DENVER (AP) - Michael Malone wants his team to run. The front office wants his team to run. His players certainly want his team to run.
So, the Denver Nuggets are going to run.
Now here come the conditions: The uptempo pace has to be with efficiency and only as a reward for doing all the little things first, such as rebounding and playing stingy defense.
Those are the new coach’s unbending terms. Malone even went on the offensive at his introductory news conference Tuesday to make his point, taking a little exception to the label that he’s nothing more than a defensive-minded head coach. He insisted he can adapt his style.
“Don’t paint me and put me in a hole by saying, ‘This is who you are,’” said Malone, who went 39-67 in two seasons with Sacramento before being fired in December. “I play to the strength of the roster.”
If his players want to run, well, start getting in that extra cardio. Because Malone plans to go full throttle from opening tip to the final horn, especially at home to capitalize on the team’s advantage at altitude.
“All players say they want to play fast, but are they willing to condition themselves to be a great running team, where you can run for 48 minutes?” Malone said. “A lot of guys are not ready to make that full commitment. That’s something I look forward to working with them on and demanding from them, so we can become an efficient running team.”
Malone actually went back and looked at what made the Nuggets so effective in 2008-09, the season they went to the Western Conference Finals before losing to the Los Angeles Lakers. Under the leadership of George Karl that season, the team played at a proficient pace and also defended at a high level. That’s what Malone is expecting.
And that’s what the Nuggets have gotten away from, when they tried to play more of a half-court style under Brian Shaw, who was fired in March and replaced by interim coach Melvin Hunt. It didn’t work out as the team missed the playoffs the last two seasons after going 10 consecutive years, mostly under Karl.
“We’re excited to implement that style of play,” team President Josh Kroenke said. “Mike is going to coach our guys the best he sees fit. No matter who’s on our team this year, next year, the year after, Mike is in a great position.”
What’s more, everyone receives a clean slate. That missed practice after the All-Star break? That’s forgotten, Ty Lawson. The chant of “1-2-3 … Six weeks,” - interpreted by some as a countdown to the end of a dismal season - is just a distant memory.
“It would be unfair for me to come in and hold anything against a player that didn’t happen on my watch,” Malone said. “It’s a new opportunity for everybody involved, to get us back into the playoffs.”
In 2012-13, the Nuggets won a franchise-best 57 games and were the No. 3 seed in the playoffs. They ran into an uptempo Golden State squad led by the long-range shooting of Stephen Curry. On the bench as an assistant coach for the Warriors in that series was Malone, who witnessed a modern-day blueprint for winning in the NBA.
“The game is getting faster. It’s a pace game,” said Malone, whose team has the No. 7 pick in the NBA draft next week. “The game is becoming a 3-point shooting game. … My job is very simply to put our guys in a position to have success.”
Just who exactly may still be on this roster after draft night remains unclear. Malone sounds as if he’s bracing for change.
“The roster I have today will probably not be the roster we have come training camp,” he said. “That’s life in the NBA. Change is inevitable. But there’s talent.”
As the son of longtime NBA assistant Brendan Malone, he said his father actually discouraged him from getting into coaching. Too unstable and nomadic of a lifestyle.
“I knew the pitfalls,” said Malone, whose father is an assistant coach with the Detroit Pistons. “He’s like, ‘All right, if you are going to coach, be a great coach.’ If you have a passion, follow that passion.”
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