Not long ago, I penned these very words:
“Hiring Michael Malone will go over like the proverbial lead balloon here in Denver. Bringing him in as the Nuggets head coach will throw a wet blanket on an already soggy Nuggets Nation. Simply put, nobody in Denver would be excited about hiring Malone.”
Well, I was wrong. Scratch that entirely.
Anyone who hung out with the Nuggets themselves yesterday at the team’s annual media day will tell you this: There’s an energy in and around this organization that hasn’t been there in quite some time. It’s as clear as day. It’s not the standard start-of-the-season, “anything is possible” cliché talk.
Dare I say, the Nuggets are excited.
When I wrote the aforementioned gobbledygook – seven days before Malone was hired as the Nuggets head coach – it was speculation. And I still believe, that, at the time, most people weren’t overly thrilled; “excited” would have been an overstatement even for those who approved of the choice. Malone, as I also said then, wasn’t necessarily the sexy hire.
But at that point I hadn’t talked to Kenneth Faried. And he hadn’t talked to Malone.
Yesterday, Faried could be found with a grin as big as his massive Manimal grin can get. He was unusually jovial, happy to be holding court with the gathered media.
Behind the huge smile he puffs out his chest and suggests that this season he can be the player that he wants to be, not the player someone else wants him to be.
So I ask: “You say you want to be the player you want to be. Do you feel like Mike Malone has embraced that player more than anyone else in the past?”
“Yes!” Faried says. (Note the exclamation mark, one of my least favorite pieces of punctuation, but necessary in this case.) “I feel as though he embraced me as soon as we met, as soon as we locked eyes and had a conversation. He said, ‘I love the way you play. I want you to play like that, but we just want to expand some things for you.’ After that, it was just a sigh of relief and that’s why I’m talking to y’all with a smile on my face.”
Another reporter asks: “Coach is talking about getting up and down the court a little more than you did last year, is that music to your ears?”
Faried starts to giggle. He can’t hide the happiness: “Yes! Yes! I’m excited. As long as I get to run, I’m having fun.
“… I feel a sigh of relief, because I can play my game.”
Faried’s enthusiasm is no accident. Malone spent what little time he had this summer cultivating relationships – “I feel like I can trust him already,” rookie Emmanuel Mudiay says of Malone – and rebuilding whatever confidence the 30-52 Nuggets had left.
But it was likely Faried, who had a tumultuous 2014-15 campaign, who sat atop Malone’s to-do list.
“How crazy it is, me and him talked at USA Training Camp,” Faried explains. “I came to him and we had a great conversation. I was nervous at first because I didn’t know what to expect. I watched film of him; I knew he was an intense coach, that he wanted the best out of his guys and gave energy while on the sideline. But I’d never experienced it until I talked to him and had a conversation.
“Me and him were just going back and forth – it felt like me and Steve Hess in the weight room. So, it felt great for me to be able to talk to a coach, and he had the same energy level as me.”
A quick read between the lines suggests that Faried and his last coach didn’t quite see eye-to-eye. But that’s not exactly a secret, and hardly important any longer; it’s yesterday’s news.
Today, Faried looks and acts as happy as he did when he and No. 13 Morehead State took down fourth-seeded Louisville at Pepsi Center in the first round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament. He also looks ready to play. Faried enters camp at his “in-season” playing weight of 215-pounds and unabashedly says he’s in great shape.
But he’s not the only Nugget who’s been doing work.
“We had almost a full gym the whole month of September, which to me, means a lot,” Malone told the press in his opening comments. “That means there’s a buy-in.”
It would appear so. It looks as if my wet blanket is drying out, and somehow, the new coach already has the proverbial lead balloon taking flight. For now, Mike Malone is The Man, and the Nuggets are happy.