For many years, the NBA coaching circle was a tight one. The trend for teams was to bring in experienced coaches to see if they fit as opposed to reaching down into the assistant ranks and trying something new.
The retread trend appears to be over. Michael Malone is the third first-time head coach hired this summer and there is a good possibility that he won’t be the last. The old guard has been put on notice and a new generation of coaching prospects are starting to break through.
Malone is finally getting his shot after 12 years as an NBA assistant, but he may be better prepared than most. The last three coaches he worked under – Mark Jackson, Monty Williams and Mike Brown – were all first timers in the league, which speaks volumes about how Malone is perceived from the outside. And it never hurts to get your start in the NBA with a defensive guru like Jeff Van Gundy or to be the son of a 25-year NBA coaching vet like Brendan Malone.
A good manager of people looks to collect data from all avenues and Malone has been cultivating his own brand of basketball for a lot longer than the 12 years he has been in the NBA.
“Obviously I feel really fortunate to have worked for, played for, learned from a lot of really good coaches,” Malone said following Monday’s press conference that introduced him as the Kings newest coach.
In his last NBA stop, Malone helped the Golden State Warriors and Jackson get all the way to game six of the second round against the San Antonio Spurs. While he never played in the league like Jackson, Malone was able to learn plenty from the former-point-guard-turned-coach.
“One thing that I really picked up from him (is) you have to be an X’s and O’s coach, you have to know what you’re doing,” Malone said of his former Warriors’ boss. “But Mark’s ability to empower his players and to give confidence to his players is the best I’ve ever been around.
“All of his players knew that coach Jackson believed in (each one of them),” Malone continued. “And he would never be afraid to say ‘Dom McGuire, Kent Bazemore, you haven’t played in 47 minutes, I want you to go out there and help me get a stop’. And the players, when they know you believe in them to that regard, they’re willing to do anything for you.”
While Jackson leads with confidence and command, both Williams and Brown are more reserved in their demeanor. Malone had a major impact on the Hornets’ defensive numbers in his one season under Williams, but it was in Cleveland where the new Kings coach really got his chance to shine.
“He really allowed me to grow up,” Malone said of Brown, who recently rejoined the Cavaliers after a stint with the Lakers. “Five years with him, Mike’s lack of an ego and his security in himself, allowing me to run a huddle, people would always get on Mike Brown, ‘Well is he coaching the team or is Malone coaching the team?’ Mike Brown was coaching the team, but he allowed us to coach and grow.”
What Malone didn’t learn from the coaching newbies, he got from his father and Van Gundy. Both defensive-minded coaches helped shape the ideas of Malone from a young age.
“Jeff Van Gundy is the one who gave me a chance and believed in me and got me into the NBA.,” Malone said. “Jeff is a terrific coach, defensive oriented, extremely detailed, extremely organized. All things that I tried to be as a coach myself.”
Malone has learned from some great minds, but maybe more importantly, he has the 100-percent backing of new owner Vivek Ranadivé. He will be given a long leash and have plenty time to rebuild this franchise.
To successfully coach this team, Malone will need to pull from the experience of many, but simultaneously forge his own path. This isn’t going to be easy, but if he can successfully combine a little from Jackson, Williams, Brown and Van Gundy with a whole lot of himself, he may make it in Sacramento.
“I’ve taken certain things from all those guys and I’ve come to form my own philosophy and my own vision,” Malone said.