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Roundtable: Reacting to the Denver Nuggets contract extension for head coach Michael Malone

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Big news hours before the season beings. Here’s our instant reactions

Denver Nuggets Media Day Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

Do you think coach Michael Malone deserved to get this extension?

Zach Mikash (@ZachMikash): Yes. I’ve spent some lonely nights out on Malone island but I’ve always believed he has coached well enough to remain the coach. With his contract expiring after the season it was going to be an unnecessary distraction. He’s made the team better every season for three seasons in a row, that whole “prove it” mentality is a two way street and the Nuggets delivered on their end.

Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs): “Deserved” is hard to judge. The Nuggets missed the playoffs by a game each of the last two years, partly because they were too late to embrace their strengths in each of those seasons. On the other hand the team seems to be a tight-knit group that works together without any of the fracturing evident just a few years ago, and so many of the young players have developed beautifully so far. It’s odd timing on an extension, but I don’t think it’s undeserved. And now Denver doesn’t have a coach who might have been making decisions based on his immediate future rather than the long-term future of the team.

Brendan Vogt (@Bvogt422): The short answer is yes. Denver was in a really rough spot during the Shaw era and things have turned around drastically under Malone’s guidance. Of course, a lot of that can be chalked up to the new talent the front office has amassed in the last few years, but the players are buying what Malone is selling. A healthier basketball culture, a shared goal of lifting their organization to new heights, a commitment to doing that together. They playoffs are still the goal—a goal they haven’t reached with Malone at the helm, but they’ve improved in each season since his hire. Shaking things up is a riskier play than it seems right now. This is the safe play.

Adam Mares (@Adam_Mares): I think so. The Nuggets were headed toward a very difficult decision had they not extended him. Miss the playoffs and everything is a disaster anyway. Make the playoffs and suddenly you have to extend him for a lot more money over a lot more years. I feel fairly confident that Malone is the guy for this team for at least one more season and probably the right guy for this team for the 2019-20 season as well. Anything after that is a mystery but Denver did well to lock in when they did.

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN the extension is for two additional years, too much, too little or just right?

Mikash: Just right. Giving coach an extra two seasons is short enough that if he falls short of playoff expectations it won’t be a big pill to swallow to move on, however it’s also long enough that if he continues to improve the team the front office will get an opportunity to see how he performs in the playoffs, adjusts and how successful those adjustments are in following seasons before they have to make a decision on his contract again.

Gross: Just right. It means Denver doesn’t have to go through this again next summer but also allows them flexibility in case the team plateaus. Malone gets to prove he can do more than player development as he should get some post-season experience the next couple of years and then both parties can figure out the future fit.

Vogt: Just right. It seemed unfair that Malone should have to coach on a contract year given all he’s done to turn things around here, yet understandable that the team might be wary of a long term commitment without a playoff appearance. This is the middle ground. Malone has two years to prove he’s more than a culture builder. He’s earned that time.

Mares: It’s just right. It basically means Denver has three options. Keep him this year and next and then part ways with him after the 2020 season. Keep him through the 2020 season and make a decision on him after that. Extend him after the 2020 seasons. Who knows what the right call will be at that time so getting him locked down for the next two years allows the team to reward him for what he’s done so far while still getting to wait and see if he is capable of taking the team to the next level or not.

What one thing would help take coach to the next level?

Mikash: Accepting his player’s weaknesses. This is especially true considering Nikola Jokic. Coach talked about how they have had Nikola work on his body and footwork to be a better defender at the perimeter and that’s good. Mitigating player’s weaknesses is good coaching. However, you can only mitigate so much by changing the player, you also have to mold the system around the player for who he is. The Nuggets aren’t going to win rings as a defensive juggernaut if Jokic is the centerpiece. If coach can embrace that, then I think there’s as good a chance as any that he’ll be getting a ring too if the Nuggets pull it off.

Gross: Subsuming his own preferences for the good of the team. We all know Malone would rather have the best defense in the league than the best offense, but this team is set up to be able to achieve the latter and will almost certainly never be the former. He wants vocal players but will have to get by without that. This is not a perfect melding of coach philosophy with player personnel, but it can be amazingly successful if Malone is allowed to hire coaches who can bring his vision to life without compromising the excellence they look destined for on the offensive end. A couple more wing defenders would help too.

Vogt: Malone has guided this team in the right direction but his grip on the steering wheel is a bit too tight. He himself has admitted that the team was playing its best basketball last season when they were limiting practices and play calls. The Nuggets are capable of exceptional things on the offensive end, but he must trust them. I believe that trust is there, but submitting to it fights against his natural instincts as a coach. Malone is also marketed as a defense-first guy, but he has yet to lead a strong defensive team as a head coach. Finding a way to do that with this roster would go a long way towards staying here long term.

Mares: My only real complaints about Michael Malone all stem from the same flaw: stubbornness. You can’t be stubborn in today’s NBA. The game is evolving too quickly. Old rules no longer apply in the same ways and the best coaches in the league today are the ones who are willing and eager to adapt to new ideas based off of new evidence. Malone is a traditionalist by nature. That’s not to say that he doesn’t have fresh new ideas. But he has a star player in Nikola Jokic who is as far from traditional as any player in the league, both in style of play and in terms of mentality. Malone needs to find the right balance between sticking to his principles and adapting to his personnel.