Nuggets’ coach Mike Malone was on our list of three coaches on the hot seat this season.
Although his mention on that list came with a caveat — if Denver got off to a slow start, if they seemed like a team not bound for the playoffs again, his hold on his job would start to weaken (he is now in the last year of his contract). That scenario probably never plays out. This is a Denver team poised to make a leap into the postseason, a team that should improve off a 46-win season where they were without Paul Millsap much of the time, and still missed out on the playoffs only in overtime on the final night of the season in Minnesota.
There were rumblings about Malone’s job being in danger a season ago, but he said he never felt it, speaking to Sam Amick of The Athletic.
“It never even crossed my mind, just because in any of the conversations that I had with Tim (Connley, GM) and Josh (Kroenke, team president) during the season, and in the last few weeks, and in the last game, there was never any (sign of trouble),” Malone said. “You can get a sense of the room sometimes, like, ‘Oh, shit, fellas. It’s not looking good.’ But honest to God, Sam, there was not one time that I thought my job was in jeopardy.”
“The reason I feel that was that, No. 1, I’m confident in the job that I’ve done, to take a team that when I took over (in 2015) had won 30 games, and took them from 30 to 46 in three years with young players. It’s tough to win and develop talent at the same time. So we’ve been able to win, develop all our young players, create an identity, create a culture, create excitement. We had 14 sellouts (last season). I think behind Philly, we were No. 2 in the NBA in new season tickets sales. So across the board, it’s check-check. All positives.”
Malone should not have been fired, he’s done an excellent job building Denver to this point and they were a quality team last season that just missed out on the playoffs. Not that it would have been the first time Malone was let go for no good reason. (Remember Sacramento, where DeMarcus Cousins got sick, the team went 2-7 without him, and Malone was pushed aside for the George Karl era? Among the Kings’ many mistakes over the years, that was near the top.)
However, Malone has to get this team to take the next step to keep his job. The Nuggets 26th-ranked defense has to improve. More than that, he has creative offensive players in Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray and Malone needs to let them play a little more and not micromanage the game as much.
Most observers — this one included — expect the Nuggets to leap into the postseason this year. With that should come the contract extension Malone deserves in Denver. If not… well, Malone has been down that road before.