By Frank McLean
When I look back at the 2014-2015 NBA season the question I have and probably will never get the proper answer to is why the Sacramento Kings let Michael Malone go as coach early into that season.
Now for you long time Raptors fans, if the Malone name rings a bell in your memory bank it should. Michael is the son of Brendan Malone the first head coach in Raptors history.
In his pre-game meeting with the media Thursday night a smile came to Michael’s face when Nuggets television voice Chris Marlowe brought up the subject of how special the city of Toronto is to the Malone family and Michael told the story of that first game in Raptors history against the New Jersey Nets in what was then called SkyDome in 1995.
“We came up as a family to watch my father and they beat the New Jersey Nets,” Malone said. “Ed Pinckney (who is now one of Malone’s assistant’s) was on that team, I think he won the jump ball against Yinka Dare. Being here for the home opener in franchise history was really a special moment for our family.”
The whole Malone family celebrated after that game wanting to share with Dad his realization of being a head coach in the NBA after being an assistant for so many years with the old “Bad Boys” Detroit Pistons.
“My wife, who was my girlfriend at the time, was up here,” Malone said. “My mother, my father, we went out. I think the name of the restaurant was Grappa, if I remember correctly. It was a special night for my father and for all of us.”
Michael also had a chuckle when he remembered how Toronto fans had to learn the little things about basketball.
“The other story I tell people is basketball was new up here,” he said. “Usually at your home games they hand out balloons and things to wave at the opposing team’s basket. They handed the balloons out. So (Raptors forward) Tracy Murray is shooting free throws and the home fans are waving at him. So there is an education process. I think a lot of the fans were looking for a blue line out in the floor.”
The Malone family is a big part of Toronto Raptors history. On top of everything, when you get to know Michael Malone you find out right away that he is good people and as the old saying goes “good things happen to good people”.
The Kings had started 9-6 last year under Coach Malone and then around the end of November DeMarcus Cousins took ill with a viral meningitis bug. The team then went 2-7 in their next 9 games, which had nothing to do with coaching. What it had to do with the Kings missing their best player.
Word was ownership didn’t like Malone’s defense-first coaching style and that it wasn’t putting bums in the seats. Yet when the Kings were at full strength they were winning. Cousins’ illness was a lame excuse to get rid of Malone.
At the time of Malone’s firing the Kings were on pace for a 38 win season and if you were around the Kings, you could see he had the ears and respect of all the players including Cousins. A miracle in its own right considering the lack of respect Cousins is showing to the current Sacramento head coach George Karl.
Michael Malone would not be out of work long. After the Kings fired him, if you talked to anyone in the NBA you saw how respected he was around the league. It was a move by the Kings ownership that nobody in front offices around the NBA or the media ever understood. The Denver Nuggets were happy to get him as their new head coach.
Malone brought his Nuggets to Toronto Thursday night in the middle of a 5-game road swing and an 8-game losing streak overall. The Nuggets snuck out of town with a 106-105 win to snap that streak.
What impressed me Thursday night is what he did with an 11-man line-up due to injuries after getting schooled the night before in Chicago 99-90.
In that loss the Nuggets allowed 30 second chance points to the Bulls. Taj Gibson, Jokaim Noah and Pau Gasol had big nights scoring a combined 43 points and bringing down 41 boards.
In the win against Toronto, the Nuggets held the Raptors to just 4 second chance points and other than DeMar DeRozan’s 34 points nobody else scored more than 16 points.
Malone credits his group of players for working hard in practice each and every day and doing whatever needs to be corrected in their game as a team.
Sacramento’s loss has been Denver’s gain and the Nuggets are lucky to have to him and it’s great to see him getting a second chance to prove the Kings wrong. It’s also great to see the son of the Raptors opening night head coach from 1995 back in the league coaching his own team in 2015.
Veteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.