Get an inside look at new Kings Head Coach Michael Malone, including how the experienced assistant plans to change the culture and defensive approach in Sacramento.
Growing up as the son of a lifelong coach, Kings Head Coach Michael Malone gained an early appreciation for conjuring plays, watching film and deciphering defensive schemes.
“I was born into (basketball). When I was born back in Queens, N.Y. many years ago, my father was a coach in high school, and obviously, I just grew up in it,” said Malone during his first day in Sacramento. “I’ve always been in the gym. My earliest memories are being around those Power Memorial teams in the city, when he was a college coach and all the way up to the NBA.”
Brendan Malone, Michael’s dad, has developed a reputation as one of the League’s top defensive masterminds over 25 years in the pros, most notably working under Hall of Famer Chuck Daly with the two-time Champion Detroit Pistons, orchestrating sets to thwart Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
“I was in college when he was with the Detroit Pistons and they won back-to-back Championships, and (I remember) just seeing how hard he worked to get to where he was and learning so much,” said Michael Malone during an appearance on “The Jim Rome Show” on Wednesday. “What I’ve learned, mostly from my father, is that the best coaches, at any level in any sport for that matter, are teachers – and I fashion myself after my father in that regard.”
Following in the elder Malone’s footsteps, the 42-year-old has served as one of the most successful and respected assistant coaches and instructors over the last dozen years, exhibiting an exceptional track record at each stop.
The common denominator, explains Malone, has been forcing opposing teams to work for every point throughout 48 hard-fought minutes, with an added emphasis on boxing out and crashing the glass.
“My vision, my belief defensively, is we want to be a team that in the halfcourt protects the paint,” he says. “You want to make teams beat you with contested jumpshots – not give them any easy baskets – and when you do it, it’s so important … to be able to finish the possession with a defensive rebound. A lot of teams play good defense for 20 seconds, the shot goes up (but) they’re unable to finish the possession with a rebound.”
After seven years in the college ranks – including stints at Providence College, University of Virginia and Manhattan College – Malone joined the N.Y. Knicks as a coaching associate in 2001, earning a promotion to assistant coach two years later. During his tenure with the team, the New York native gained invaluable experience and insight from then-Head Coach Jeff Van Gundy.
“Watching Coach Van Gundy work everyday, his work ethic was off the charts, unparalleled,” says Malone. “His commitment to defense, how organized he was, how prepared he was really stuck with me and I could really relate.”
In Malone’s first season as an assistant coach in 2003-04, the Knicks allowed only 93.5 points per game – down from 97.2 the previous season – while holding opposing teams to 42.9 percent from the field – eighth lowest in the League.
“(Michael is) tough, he’s dedicated, he’s dependable, he’s reliable and he’s very, very competent when you’re talking about Xs and Os (and) strategy,” said Van Gundy during a recent interview with CBS Sports.
“He is a complete coach who has a very good understanding of what wins in this league and what loses … (he) understands that all the great defensive teams go far. If you’re an elite defensive team, you’re going to be a Playoff team, at the very least.”
Malone joined Cleveland in 2005 and helped lead the Cavaliers to the third-best record in the NBA (272-138), and helped guide the wine and gold to a postseason berth in each of his five seasons, including the NBA Finals in 2007. In 2008-09, the team sported the NBA’s second-best defense – allowing a League-low 91.4 points per game and limiting opposing teams to just 43.1 percent from the field – en route to wining a franchise-record 66 games.
In 2009-10, Malone earned a new role in Cleveland, serving as Brown’s lead offensive coordinator, instructing plays in huddles and implementing sets. The longtime assistant credits the Cavaliers Head Coach with allowing him to develop into a more complete all-around leader on the sidelines.
“I was a defensive coach and people were saying I was just a defensive coach. He said, ‘I want you to become the offensive coordinator to show everybody you can coach both sides of the basketball,’” reflects Malone, who helped guide the Cavs to the League’s sixth-highest offensive rating (111.2 points per 100 possessions).
“Mike Brown really allowed me to grow up (during) five years with him. Mike’s lack of an ego and his security in himself … allowed (me) to coach and grow.”
