Michael Malone

Northwest Notes: Lillard, Nuggets’ Staff, Murray

Talks between the Heat and Trail Blazers regarding a potential Damian Lillard trade should resume sometime before training camp, The Athletic’s Shams Charania said during “The Rally” TV show (video link).

Lillard remains intent on getting traded to Miami, if he’s dealt. Charania expressed doubt that Lillard would even report to camp if he’s traded to a team other than the Heat.

“I’m told that that the only training camps Damian Lillard would report to are Portland and Miami,” Charania said.

Of course, that could be just posturing in the hopes of going to his desired destination. Media day for training camps is scheduled on Oct. 2 with camps slated to begin in Oct. 3.

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • After winning a championship, Nuggets coach Michael Malone is content to run it back — at least in terms of his staff. There are no anticipated changes to the coaching staff, TheDNVR.com’s Harrison Wind reports. That group includes David Adelman, former Minnesota head coach Ryan Saunders, Popeye Jones, Charles Klask, Ognjen Stojakovic, Boniface N’Dong and Connor Griffin.
  • A New York Times’ story from Tania Ganguli discusses the friendship between Nuggets guard Jamal Murray and Alexander Volkanovski, the U.F.C.’s featherweight champion. “I’m a Nuggets guy now purely because of our connection,” Volkanovski said.
  • In case you missed it, the Trail Blazers are reportedly adding center Duop Reath to their roster. Get the details here.

Northwest Notes: Jazz, Prince, Malone, Murray

Four player option decisions will help shape the Jazz roster for next season, writes Trent Wood of The Deseret News. Jordan Clarkson, Rudy Gay, Talen Horton-Tucker and Damian Jones all have to determine soon if they will accept their salaries for 2023/24 or test the free agent market.

Jones is first in line, with a June 23 deadline to decide on his $2.6MM option. The 27-year-old center signed with the Lakers last summer and came to Utah in a three-team trade in February. He saw steady playing time as a back-up center with the Jazz, averaging 4.6 points and 3.5 rebounds in 19 games.

The other three players have until June 29, and Wood sees Gay as the most likely to opt in as the 36-year-old almost certainly won’t top his $6.5MM salary in free agency. The others face tougher decisions, especially if Utah takes a guard in the draft, Wood adds. Horton-Tucker had an up-and-down season, and the team may not try to re-sign him if he opts out. Clarkson is a fan favorite and just put together one of his best NBA seasons, but he may not be in the long-term plans if the Jazz decide to rebuild, according to Wood.

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • The Timberwolves could look to trade Taurean Prince to help ease their salary crunch or possibly to acquire another ball-handler, Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic states in a mailbag column. Prince has a $7.5MM salary for next season that becomes guaranteed on June 28.
  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe profiles the journey of Nuggets coach Michael Malone from being fired in Sacramento to building an NBA champion in Denver. The son of former NBA coach Brendan Malone spent 20 years in the league before winning his first title. “To get to this point, to win a championship is just, as you reflect upon all the people who helped you get here,” Malone said. “This is like a many, many years-long process, and you don’t do it by yourself.”
  • The Nuggets were thrilled to celebrate with their fans at Thursday’s victory parade as most of the players are first-time champions, per Mike Singer of The Denver Post. Jamal Murray was focused on enjoying the experience rather than recording it for posterity. “The best part of the day was just being present,” he said. “It wasn’t about taking videos. It was just about being in the moment, appreciating the fans. … They give me energy, they give me life during the game, so I can only thank them so much.”

