Courtesy of USA Today Sports Images
6:44pm: The move is official, the Nuggets announced in a press release.
1:03pm: The Nuggets and Michael Malone have reached agreement on a deal that will make him the team’s new head coach, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports (Twitter link). Malone won over GM Tim Connelly and team president Josh Kroenke in his interviews, convincing the Nuggets to pivot from interim coach Melvin Hunt, who had earlier emerged as the favorite to keep the job, as Wojnarowski details. The move is somewhat surprising, given Denver’s hiring of former Kings GM Pete D’Alessandro to a front office position last week. Reports painted conflicting pictures of whether it was D’Alessandro or Kings owner Vivek Ranadive who was the catalyst for Sacramento’s decision to fire Malone as Kings coach in December. Denver’s desire for an up-tempo attack also conflicts with Malone’s defense-first style.
Long-ago Nuggets coach Mike D’Antoni also reportedly interviewed for the Nuggets job, and Wojnarowski earlier this month referred to him as a strong candidate, along with Malone and Hunt. Wizards assistant Don Newman and Trail Blazers assistant David Vanterpool also reportedly interviewed, but Malone was the only one reported to have interviewed twice.
Malone had the Kings off to a 9-5 start, but a bout of viral meningitis for DeMarcus Cousins sent the team into a tailspin, and the Kings fired Malone with their record at 11-13. The coach remained an in-demand commodity, joining the Timberwolves to assist them in an informal capacity at least three different times this past season. The Magic were expected to consider him for their vacancy, a prospect in which he apparently had interest, but it didn’t appear as though Orlando, which ultimately hired Scott Skiles, regarded Malone as highly as it did other candidates.
The Kings were only 39-67 in Malone’s season and change at the helm, though he was well-regarded as an assistant before taking the Sacramento job. He worked as the top aide to Mike Brown with the Cavs, Monty Williams in New Orleans and Mark Jackson in Golden State before ending up with the Kings.
Denver is coming off two disappointing seasons after a 57-win campaign in 2012/13. The Nuggets let go of coach George Karl, who’s now in Malone’s old job in Sacramento, after that season, replacing him with Brian Shaw, but the move didn’t pan out, and Denver fired Shaw on March 3rd. Hunt connected with players as the interim coach, clearing winning their support as he compiled a 10-13 record in his brief time with the team, a higher winning percentage than the club had during the 2014/15 season under Shaw, who went 20-39 this year.
The coaching choice resolves one part of a muddied picture for the Nuggets, with Hoops Rumors readers who voted in a recent poll having been split on whether Hunt, D’Antoni or Malone would end up with the job. The Nuggets will now likely turn their eyes to what Kroenke called “a period of transition” ahead as major changes seem on the horizon for the roster, as I examined in a look at the team’s offseason.
The news also brings an apparent end to NBA head coaching changes this offseason. Denver’s vacancy was the last during a spring and summer in which the Bulls, Magic, Pelicans and Thunder also replaced their bench bosses.