Michael Malone has always been around basketball.

His father, Brendan Malone, has been an NBA coach for 29 years and coached college basketball for 10 years before that. The longtime Pistons and Knicks assistant instilled a love for basketball in his son at an early age, which lead Michael to play college basketball at Loyola University in Maryland.

Malone knew that he wanted to be a basketball coach once he graduated, but it was hard for him to find a job, despite being the son of a NBA coaching veteran.  He was working as a volunteer coach at Oakland University in Michigan when he was hired by Pete Gillen and the Providence Friars (Brendan’s alma-mater) as a coaching assistant in 1995.  Gillen and Malone worked together at Providence until 1998 when Gillen left for the University of Virginia.  Malone initially followed Gillen over to Virginia, but decided to join Bobby Gonzalez’s staff at Manhattan University instead.

In 2001, Malone got his big break.  Jeff Van Gundy, the newly appointed head coach of the New York Knicks and one-time assistant at Providence, hired Malone onto his staff.  Malone later related his experiences as an assistant with Van Gundy and the Knicks.

“I worked with the players, sat behind the bench, went to all the meetings . . .” he told SB Nation in 2010. “(Van Gundy) resigned early in that season and having known him and having a bond through Providence College and through my father, I learned so much from him in a short period of time.”

Malone stayed on as an assistant with the Knicks for three more years after Van Gundy resigned, remaining relatively unknown and unproven as an NBA coach.

In 2005, that all changed.  During that summer, Malone joined Greg Popovich and the Spurs on a Basketball Without Borders mission trip to Argentina.  In a Boston Globe story (paywall), Malone recalled how he and Popovich formed a unique bond.

“At the end of trip, he says, ‘Listen, I don’t know if you know anything about basketball, but I like hanging out with you a lot, and you’re a good kid; if you ever need a job let me know.'”

Popovich made good on his promise later that summer.  Mike Brown, an assistant with the Spurs under Popovich had just accepted the head coaching position with the Cleveland Cavaliers.  Popovich called up Brown and recommended Malone for a assistant coaching spot.

“It’s funny, because I said to Mike Brown, ‘Should I have Lenny Wilkens or Jeff Van Gundy call?’ And he said, ‘Listen, Pop called on your behalf. Pop is God to me, so you don’t have to have anybody else call.’ So I got the job.”

Malone flourished in Cleveland.  During his five year tenure under Brown, Malone transformed a very talented offensive team into a defensive juggernaut and helped lead the Cavs to a 272-238 (.663) record, which was the third-best mark in the NBA during that time.  Cleveland made five consecutive playoff appearances with Malone assisting, including a date with Popovich’s Spurs in the 2007 NBA Finals and a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2009.

In an interview with cleveland.com, Malone expressed his respect for Mike Brown and what he allowed him to accomplish with the Cavaliers.

“He allowed me to coach. He gave me a voice. That really aided my development. We were such a competitive team, and we were on TV so much. So all the freedom he gave me to coach allowed for me to make a name for myself.”

Malone left Cleveland in 2010 to join Monty Williams and the New Orleans Hornets.  While there, he further established himself as a top-quality defensive mind, by turning the Hornets into the most improved defensive team in 2011 and helping engineer a playoff berth.  New Orleans allowed 8.7 fewer points per game and limited the opposition to 45.7% shooting.

Malone did his greatest work at Golden State.  As the highest paid and most promising assistant coach in the league, Malone completely overhauled the Warriors defense.  The 2012-2013 season saw Golden State dramatically improve in rebounding (28th to 3rd), defensive rebounding (24th to 1st), and opponent field goal percentage (20th to 3rd).  The result of this unexpectedly stellar season was a 2013 playoff berth and an upset of the third seed Denver Nuggets in the first round.

But for all of his impressive accomplishments as an assistant, Michael Malone has yet to prove himself capable of achieving success as a head coach in the NBA.

He was hired as the head coach of the Sacramento Kings in 2013, less than a season removed from his success in Golden State.  The Kings wanted Malone to improve their defense and further develop young talent like DeMarcus Cousins.  While Sacramento’s defense improved, their overall play did not.  The Kings finished the 2013-14 season with a 28-54 record, 29 games back of the division-winning LA Clippers.

There was reason to hope, however.  Malone had been able to get along with and teach famed coach-hater  Cousins. The relationship between the two men resulted in Cousins’ best season of his young career.

So when Malone was fired 24 games into the following season, nobody could make sense of it.  Not even Malone, who didn’t seem have enough time to prove himself as the long-term answer for the Kings.

The most common explanation for Malone’s firing was because of “philosophical differences” and unfulfilled “expectations of ownership,” according to USA Today.  Malone was hired as a head coach before most of the front office was put in place under owner Vivek Ranadive.  Rarely do situations work out smoothly when a coach is in place before the front office staff is in place. It definitely didn’t for Malone.

Now, Malone finds himself in a similar, yet different, situation.

This time around, the front office was in place before he was hired. But he’s once again being asked to be part of the turnaround of a franchise that has somewhat lost its direction of late.

Now, he’s the coach of the Denver Nuggets – and reunited with former Kings GM Pete D’Alessandro.

Given his experience both as an assistant and in his limited tenure in Sacramento, there is little doubt that Malone will  bring a strong defensive presence to Denver. What remains to be seen is whether or not he’ll return the Nuggets to an uptempo offensive style, or if he’ll continue them on the path set by Brian Shaw to play a more consistent half-court game.

Shaw failed to get buy-in from players like Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried. Perhaps Malone, who was able to find common ground with the notoriously malcontent Cousins, will find a way to connect with Denver’s two most important parts. Or maybe he and D’Alessandro will make a move to reunite those two with their former head coach, George Karl, who took over in Sacramento earlier this year, in a deal to bring Cousins to Denver.

Either way, Malone can point to his success as an assistant with both of this year’s NBA Finals teams as evidence of what might be for the Nuggets in the not-too-distant future.

Malone has his second chance as a head coach in Denver.

If it doesn’t work out, everyone knows he’ll make a killer assistant.

Jordan Gillmore, an intern at Mile High Sports and a CU-Boulder student, contributed to this report