While working under Head Coach Monty Williams in New Orleans in 2010-11, Malone turned his attention back to the defensive end, helping implement the biggest improvement in the NBA. The Hornets allowed a League-best 8.7 fewer points per game than in the previous season (94.0 points per game) and held opponents to 45.7 percent from the field.
“Michael Malone was and is one of the best coaches I’ve every played for,” said former Kings forward Carl Landry, who suited up for Malone in New Orleans and Golden State, in a recent interview with CBS Sports.
“(The Kings are) getting a great coach – a players’ coach – a guy who’s going to get along with every player, a guy who’s a defensive-minded coach, who knows his Xs and Os and was a huge factor with our success this year with the Warriors.”
In 2012-13, Golden State vaulted 14 spots in defensive rating – from 27th to 13th in the League – allowing only 102.6 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com, while significantly improving in rebounding (28th to third), opponent field goal percentage (20th to third) and opponent three-point field goal percentage (28th to seventh).
“Monty Williams in New Orleans and Mark Jackson the last two years in Golden State … had a tremendous impact on me,” says Malone of how his previous roles have shaped his outlook. “I consider myself selfish at times, because I take from all these guys – things I can relate to, things that fit into my coaching philosophy – and they’ve helped me become a better coach and helped me to be in this position here today.”
While Malone doesn’t promise an overnight turnaround in Sacramento, his measures of success in Year 1 will include developing players and establishing the Kings as a defensive-oriented squad from the onset.
“You just can’t talk about becoming a defensive team – it has to be the first practice, the first drill in training camp and it has to be all year long,” he explains. “It has to be something you sit on top of – you use your film, you do your drills and you’re constantly teaching and preaching it.”
Although Sacramento finished among the bottom five in the League in rebounding, blocks, opposing field-goal percentage and defensive rating last season, Malone expects implementation of his tried-and-true defense pillars – trust, communication and effort – will lead to substantial improvement.
“Defensively, (while) they haven’t done very well the last couple of years, the growth potential on the defensive end of the ball I think is exciting,” says Malone. ”It’s something I believe in, it’s something I’ve been a part of (with) a lot of different teams and the success is proven.
“Offensively, it’s going to be no problem – we have enough talent on this team, we can score against anybody on any given night. The challenge is going to be, Can we get stops on a consistent basis? Can we get stops in the fourth quarter? So, it’s really exciting.”
The Warriors were not only one of the NBA’s most improved defensive teams during Malone’s tenure, but continued to exhibit exceptional offensive efficiency, averaging 101.2 points per game (seventh in the League) on 45.8 percent from the field and a League-best 40.3 percent from downtown.
“People said (the Warriors) couldn’t be a defensive team – we proved them wrong,” said Kings Owner Vivek Ranadivé. “People said once you start focusing on defense, then the offense goes and you don’t score as much. They were wrong about that. I’ve seen what players are willing to do for this coach. I’ve seen how loyal they are to him (and) I’ve seen how they’re willing to go through a wall for him.”
Malone aims to bring a similar balance on both ends of the court to Sacramento, emphasizing an up-tempo scoring attack, transition baskets created by stringent defense and timely passing.
“I want to be a team that has great ball movement and spacing at all times – proper spacing will allow our players to play to their strengths and their abilities,” he says. “I want to be a team that values the ball and shares the basketball … when you share the ball, guys buy-in more and they’re willing to play more on defense.
“You have a guy like DeMarcus Cousins, who’s a tremendous talent – let him touch the ball early and often, play though him at times and just space the floor out and be an attacking team, a drive-and-kick team, a team that looks to attack before the defense gets set.”
Above the team’s record, Malone plans to bring discipline to the Kings and accentuate a winning culture in the locker room.
“(The keys are) having guys who are willing to work, guys who are willing to accept coaching (and) having a roster full of guys who hate to lose,” explains the Kings leader. “Everybody likes to win – my daughters like to win – but I can’t say they hate to lose – and I know I do.
“My hope is if we have guys who are coachable, guys who are wiling to buy-in to the mission here and guys who really do hate to lose instead of liking to win, if we can get all of that, we will definitely have changed the culture here in Sacramento.”
Watch – All-Access: Coach Michael Malone