Does Mike Malone Hiring Make Nuggets Playoff Contenders?
The Denver Nuggets were a face-paced playoff team just a few years ago when they decided to aim a little higher and let Coach of the Year George Karl go. That didn’t work out so well, as the Nuggets proceeded to miss the NBA playoffs the past two seasons.
Denver hopes they’re once again headed back in the right direction, as they’ve reportedly signed on Mike Malone to be their next head coach. Malone oddly ends up replacing Karl, who replaced him as head coach of the Sacramento Kings this past season.
Malone’s deal with the Nuggets is said to be over four years, with the fourth year being a team option. Malone is now tasked with turning around a Nuggets franchise that was once thought to have the pieces to compete, but now could be at a turning point.
While Malone took an interesting path to get here, the question everyone cares about is simple: is Mike Malone the man for the job?
Malone’s tenure in Sacramento wasn’t great (he was just 39-67 in two years), but it did look like the Kings were starting to buy in and see progress to start this past season. Unfortunately, star center DeMarcus Cousins fell ill in December and the team never truly recovered. That led to Malone being fired, but despite seeming like a bust of a hire on the surface, it’s arguable he just didn’t get a fair shake.
Malone was otherwise a very sound assistant with the Warriors, Pelicans, Cavaliers and Knicks in the past and has done a solid job with team defense and knows how to get the most out of his players. In Denver, both of those strengths will be put on full display, for better or for worse.
For Malone to have a fair fight in his first year on the job, Denver may have to re-tool the roster. Ty Lawson, Wilson Chandler and many others have already been rumored to be on the trading block, and with Malone in tow the Nuggets may strive to make moves that land them more team-first players that are willing to learn, listen and compete.
Malone had success with helping a pretty immature Cousins grow up in Sac-town, so it’s still possible he can help Lawson, as well. Lawson can be a streaky shooter, but packs a punch as a set-up man, can shoulder the scoring load at times and is regarded as a solid on-ball defender. If he stays around and listens to Malone, he could easily be in for his best year to date.
The Nuggets will still have a ways to go elsewhere on the roster, but Danilo Galinari seemed to return to form at the end of the year, and the team is still very high on young center Jusuf Nurkic. Don’t be surprised to see them make a big trade this summer, though, or be active in the draft in free agency. If the Nuggets front office is smart, they will listen to Malone and get him the players he knows/thinks can help Denver turn things around.
Saying and doing are two different things – especially in the brutal Western Conference. Denver’s days of running and gunning may not be completely gone under Malone, but for them to be successful long-term, they need to buy into his concepts – specifically on defense. Initially, that’s hard to buy, and it may take a roster reconstruction to see it all come together.
Considering the Oklahoma City Thunder didn’t even make the playoffs last year, it’s beyond obvious that the West is tough. Making the playoffs will be a longshot for the Nuggets, but it’s at least arguable that with Malone they might be back on the right track.
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