Michael Malone was short staffed, so he improvised.
When the curtain raised inside the Sacramento Kings practice facility, there was Malone on the court, working up a sweat with then-draft prospect Trey Burke. The rookie point guard had come to Sacramento for a solo workout ahead of the draft, so Malone (with some help from former assistant Bobby Jackson) took it upon himself to give Burke some competition.
In one of the several drills ran during his visit, Burke’s shooting off the dribble was tested by Malone and no shot came easy. Each was earned as Malone stifled Burke’s path to the basket.
Changing the culture of a franchise that’s been mired in futility takes work. It also takes getting your hands dirty. Just three days after formally taking the job, the first-time head coach showed a willingness to do both in the workout with Burke.
“Mike is a professional,” New Orleans Pelicans Head Coach Monty Williams said of Malone at last month’s USA Basketball mini-camp. ”Certainly knows how to organize a team, preparation is second to none, he’ll be great relating to the guys and he’s tough. He’s gonna be tough on the guys; he’s gonna be disciplined.”
Williams knows Malone well. When he got the head gig in New Orleans, he brought Malone along for the ride, hiring the Kings new coach as one of his top assistants. Together, they helped lead the Hornets to a 46-26 record and a trip to the 2011 NBA Playoffs.
In his one season in New Orleans, Malone helped successfully change the Hornets’ culture on the defensive end. They allowed a league-best 8.7 fewer points per contest than the previous season, dropping to 94 oPPG after allowing 102.7 oPPG in 2009-10.
“The atmosphere will change because Mike is gonna make sure that all the details will be (in order),” Williams said of his expectations for Malone in Sacramento. ”No stone will be unturned with Mike and that’s something that really helped me as a head coach. He was always there to give me something that I may have overlooked and that helps you when you’re a young head coach.”
Understanding X’s and O’s are important to a coach’s success in the NBA, but so is building relationships. In 12 seasons of experience under his belt, Malone has earned high praise for his ability to relate and connect.
He’s built this reputation by being straight-forward. His honest approach earned him respect from players during his brief two-year stint in Golden State.
“He’s definitely a guy that’s always black and white,” Warriors forward Harrison Barnes said of his old assistant coach. ”He didn’t sugarcoat things. He always kept it up front.
“As a player, that’s what you want,” he added. “Someone that’ll give you honest feedback, someone that can help you understand your game and someone that’s a good sounding board.”
Barnes described Malone as “cool, calm and collected”, but also noted that Malone’s approach might change in his new role. As an assistant to Mark Jackson, Malone helped transform the Warriors from Western Conference laughing stock to postseason darling. It took just two seasons for Malone and company to usher in a new era of Warriors basketball, which many hope and believe he can duplicate in the capital city.
“He’ll be good for Sacramento,” Barnes’ teammate Klay Thompson said of the 43-year-old coach. ”He’s a tough minded, defensive minded coach. Again, I feel like he’s gonna change the culture up there.”
Changing the culture of an organization starts at the top, but its success is judged on the ground. If Williams, Barnes and Thompson’s opinions of Malone are any indication, the Kings seem headed on the right path.