This time last year, Michael Malone was preparing for his second season on the Sacramento Kings' bench, looking for ways to improve upon a 28-54 start to his NBA head coaching career. Less than two months into the 2014-15 campaign, though, Malone found himself out on the street, fired after an 11-13 start to the season and seven losses in nine games after star center DeMarcus Cousins was sidelined by a bout of viral meningitis.
[Follow Dunks Don't Lie on Tumblr: The best slams from all of basketball]
Malone could've sat idle and licked his wounds, stewing over what many perceived as a raw deal while continuing to collect the checks owed him after Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé canned him with a year remaining on his contract. But as he explained this weekend during an appearance on "The Chris Mannix Show," the hard-charging coach — son of coaching lifer Brendan Malone, and a respected long-time assistant with the New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers, New Orleans Hornets and Golden State Warriors — was eager to get back on the bench. Any bench.
Chris Mannix: When you were let go in Sacramento, did you want to get back in right away or did you feel like, "Maybe I could take a break for a little while, do something else and then get back in down the line?"
Mike Malone: Well, I did take a break. I got fired so early, in December, so I was able to coach my daughter's fourth grade team. I was able to coach my other daughter's baseball team, so I took a break.
After the way things ended in Sacto — the irreconcilable differences between coach and front office, the dark cloud the firing hung over the head of Cousins, the sideline and front-office shuffling, all the internal rancor and losing that followed — you can understand why Malone might have a bit of resentment toward Vivek and company. He let some of that bile spill out with a smirk in responding to Mannix's follow-up question:
Chris Mannix: What was your daughter's team's record?
Mike Malone: I'll tell you what, we led the fourth grade league in points per game allowed. So we were a full-string team. The only rule we had on defense was that if your girl didn't have the ball, you had to be in the paint. So our paint was tight, and we shrunk the floor, and we had a very good season. But, I kid you not, that was probably the most fun I've ever had coaching. And maybe it's because I knew I wasn't going to have an owner coming down, firing me because we weren't playing a certain style of play that he wanted.
I guess it's safe to say that Malone's fourth-graders weren't cherry-picking. Whatever issues linger between Malone and Ranadivé, here's hoping they can get together and talk them out, one successful girls' youth basketball coach to another.
For the time being, though, Vivek and his band of merry pranksters have more than enough issues to address in their own backyard these days, and Malone's gearing up for his first season as the new head coach of the Denver Nuggets.
He's got his work cut out for him, with Denver coming off its worst season since before drafting Carmelo Anthony back in 2003 and some questions arising about what the decision to draft point guard Emmanuel Mudiay with the No. 7 pick in last Thursday's 2015 NBA draft means for the future of incumbent lead guard Ty Lawson. After six months away from the league, though — with, as noted, a successful stop-over in the grade-school game — Malone sounds eager to dig in and take on the challenge.
"[...] You know, I love my family, and the time I got to spend with them was great and very valuable, but I'm a coach, I'm a teacher, and I want to get back at it," he told Mannix. "I want to get back to that grind, and being with the team, and teaching, and working, and establishing an identity and getting things turned around in Denver.
"So, very thrilled for the opportunity that they've given me, and I know there's only 30 of those jobs in the world, and I don't take it lightly. [Owner] Josh Kroenke and [general manager] Tim Connelly felt strongly enough about me to give me that chance, and I'm going to do my best to make them proud."
Malone will probably have to go a bit deeper into his bag of tricks to bolster the Nuggets' D than he did with his daughter's team, but he still feels like he came away from his most recent coaching gig with something that'll serve him well back in the big-time.
"I was able to coach that team and have fun and teach, and I think the girls had fun as they learned," he said. "But it was a great experience and something that will definitely help me as a coach, because now I've learned to maybe relax a little bit and have fun with it."
And, by the sound of things, have more fun in interviews, too.
- - - - - - -