DENVER | The Denver Nuggets took 105 days to find their new head coach. Now that they’ve agreed to a deal with Michael Malone, they’re off and running.
Or are they?
Malone is a no-nonsense, defensive-minded coach, not exactly the fast-paced tactician many expected them to go after to capitalize on the mile-high altitude.
Two people with knowledge of the deal said Monday that Malone agreed to take the job, beating out in-house candidate Melvin Hunt. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because there wasn’t an official announcement.
Hunt had served as interim coach after Brian Shaw was fired on March 3.
Malone was let go by Sacramento in December after going 39-67 in parts of two seasons with the Kings. The person that fired Malone was general manager Pete D’Alessandro, who recently left Sacramento to take a position as the Nuggets’ senior vice president of business and team operations. D’Alessandro is expected to work in more of a support role under Josh Kroenke, the president of the Nuggets and the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche.
When Shaw arrived in town in June 2013, he brought with him a slow-it-down, deliberate pace that was supposedly going to get the Nuggets farther in the playoffs. They didn’t even go to the postseason as the Nuggets missed the playoffs for a second straight season. This after going 10 consecutive years, mostly under the direction of George Karl and his uptempo system.
The front office preached a return to running. That’s why Mike D’Antoni was considered a top candidate for the position, along with Hunt, who steadied a team that had soured on Shaw.
Hunt’s players even lobbied for the team to hire him. But they’re receptive to Malone.
“Don’t know him as a coach. I can’t wait to talk to him,” forward Danilo Gallinari said in an email to The Associated Press.
The Kings went 28-54 in Malone’s first season and missed the playoffs for an eighth straight year. They got off to a better start in 2014-15 with the team winning nine of its first 14 games. Soon after, the team went into a tailspin after All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins was sidelined by viral meningitis. Malone was fired 24 games into the season.
Malone, however, earned the respect of Cousins and got the big man to buy into his system.
The Nuggets are hoping for a similar situation in the Mile High City, especially after Shaw lost the locker room. It got so toxic the players were overheard chanting “1-2-3 … Six weeks,” which was interpreted by some as a countdown to the end of a dismal season and was uttered just before Shaw was fired.
At the end of the season, GM Tim Connelly talked about wanting the team’s next head coach to have more of a running philosophy, just like when Karl was in charge.
“We’re looking for a coach that understands how we’ve been successful in the past and how we’ll be successful in the future, with fast basketball and playing with pace,” Connelly said in April.
Malone does have experience with that type of system since he was an assistant coach for the Golden State Warriors before Mark Jackson was replaced by Steve Kerr.