If there’s one coach in the NBA who’s opinion on just about anything matters it’s Gregg Popovich. The Spurs coach isn’t afraid to share his mind whether it’s basketball, politics, or former players. When you’ve won five titles, only missed the playoffs once in your entire NBA coaching career, and never finished a non-lockout shortened season with less than 50 wins then you earn the right to speak your mind on whatever you please.
A coach with success like his begs the question. Who does he think should be Coach of the Year? If he thinks it’s himself he would never say it, because that’s not his style, but he does have one coach in mind this season: Nuggets coach Mike Malone. According to Pop, Malone’s coaching style is exactly what he believes in when it comes to coaching.
Pop has always been someone that says the ability to manage personalities is way more important than the ability to draw up X’s and O’s. That may be part of why he’s so respected among players. Can he be a jerk? Yes, but he’s always shown that it’s because he cares about his players. The players that buy into Pop speak volumes about him.
And he’s not wrong about Malone. This is someone that if there was a most improved coach award it would deserve to go to Malone. He’s changed. Not only is he a successful tactician in many ways, but he’s managed to change himself throughout his tenure in Denver. Malone wasn’t always a successful manager of personalities. He’s at times struggled to get his players to buy into his philosophies, especially on defense, and there was a point where his job status was in question. It is not unfair to say that Malone was on the hot seat entering last season.
However, Malone changed his style and found that balance in ego management. It also helped that his young players started to break out. Eventually, it all came together and now the Nuggets are one of the best teams in the NBA. Does it help that he has Nikola Jokic, Paul Millsap, and Jamal Murray? Absolutely, but he needed to first grow as a coach and learn how to bring out the best in all of them. As Popovich said, that is the majority of coaching. It doesn’t matter how great a tactician you are if the players following you don’t believe in you. Once Malone realized that everything else started to fall into place.