Warriors notebook: Assistants promoted and the latest on James Wiseman

LAS VEGAS — Jama Mahlalela had a lot to smile about after Summer League practice Thursday.

“The team played better today so that made me feel better, it’s more about that,” he said Thursday afternoon. “But I feel awesome.”

Receiving a promotion after your first year on the job will do that to a person.

The Warriors didn’t have to look far for Mike Brown’s replacement as they’re planning to promote assistants Kenny Atkinson and Mahlalela for the upcoming season.

Atkinson, who recently passed on a head coaching job with the Charlotte Hornets, will take over Brown’s spot as lead assistant after Brown departed to take a head coaching job with the Kings. Meanwhile, Mahlalela, a developmental guru, will move to the front of the bench as he’ll take on more responsibilities in his second season with the Warriors.

The news, which was first reported Thursday morning by The Athletic, doesn’t come as a total surprise since general manager Bob Myers hinted at his pre-draft news conference that he preferred to fill the void left by Brown’s departure with internal candidates.

Atkinson, 55, appeared to be out the door after this season as the Hornets reportedly tapped him to be their next head coach during the NBA Finals. But winning a title convinced him to return to the Warriors for another season.

He’ll fill-in at the head coaching role should Steve Kerr, 56, need a replacement for a game. Kerr missed three games in the Western Conference semifinals after testing positive for COVID and has missed portions of past seasons with a variety of physical health ailments.

Meanwhile, Mahlalela will continue to be the head of the Warriors’ developmental staff after garnering praise for his work in helping Andrew Wiggins, Gary Payton II, Moses Moody and others shine this season. He’ll also be more involved in roster conversations, special teams and scouting.

Before joining the Warriors last year, Mahlalela was the head coach of Toronto’s G League affiliate for two seasons and spent seven seasons with the Raptors, serving as an assistant coach and director of player development.

Since winning the title last month, Mahlalela has spent the last few weeks reflecting on what went so well in his first year in the Bay Area. He’s come to the conclusion that the Warriors’ unique culture and chemistry are the key ingredients to the team’s success.

“All the pieces fit, from every coach and our inner workings to our performance group and they’re amazing at what they do to each of our players,” Mahlalela said Thursday afternoon. “I felt like all three of those departments, including the front office, all worked this past championship season in really great ways and for me, a lot of that is because we have great people in this organization and… I get to be part of that energy, part of that vibe and relate with really great people each and every day.”

The latest on James Wiseman

Dripping in sweat, James Wiseman looked exhausted after a lengthy scrimmage Thursday afternoon.

That was the point, according to Mahlalela.

“Part of his growth, he’s got to get his wind back. You have to almost just blow it out and get him super fatigued, it’s really the only way to push him to the next level,” Mahlalela said. “That was purposeful today to get his hands on his knees and get him tired on purpose that’s how you get better, that’s how you grow and so he fought through that and so it makes him better the next day and makes him better the day after that.”

Mahlalela called Thursday “another great step” for Wiseman in his ramp-up process. The Warriors are still targeting him to make an appearance later in Summer League, but he showed flashes of his rim protecting and rebounding abilities in Thursday’s scrimmage.

Wiseman missed all of last season with a knee injury. He’ll be off Friday, but the Warriors will monitor how his body responds to the added workload.

“We’re being cautious but we’re cautiously optimistic about his return,” Mahlalela said.

Contributed by local news sources

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