The clock that started ticking the moment the Denver Nuggets fired George Karl in May of 2013 is still going strong. The Nuggets need to find THAT guy and couldn't afford to make another coaching mistake like they did with Karl-replacement Brian Shaw.
Which makes the hiring of former Sacramento Kings coach Mike Malone all the more interesting and confusing. Is this the hiring of an underrated coach who was at the mercy of dysfunctional management in Sacramento? Or is this the coach who refused to play a faster pace and was fired because of it? These questions cannot be answered until we meet with Malone officially at the introductory press conference. Even after that, we need to see his approach to playing and if he is wedded to a style.
We've entered the great unknown again and it's still scary.
The best thing you can say about Malone was that he appeared to be well-liked by the players in Sacramento. DeMarcus Cousins and others were quite fond of the coach and were genuinely upset when he was fired. Members of the Kings organization have gone on record as saying they support and love Malone and that Denver is getting a great coach. Even Grant Napear (Kings TV play by play voice) has said that Malone is a great hire.
Under Malone the Kings didn't have the most impressive record (39-67), but people in Sacramento will swear up and down that Malone wasn't the issue. It was a confluence of circumstances, lead by Cousins going down with meningitis during the early part of the season, and management interference that contributed to Malone's demise. You won't find a coach out there who has more support among his former players than Mike Malone. That is extremely encouraging.
Yet, there is this nagging unknown. While Malone did coach under Mark Jackson on the Golden State Warriors from 2011-2013 and is credited with coming up with the scheme that eliminated the Nuggets in that first round, his primary modus operandi was that of defense first. He served with teams that werent exactly known for pushing the pace (Mike Brown's Cleveland Cavaliers from 2005-2010, New York Knicks, New Orleans Hornets, Kings) and the Warriors "pace" during his tenure was primarily due to Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson shooting early in the shot clock. So we honestly don't know if Malone is capable of coaching a style conducive to playing at a high speed.
Why is this important? As the organization has told the public quite frequently the Nuggets would like to get back to playing fast, particularly at home. Nuggets General Manager Tim Connelly told us on the Colorado Sports Guys podcast that he feels the Nuggets need to push the pace in Denver. The hiring of Malone, on the surface, doesn't seem to jive with what the Nuggets have been saying all offseason long. Particularly when the other two primary candidates are much more associated with high octane offenses (Mike D'Antoni and former interim head coach Melvin Hunt). On the surface the hiring of Malone seems contradictory.
More than anything, however, is we simply don't know. The fear is that we will have the square peg/round hole aspect of the Nuggets with former coach Shaw. There again, the Nuggets could choose to majorly overhaul the roster and play to a slower pace. The thing is, it's completely unknown if Malone is capable of coaching an offense that takes advantage of the altitude. If the Nuggets are, indeed, looking to push the pace again CAN Malone be that coach? We simply don't have those answers.
As fans, we know that the Nuggets can't afford to be wrong. They HAVE to be right about the Mike Malone hire. With a major name like D'Antoni and fan favorite name like Hunt being passed over, the Nuggets have left themselves no real margin for error. The Nuggets need to knock this one out of the park. The Nuggets cannot strike out two coaches in a row. Will they be able to convince a highly skeptical public that this was the right call? Remains to be seen.
Hopefully we have many of our questions answered when they finally introduce Malone to the public.
Nuggets fans and the Nuggets organization alike NEED this to be the right decision. Only time will tell.