Nuggets Notes: Murray, Irving, Smith, Williams, Braun, Watson, Anunoby

The Nuggets’ path to the championship was a testament to perseverance and patience. They didn’t panic when they fell short in previous postseasons, nor did they feel the need to replace coach Michael Malone. They were rewarded this season but there was some measure of luck involved. ESPN’s Zach Lowe (Insider link) offers some sourced nuggets on the Nuggets, sharing details about the steps along the way to the first title in franchise history. Here are some of the highlights from Lowe’s story:

  • The Nuggets never seriously considered trading Jamal Murray as he rehabbed from his ACL injury but former executive Tim Connelly approached Malone five or six years ago to say that Murray could be moved for a high-profile veteran player or two. Kyrie Irving, who requested a trade from the Cavaliers during the 2017 offseason, was one of the players Denver considered acquiring in a Murray deal, but the team ultimately decided against pursuing Irving.
  • The Nuggets had an opportunity to move journeyman point guard Ish Smith prior to this season’s trade deadline, but coaches and players lobbied the front office to keep him. Smith didn’t play much but he proved to be a powerful influence behind the scenes, including mimicking the Heat’s playbook as part of Denver’s scout team at Finals practices.
  • General manager Calvin Booth considered trading up to the No. 10 spot — held by the Wizards — in last year’s draft with the idea of selecting Jalen Williams. The Nuggets also considered moving up later in the lottery to nab Christian Braun, even though he was projected as a late first-rounder. They got him anyway at No. 21. They were also concerned that the Warriors would take Peyton Watson with the No. 28 pick. Golden State passed on Watson and Denver grabbed him at No. 30.
  • In one of the few mistakes they made, the Nuggets traded down from No. 13 to No. 24 in the 2017 draft — the 13th pick turned out to be Donovan Mitchell. Denver had considered taking OG Anunoby at that spot but felt he was a reach at that point in the draft. Anunoby came off the board at No. 23 and the Nuggets wound up with long-forgotten Tyler Lydon with the next pick.

Nuggets Notes: Malone, Brown, Trade, Path To Success

Michael Malone‘s message to his Nuggets heading into Game 5 on Monday is a study in reverse psychology. He wants them to feel like they’re down 3-1 in the Finals instead of the other way around, ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk writes.

“My biggest concern going into any close-out game is human nature and fighting against that,” the Nuggets coach said. “Most teams, when you’re up 3-1, they come up for air. They relax and they just kind of take it for granted that, oh, we’re going to win this. We know anything is possible. That’s why my message to our team was our approach has to be we are down 3-1. They are desperate. We have to be more desperate. They are hungry. We have to be hungrier.”

Malone believes the Nuggets are ready to claim their first title.

“This team has been through a lot,” Malone said. “The last two years, no Jamal Murray; last season, no Michael Porter. To get back healthy and add some key pieces, this is a team that has been tested before and I think is really built for this moment.”

We have more on the Nuggets:

  • Bruce Brown, who is expected to decline his player option so that he can enter free agency again, has become a solid 3-point shooter. He came into the NBA with the Pistons as a player who could be ignored on the offensive end, Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe writes, but now he’s making defenses pay. “Remember, when I first came in the league, I couldn’t shoot. I wasn’t confident shooting the ball at all. I was a mutt guy,” he said. “They left me wide open and let me shoot. So that took a toll on my confidence, but it put a chip on my shoulder. So I just got in the gym and worked, and now it’s showing on the biggest stage.” Brown is averaging 11.8 points in the Finals and has made half of his 3-point attempts.
  • The Nuggets made a wise move by agreeing to a draft-pick trade with the Thunder, Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman opines. Denver needs to fill out its bench with young, promising players on inexpensive contracts for salary-cap reasons. Denver will receive three draft picks in the reported deal — this year’s No. 37 selection, the least favorable of the Thunder’s 2024 first-round picks, and a 2024 second-rounder. Oklahoma City will get Denver’s 2029 first-round pick.
  • Malone believes more teams will try to emulate the Nuggets’ blueprint for success, NBA on ESPN relays (video link). Denver’s ownership and front office didn’t panic despite falling short in the playoffs the past four seasons. “Every team collectively has to pick a path and stay true to it,” Malone said. “I feel really fortunate our journey has been one of patience, one of drafting really well and developing those players and then adding the right pieces around them.”

