Michael Malone bests his mentor

Michael Malone coaching the Clippers. (Photo: Jonathan Santiago)

Sunday was no ordinary game for the head coach of the Sacramento Kings.  His team’s 124-80 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers was its largest margin of victory in a long time.  And for the first time since Dec. 8, 2012, the Kings have now won three games in a row.  But there was another sub-plot hiding under the radar.

For the first time as an NBA head coach, Michael Malone matched up against one of his coaching mentors in the Cavs’ Mike Brown.

“I wouldn’t be where I’m at without him,” Malone said of Brown before the two coaches took the floor. “It’s always difficult when you face somebody that you care for and respect so much.”

Brown hired Malone in 2005 and the two worked together in Cleveland until 2010, when Brown and his staff were relieved of their duties.  During their time together, the Cavs posted an incredible 272-138 regular season record and made five playoff appearances, including a visit to the NBA Finals during the 2006-07 season.

After taking a season off, Brown returned to the NBA for the 2011-12 season, coaching the Lakers for a little over a season before being let go.

According to Malone, he almost joined Brown’s staff in Los Angeles, but instead, he spent two seasons with the New Orleans Hornets and a season with the Golden State Warriors before taking the Kings job this summer.

Brown rejoined the Cavs this summer, but it’s not the same team that he and Malone left behind in 2010. Gone are LeBron James and plenty of other players that made Cleveland a perennial contender.  Both coaches are now in a similar situation – they are being tasked with rebuilding an ailing franchise.

“I know I’m with the right ownership group out in Cleveland,” Brown said during Sunday’s pre-game chat with the media.  “Talking to Mike Malone, he thinks that he’s with the right ownership group here, on top of having a GM that understands what it means to grow, not just a team, but an organization culturally the right way.  It doesn’t happen overnight; it’s a long process and everybody’s got to stay in the circle.”

It will be a process, but it’s one that Malone feels he is prepared to take on.  He credits Brown’s selfless approach to coaching as one of the primary reasons he was able to stand out on Cleveland’s staff.

“The most impressive thing for me about Mike Brown (is) he was a first-time coach, but he had no ego, he had no insecurities, he had no paranoias, which is very rare in this business,” Malone said.  “He allowed myself to coach.  He gave me a voice and that really aided my development.”

It’s no secret that Michael Malone is the son of renowned defensive strategist Brendan Malone.  Knowing this, Brown forced Malone to develop every facet of his coaching acumen and even put him in charge of the offense.  He made sure his understudy had balance to his knowledge and experience.

“He’s just a bright guy,” Brown said.  “It doesn’t matter – offense, defense, he just knows the game.  And so for me, I didn’t want him to be pigeonholed just as a defensive guy.”

While Malone has a different approach to the game than his friend and mentor, he has implemented the way that Brown handles his assistant coaches into his own coaching style.

“The only way you’re going to grow in this business is by doing,” Malone said.  “I think I benefited from that, and I want the guys on my staff to benefit the same way.”

Malone didn’t pull any punches when he faced off with Brown on Sunday afternoon.  Sacramento throttled the Cavs, winning by 44 points.  But after the game, the two coaches will remain close.

“Mike is a good friend,” Malone said.  “We stay in touch, we talk, whether it’s basketball or it’s family, whether it’s just to say hello.  He’s been a valuable resource for me ever since I worked for him.”

Both Brown and Malone glow when they speak of each other.  They had a tremendous run together in Cleveland, and they have built an incredible bond that goes well beyond the game of basketball.

Brown is getting a second chance in Cleveland, and Malone is finally getting his break in Sacramento.

“For him to get this opportunity with a young team, having a chance to grow with this young team, is a phenomenal opportunity for him, and he’s going to do well as long as he gets time here.”

Malone will get time.  Hopefully Brown will, as well.  He is a teacher and a mentor. The league needs more men like him running teams.


James Ham

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