After weeks of speculation, the Denver Nuggets have announced a new basketball coach. Enter: Mike Malone.
Malone, the former head coach of Sacramento Kings, went 39-67 in Sacramento before getting let go 24 games into last season. He was an assistant coach in the NBA for thirteen seasons before his time with the Kings and brings a defensive pedigree to Denver on a three-year deal with a team-option for one more year, as reported by ESPN's Brian Windhorst.
“I’m thrilled to have been chosen as the next leader for the Denver Nuggets and I can’t wait to get started. My family and I are looking forward to being a part of the Denver community," Malone said in a team announcement.
Denver, a city of thin air and fast-break basketball, usually houses teams that try to run their opponents ragged. Taking advantage of the home-court altitude makes sense, but the approach has produced zero trips to the NBA Finals. It's not known what type of style Malone's team will play yet, but judging on general manager Tim Connnelly's desires for fast play and Malone's reputation as a clamp-tightening defensive guru, Denver might play at a tempo similar to the Golden State Warriors, for whom he coached from 2011 to 2013.
Slow play didn't work for Shaw and his triangle offense. Two disastrous seasons and a 56-85 record got him fired in March and had the Nuggets looking like the definition of athletic apathy throughout the spring. After a stretch of losing 19 of 21 games and rumors of in-game huddle chants counting down the end of the season, players and fans alike seemed ready for the season to end. Five-year assistant Melvin Hunt was named interim coach in the hope of boosting player morale after Shaw's firing, and it worked. Going 10-13 with key players forced to rest by management, Hunt showed he was more than just a well-liked assistant. He and former Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni interviewed for the head coaching in recent weeks, but despite players lobbying for Hunt's return, Malone sealed the deal after his second meeting with Nuggets executives.
“Michael’s experiences throughout his basketball career have helped shape him into a coach and person that we believe can help take our organization to a special place in the future," team president Josh Kroenke said in a press release. "I want to personally thank Melvin Hunt and his family, who have been the ultimate professionals throughout this entire process.”
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Like most coaching hires by rebuilding teams, this is just the beginning of more overhaul. Ty Lawson, possibly the only player on the team resembling a star, is already getting courted by former Nuggets and current Kings coach George Karl, and undersized power forward Kenneth Faried isn't the best fit for the post-up offense Malone ran for DeMarcus Cousins in Sacramento.
Regardless of who the Nuggets hired, it's widely assumed around the league the current roster will look much different in a year or so. A team made of role-players and stretch forwards won't be attracting sexy free agents any time soon, and the team's seventh overall pick in this year's draft might be too low to grab a future superstar. Even with the uncertainty, Malone is a respected basketball mind, and the only way for a struggling organization to trend upward is bringing in the right the people. Just because many fans are unfamiliar with him doesn't mean Malone is the wrong guy.