Nuggets Notes: Defense, Porter Jr., Malone, Pace, Green, Smith

Nuggets coach Michael Malone ripped into his team’s defensive effort in Game 2. During the team’s film session on Tuesday, Malone encouraged his players to talk through their mistakes and take responsibility for their assignments. Forward Michael Porter Jr. didn’t mind the tone, he told Mike Singer of the Denver Post.

“You definitely gotta own it,” he said. “You can’t be sensitive. Me personally, I know I gotta play better. If my teammates tell me that, I’m not going to be sensitive. If I tell that to someone else, like, ‘Yo, you gotta tell me if we need to work on switches.’ They’re not going to be sensitive.”

Porter knows he has to ramp up his game. He is shooting just 3-for-17 beyond the arc during the series, along with some defensive lapses.

“I think intensity and energy wasn’t where it needed to be from me personally or really the team as a whole,” he said. “We can talk about the mistakes that we had defensively, but really, it’s about intensity.”

We have more on the Nuggets:

  • Malone wants to see his team increase the tempo in Game 3 on Wednesday but they have to play better defensively to make that happen, Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN writes. “We want to play fast; they want to play slow,” he said. “When you’re not getting stops, advantage Miami Heat because now they have their 2-2-1 press back to the zone. We’re playing way too slow to try to attack that, which is forcing a lot of late-clock situations for us.”
  • Veteran forward Jeff Green, who will be a free agent after the series, said he made a point of taking Aaron Gordon and Bruce Brown under his wing. “I’m here to push them to be better,” Green told Rob Mahoney of The Ringer. “Make sure that they’re doing what they need to do for us to win, but also for their career to go to the next level. Together we’ve been great, and that’s just a culmination of our relationship and trying to understand each other.”
  • Ish Smith has barely played in the postseason but the journeyman point guard, who is on his 13th team, could win his first championship ring if Denver takes the series. Smith will be a free agent after the season and hopes to get another opportunity. “Until they cut off the lights and say don’t come back, I’m going to be out here playing,” he told Ryan McFadden of the Denver Post. “You’re still going to see No. 14 running fast.”

Nuggets Notes: Malone, Jokic, Strategy, Game 3

Nuggets coach Michael Malone was incredulous about the way his team approached Game 2 of the NBA Finals, writes Mike Singer of The Denver Post. With a chance to take control of the series, the Nuggets came out flat Sunday night, allowing Miami to start the game on a 10-2 run.

“We had guys out there that were just whether feeling sorry for themselves for not making shots or thinking they can just turn it on or off. This is not the preseason, this is not the regular season,” Malone said. “This is the NBA Finals. That to me is really, really perplexing, disappointing.”

Malone was particularly upset about “miscommunication, game-plan breakdowns, personnel breakdowns” that enabled the Heat to shoot 17-of-35 from three-point range. He cited slow rotations and called for his players to start making contact with Miami’s shooters as soon as they cross mid-court.

“Those are guys that we are supposed to have a heightened awareness to,” Malone said. “As I mentioned after Game 1, the fact that they got 16 wide-open threes was concerning. They didn’t make them. So we got lucky in Game 1. ”

There’s more from Denver:

  • Nikola Jokic had 41 points Sunday night, but Miami was able to disrupt the Nuggets’ offense by turning him into more of a scorer than a passer, notes Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN. Jokic had 10 assists by halftime in Game 1, but only four overall in Game 2. “They just put us in their rhythm,” Jokic said. “And we didn’t want to play that way, and they want to, obviously. But maybe just to play a little bit faster is going to help us.”
  • Malone explained his decision to not call a timeout on the final possession of the game with his team trailing by three points, per Bennett Durando of The Denver Post. Denver wound up with a step-back three-point shot by Jamal Murray that spun out. “Some nights, yeah, I think we can take the timeout,” Malone said. “Other nights, give our guys the freedom to get out and run. But with how well they were guarding in that quarter and how hard it was for us to generate looks, I felt in that transition we had the best chance to get the look that we wanted.”
  • Sunday’s game marked the Nuggets’ first home loss of the playoffs and the first time they haven’t held a 2-0 lead in a series, states Parker Gabriel of The Denver Post. The team will be facing real adversity for the first time in the postseason as the series resumes Wednesday at Miami. “I think we understand what’s at stake,” Jeff Green said. “They did what they were supposed to do. They came in here, got a split. Now they’re going home, and I think we have to go in there worried about Game 3. We can’t worry about Game 4. We have to worry about Game 3.”

