Michael Malone has already been fired more times than Homer Simpson and George Jetson combined.
Metaphorically, but still. This Game 82 grinder in 18? Gone. That heartache in Portland during the Western semi-finals in 2019? Gone. That the Suns sweep in 21? Gone. Gone. Gone.
Guess what, Mr. Spacely? Canning Malone was the best shot the Nuggets have ever made.
The Denver madman is now the fourth-longest-serving starting coach in the NBA. He has the Nuggets, the small American franchise that couldn’t, in their first-ever NBA Finals. He hovers aloft, four wins from the highest peak in basketball.
“There aren’t many Michael Malones,” ex-NBA coach and longtime ESPN analyst PJ Carlesimo told me as the Heat practiced Wednesday at the Ball Arena on the eve of the Nuggets’ first game. -Miami.
“But there are a number of coaches in this league who could have been much more successful had they had the kind of cooperation and support that the administration and ownership of Denver gave Michael. And he deserves it, yes, without a doubt. It’s an honor for him, but it’s also an honor for the Denver administration.
Hat tip, Stan Kroenke. You too, Josh. They may be as stubborn as a pair of Missouri mules when it comes to getting the Nuggs and Avs on TV, but their practice decisions — Malone and Jared Bednar in Denver, Sean McVay with the Rams, Mikel Arteta with huge Arsenal football club in London – keep striking gold.
“I feel really lucky and blessed to work in an organization run by Stan and Josh Kroenke,” Malone said earlier this week. “Eight years ago they gave me the chance to lead this team, and the most important part of the last eight years is their ability to be patient and to have a holistic approach and to let this thing become what it is. ‘she is today.’
As a rule, NBA owners, like in Arteta’s Premier League, don’t tend to think of a bigger picture than a framed cashier’s check. Patience? Patience is a virtue for suckers.
Former Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer has lost the trust of his star player, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Former Toronto boss Nick Nurse has lost the trust of team president Masai Ujiri. Philadelphia’s Doc Rivers and Phoenix’s Monty Williams have lost too many playoff games. It’s three guys with NBA championship rings and another who took the Suns to the Finals two years ago, all laid off in the last 10 weeks alone.
Add it up, and only three league coaches have been at their current gigs longer than Malone’s eight years at the helm here: San Antonio semi-lovable crank Gregg Popovich (hired in 1996); Steve Kerr with the Warriors (hired in 2014) and the guy on the other bench for these finals, Erik Spoelstra of Miami (hired in 2008).
Pretty good company, that.
“Sometimes change for change’s sake sets you back,” said former NBA coach and ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy. “We all want to talk about emulating the Miami Heat or the San Antonio Spurs. And the one thing these teams do that very few other teams want to do is have continuity in coaching.
“And what Denver has done so well in addition to developing their talent is ensuring the continuity of that talent with Michael Malone. And I think that instills confidence in coaches and allows you to be the best coach you can be. And Michael knocked it out of the park.
The rosters vying for the title are a billion dollar Jenga tower, and Malone’s hands held steady no matter how much the table shook around him.
Because he made it clear he would walk through one brick wall for Nikola Jokic, Joker would likely walk through two for him in return. He refused to rush Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. into their respective rehabs, even though their absences have cost the franchise dearly each of the past two playoffs. He convinced veterans and taught children to value selflessness and self-defense. And dispatched those who did not.
Despite all the righteous gripes about Malone’s in-game tweaks and lineup optimizations, it’s hard to imagine the Nuggets – these Nuggets – to be here without him.
“Whatever you know is your ability to pass it on to your players and make your players play for you,” Carlesimo said. “Michael does this as well as anyone in the league.”
And he did for a while. Funny isn’t it? In the NBA, just like Jenga, sometimes the key block is the one you pretty much left alone.
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