinkering with low draft flyers has officially ended.

I’ll be honest with you Dub Nation, I had to look up both these other names. Dejan Milojević was who I suspected, but I certainly wouldn’t have put money on it. You see, this is the Serbian team coach that helped shape Nikola Jokic into the force that he is now.

James Wiseman, and whoever else comes through will likely be the primary focus for Milojević. Previously, the Warriors didn’t have an official big man player development person, as far as I know - and that’s sort of exactly the problem! While Ron Adams would frequently work with players on defense, it’s comforting to have a specialist on board to help teach modern post philosophy.

Wiseman is going to be playing catch up, yet again, as he recovers from his knee surgery. But at least now, fans can rest assured that meaningful internal resources are being steered towards making that race as easy as possible for the wildly athletic young big that many hope will become a meaningfully helpful cog in the next phase of Warriors basketball.

Jama Mahlalela also sounds like a sneaky good hire. According to the original reporting, he has been “an important behind-the-scenes part of the Raptors developmental staff for the past decade.”

Daniel Hardee reached out to old friend, Jay Rosales of Raptors HQ who summed up his reaction as a Raptors fan nicely by saying: “In a word: gutted.”

Most liked Assistant Coach by players and fans. Coach Nick Nurse preps his coaches to be future head coaches. Jama was sent down to the G League team, was very successful, and then brought back.

He goes on to relate a story about Norman Powell, an ex-Raptor player that actually broke out in tears because of poignant memories of working with Mahlalela.

With all due condolences to our friends in Toronto, Mahlalela is a part of Dub Nation now, and we will treasure him.

He will play some sort of critical role in the Warriors’ newly revamped development system, and it sounds like good news. This strikes me as starting on the ground floor with the incoming class. While trades are always an option, assuming the Warriors stand pat, the young core of Wiseman and whoever arrives next month will grow along with Atkinson and Milojević as their primary development coaches.

All in all, this feels like a big deal

The fan base has lobbed familiar accusations that were starting to stick a bit. When Kerr was hired, Joe Lacob made a point of relating a story regarding fired coach, Mark Jackson’s unwillingness to “hire the best assistants.” And while there’s legitimate disagreement regarding what exactly that looks like, the Warriors have piled up a spotty developmental record - one way or the other.

It’s explainable. I personally am not too worried about a team missing on players like Jordan Bell or Jacob Evans - the 30th and 28th pick, respectively. But nepotism is a real concern, and for an organization that employs the sons of both their owner and head coach in prominent roles, bringing in some fresh outside voices should assuage some of those concerns.

And here’s the other part of this: you really can’t know. Atkinson can set a holistic continual improvement plan, and Milojević can work out with a player daily, and it just might not work out. But at least the organization is moving. Making efforts and smart hires to prepare themselves to provide the best support systems possible. Having problems is fine, being unable or unwilling to address them is not.

Battling for NBA championships doesn't leave much room for error, but the Warriors' latest moves indicate they're focused on producing diamonds from the pressure.

As Kerr said last month, “I do feel like we're in a position now where we need a little energy shift within the organization ... we need a little jolt."

Well, looks like they got it!