Nuggets Notes: Jackson, Nurkic, Jokic, Altitude, Malone

Nuggets guard Reggie Jackson got a taste of the NBA Finals as a rookie in 2012 with the Thunder, who lost to the Heat. Jackson finds himself facing the Heat again 11 years later after passing through several organizations.

Jackson never realized how hard it would be to get back to the Finals, he told Andrew Greif of the Los Angeles Times.

“I just thought it was going to be championship after championship after championship,” Jackson said. “So being here, taking 11 years, the ups and downs of the business, injuries, changing franchises, yeah, I don’t take it for granted. I think the 11-year run has made me realize how much luck you really have to have.”

We have more on the Nuggets as they head into the Finals:

  • Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic remains close friends with Nikola Jokic. Nurkic asked for a trade after it became clear Jokic was Denver’s center of the future and he was dealt to Portland during the 2016/17 season. Jokic actually offered to the coaching staff to give Nurkic his starting job back prior to the deal, according to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne. “We still talk about what could have been,” Nurkic said. “But everything happens for a reason. I’m happy with my career. And I’m happy for him too … His story is really amazing.”
  • Coach Michael Malone hopes Denver’s altitude will mess with the Heat‘s heads and lungs, ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk writes. “When we can establish that pace of play, that makes it really hard for visiting teams to kind of sustain and stay with that initially,” Malone said. “Most teams will wind up getting their second wind and be able to work themselves into that. But yeah, the altitude is here, man. Might as well use it to our advantage.”
  • The smartest thing owner Stan Kroenke did was remain patient with Malone, Sean Keeler of the Denver Post opines. His core players believe in him and that’s why the Nuggets are in the Finals for the first time. Malone is grateful for the ownership group’s trust in him. “I feel really fortunate and blessed to be working in an organization run by Stan and Josh Kroenke,” Malone said. “They gave me a chance eight years ago to lead this team, and the most important part of this last eight years is their ability to be patient and have a big-picture approach and let this thing grow into what it is today.”

Northwest Notes: Jackson, Watson, Green, Towns, Sexton

Nuggets coach Michael Malone strongly hinted at possible rotation changes for Game 5 against the Suns on Tuesday night. Malone mentioned that he might use Reggie Jackson as an extra ball-handler and Peyton Watson as a defender, Ryan Blackburn of Mile High Sports tweets. Blackburn notes that the Nuggets were -37 when the starters weren’t on the floor together over the past two games.

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • Veteran forward Jeff Green has a simpler solution for how the Nuggets can win the series, which is currently tied at 2-2. “It’s about pride. It’s about effort,” Green told Harrison Wind of the TheDnvr.com. “And it’s about wanting to take on the challenge.” Denver has allowed 43 fast break points in the last two games.
  • Dealing Karl-Anthony Towns, if the Timberwolves choose to go that path, could be made easier if the Knicks get eliminated by the Heat, Michael Rand of The Star Tribune opines. New York seems like a logical landing spot and rumors are already flying about the Knicks having interest in the Timberwolves big man. Towns will make $36MM next season and the Knicks have a combination of starters with suitable salaries (such as Julius Randle and RJ Barrett) and extra draft picks that could entice the Minnesota front office.
  • Coming back from a serious knee injury, Collin Sexton saw his first season with the Jazz marred by hamstring strains. However, he showed improvement in his overall game compared to his time in Cleveland, particularly with his passing and decision-making, according to Sarah Todd of the Deseret News. Sexton shot a career-high 50.6% from the field and made 39.3% of his 3-point attempts. He averaged 14.3 points in 23.9 minutes while appearing in 48 games. Sexton inked a four-year, $71MM contract last summer in a sign-and-trade transaction.

