Michael Malone is entering his fourth season as the head coach of the Denver Nuggets. He has brought a lot of success to an abysmal team that he inherited from Brian Shaw back in 2014. The team has increased their win total each year. They finished 10 games above .500 last year. In most cases, a record of 46-36 usually results in a trip to the playoffs, but last year wasn’t the case. The Nuggets added to their playoff drought due to a very competitive Western Conference.
Even though Michael Malone has brought this team back from the ashes, he still has not completed his main goal. He wants to bring Denver back to the postseason and help guide them through a playoff run. He wants to help bring the Nuggets their first Larry O’Brien trophy and bring the championship to Denver.
Given the revamped roster and the number of acquisitions, some question that it might be now or never for Malone. He’s been given almost half a decade to bring the Nuggets back to the postseason and has failed. Obviously, injuries and a tough Western Conference is a genuine excuse, but the city’s patience is running thin. Should Michael Malone be on the hot seat if the Nuggets miss the playoffs again this year?
Why he could be on the hot seat
The NBA, much like every professional sports league, is about winning. Players, coaches and the front office staff are all brought in to bring a championship at the end of the year. Understandably, teams don’t terminate their players or coaches after one year of falling short. If that was the case, we would see 29 firings each offseason. Instead, teams judge their coaches on progression towards the team’s goals set to be accomplished during the season.
In Malone’s case, he wasn’t brought in to make Denver a contender instantly. He was brought in to stop a sinking ship and turn this team back into a playoff caliber team. Malone accomplished step one, but he has yet to bring the Nuggets back to the postseason.
Malone has a lot of pressure riding on him this upcoming season, and with his current roster, he should succeed. Nonetheless, there are a number of other teams fighting for those eight playoff spots, so nothing is guaranteed. If Malone fails to make the playoffs again, it might be it for him in Denver.
Why he (most likely) won’t be fired
Even though Malone hasn’t led the Nuggets back to the postseason yet, he has done a lot during his time here. He inherited a dumpster fire that was started by Brian Shaw and a team that frankly would rather be away from the game than playing. After a couple of rough years, he found his core and the team began to assemble right before our eyes. Nikola Jokić, Jamal Murray and Gary Harris have all blossomed and the team looks stronger than ever.
Yes, the possibility of Malone being fired after the season is out there, but it most likely won’t happen. Why? Well, last year’s team was one game away from a playoff berth and Paul Millsap played only 38 games. The team struggled to close out fourth quarters due to their lack of experience and they had one of the toughest schedules in the NBA in regards to back-to-backs. The team also unloaded some “questionable” locker room attitudes and freed up a lot playing time for some of the younger talent. All Malone has to do is push defense on these guys and they should be a top six team in the West.
Nevertheless, there are 30 professional teams fighting for 16 playoff spots. The playoffs are not going to be an easy accomplishment, but it is a very doable one for Malone and the guys. The bottom line is, if Malone wants to ride with the Nuggets when they reach the promise land (and trust me, it’s inevitable), he’s going to have to get them over the hump this year.