In 2009, the Cavaliers were coming off a 66-win season in which they had reached the Eastern Conference finals while averaging the fewest points allowed per game in the NBA. So when Cleveland coach Mike Brown approached assistant Michael Malone, who had been coordinating the Cavaliers defense, and asked him to run Clevelands offense instead, Malone asked the natural question.
I said, Why? recalled Malone, now the Kings coach. Everythings going so well.
The Cavaliers had just lost assistant coach and offensive specialist John Kuester, who became the coach of the Detroit Pistons. Brown saw an opportunity for Malone, then entering his fifth season as a member of Browns staff, to expand his coaching résumé.
I didnt want him to be pigeonholed just as a defensive guy, Brown said before the two met for the first time as opposing head coaches in the Kings 124-80 win over Cleveland on Sunday at Sleep Train Arena.
I wanted it to be known not only to the guys on our team and other coaches on our team, but around the league that he can coach offense, he can coach defense, it doesnt matter. Hes just a very good basketball coach.
Or, as Malone remembered the conversation: He said, I want you to show the NBA that you can coach both sides of the ball that youre a head coach.
Four years later, Malone said he credits Brown and making the switch with helping him land his first NBA head coaching job and with shaping his coaching philosophies.
(Brown) was a first-time head coach, but he had no ego, he had no insecurities, he had no paranoia, which is very rare in this business, Malone said. He allowed me to coach; he gave me a voice. And that really aided my development.
That extended beyond practices into games, Malone said, which meant anybody watching the Cavaliers on TV and the presence of LeBron James at that time meant plenty of national broadcasts could see Malone coaching the team from the bench or in timeouts.
Along with the exposure, Malone said being allowed to teach and be vocal with Cavaliers players, even as an assistant, was invaluable experience.
(Now) I try to do the same thing with my guys, allow them to coach, give them a voice, Malone said. Because the only way youre going to grow in this business is by doing. I benefited from that, and I want the guys on my staff to benefit the same way.
While Kings practices generally are closed to media, guard Isaiah Thomas and forward Rudy Gay said Malone does make a point of involving his entire staff when it comes to instruction. Thomas said practices are often structured where each (coach) has their portion of the practice.
Everybody has a say-so in things that we do, Thomas said.
Malone, meanwhile, dedicates his time to both sides of the ball, said Thomas, who described Malone as an underrated offensive coach. ... Hes a great defensive coach, but I think a lot of people dont know hes one of the better offensive coaches. I feel like because he puts guys in position to be successful.
In Sacramento, Malone inherited a team that ranked 10th in scoring last season but last in points allowed and 28th in opponents field-goal percentage. While Malone has preached defense since his arrival, improvements have been slow to materialize. As of Sunday, the Kings were still allowing the third-most points per game and had the second-highest opponents shooting percentage in the league.
Thats a far cry from where Malone and the Kings want to be, though they pointed to some defensive strides during the teams first three-game winning streak since December of 2012, entering a six-game trip beginning today at Indiana.
Brown, meanwhile, has returned to Cleveland after a three-yearabsence. Like Malone in Sacramento, Brown has taken over a team that has some young talent but is off to a slow start after several years of struggles. Brown, who embraced his former assistant following Sundays 44-point Kings victory, said he and Malone still talk and both feel theyre in good situations with their respective ownership groups.
And on top of that, having a GM that understands what it means to grow not just a team, but an organization culturally the right way Brown said. It doesnt happen overnight. Its a long process, and everybodys got to stay in the circle.
Youre going to have your ups and downs, and the more you can keep guys in the circle, the sooner its going to pay off. Its just a lot of patience that he has to go through, and I have to go through. And we both understand that.
Call The Bees Matt Kawahara, (916) 321-1015.