Mike Brown Named Coach Of The Year

After leading the Kings to the third seed in the West and snapping a 16-year playoff drought in his first season in Sacramento, Mike Brown has been honored as the NBA’s Coach of The Year, the team announced (via Twitter).

Brown, who was also named Coach of the Year in 2009, will be awarded the first-ever Red Auerbach Trophy. He received all 100 first-place votes, marking the first time in league history that the award has been unanimous.

The Thunder‘s Mark Daigneault finished second with 48 second-place votes and 20 third-place votes, while first-year Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla was third with 18 second-place votes and 23 third-place votes.

The Cavaliers J.B. Bickerstaff and the Nuggets Michael Malone rounded out the top five, while nine other head coaches received at least one vote.

When the Kings hired him last year, Brown said he wanted to do more than just get the team into the postseason. His goal was to build a team that could win in the playoffs and possibly challenge for an NBA title.

Brown was able to do that quickly, unlocking the potential of De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis on one of the league’s most exciting teams. Sacramento led the league with 120.7 points per game while posting a 48-34 record.

Brown is the first Sacramento coach to win the honor and the third in the history of the franchise, according to Sean Cunningham of Fox 40 (Twitter link). The others were Phil Johnson in 1975 and Cotton Fitzsimmons in 1979.

Western Notes: Ishbia, Morant, Nuggets, Russell

Approximately 17 months after an ESPN report painted a detailed picture of a toxic workplace environment in Phoenix under Suns owner Robert Sarver and just over two months after Sarver completed the sale of the team to Mat Ishbia, Ishbia’s own company – United Wholesale Mortgage – is facing allegations along similar lines.

According to Polly Mosendz and Caleb Melby of Bloomberg, conversations with more than two dozen people who have worked at the company revealed complaints about racial disparities, sexual harassment, and bullying by managers at United Wholesale Mortgage.

While the troubling allegations may feel like déjà vu for Suns fans, it’s important to clarify that Ishbia himself wasn’t accused of any wrongdoing like Sarver was and that these allegations aren’t related to the NBA franchise at all.

For what it’s worth, United Wholesale Mortgage issued a statement to Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic insisting that Bloomberg’s portrayal of the company’s workplace is “false and misleading” and referring to the report as having portrayed a “sensationalized caricature” of UWM.

Here’s more from around the Western Conference:

  • Grizzlies star Ja Morant has filed a countersuit against the teenager he punched during a pickup game last summer, arguing that false statements by the teen could cost him an All-NBA berth and his chance at a super-max payday, reports Damichael Cole of The Memphis Commercial Appeal. The teen’s initial lawsuit named Morant as the instigator of the incident and said that the Grizzlies guard went into his home and came back with a gun tucked into his pants, both claims that Morant denies. Regardless of whether those allegations are true or false, Morant’s suit makes a dubious argument, since the eight-game suspension that may cost him an All-NBA spot (and upwards of $39MM) was the result of a separate gun-related incident.
  • As the No. 1 seed in in a year without an obvious favorite to come out of the West, there will be significant pressure on head coach Michael Malone and the Nuggets to make a deep playoff run, writes Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post (subscription required). Malone doesn’t necessarily disagree with Kiszla’s argument, but says he won’t be influenced by the expectations that outsiders have for his team. “We as an organization put pressure on ourselves to win a championship. That’s what motivates us. That’s the pressure,” Malone said. “The external pressure? Fans, bloggers, this, that, I could give a (bleep). It’s about what I put on myself.”
  • D’Angelo Russell didn’t make the postseason during his first stint with the Lakers, so after rejoining the team at the February trade deadline, he’s excited to make his playoff debut for Los Angeles — even after a forgettable play-in performance in which he made 1-of-9 shots and was benched down the stretch. “We needed to win, honestly. We needed to win,” Russell said of Tuesday’s play-in game, per Dan Woike of The Los Angeles Times. “For me to dwell on it and be upset or confidence low, I don’t think that’s the right approach. Definitely want to do anything and everything I can do to not be in that position in the future.”