Nuggets top target is a head scratcher

The sexy hire isn’t always the right hire.

And to be blunt, Mike Malone would not be a sexy hire.

If you’re like most folks – either right now or sometime over the last week – you’re probably asking this question: Who is Mike Malone?

Fair enough. In short, Mike Malone could be the next head coach of the Denver Nuggets. At least that’s what we’ve been told. As was reported last night by ESPN’s Marc Stein, “Malone, who had his first interview with the Nuggets last week before the start of the NBA Finals, has solidified himself as a top candidate for the job alongside Nuggets interim coach Melvin Hunt.”

More clarification: Malone was most recently the head coach of the Sacramento Kings, but was fired just 24 games into the 2014-15 season. His lifetime NBA head coaching record is 39-67. Prior to getting hired by the Kings in May of 2013, Malone had only held roles as an assistant. From 1994 to 2001 he held college assistant jobs with Oakland, Providence and Manhattan. In the NBA, he was an assistant with the Knicks (2001-05), the Cavs (2005-10), the Hornets (2010-11) and the Warriors (2011-13).

While I won’t profess to know much about Malone – I can’t say with any degree of certainty whether he’d be a great hire or a terrible one – I can confidently say this: Hiring 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.

Perhaps that’s not fair to Malone or the Nuggets. At the age of 44, Malone could be a diamond in the rough; maybe he and the Kings just didn’t mesh. After all, the Kings aren’t exactly a franchise with a history of excellence. There are plenty of first-time head coaches who have failed, only to have success in their next job. In fact, look no further than ex-Nuggets head coach (and current Nuggets head coaching candidate) Mike D’Antoni, who was canned after going 14-36 in Denver, but with his next coaching opportunity took the Phoenix Suns to the playoffs four straight times, twice to the Western Conference Finals.

Perhaps bringing in Malone is the first step in a chess game that could somehow bring talented big man DeMarcus Cousins to Denver. Cousins, who is presumably not thrilled to be stuck in Sacramento, has been the subject of multiple trade rumors of late. Could the Nuggets be a player in the Cousins sweepstakes? George Karl, now with the Kings, has always liked Ty Lawson. Maybe the Kings could use a point guard to run Karl’s high-paced system.

And maybe Cousins and Malone would make a great fit in Denver. Back in February, Cousins told ESPN: “I don’t fire coaches or hire them. Everyone knows I liked and respected Coach Malone. I didn’t want that to happen.”

Granted, that might be connecting dots that potentially shouldn’t be connected, but it’s a theory nonetheless. In some ways, that makes more sense than seriously considering a coach with practically zero marketability and a .368 winning percentage. With a much smaller sample size – just 23 games – Nuggets interim coach (and to some degree, fan favorite) Melvin Hunt posted a winning percentage of .435. Hunt’s team did not feature a second-team, All-NBA center like Cousins, and his best players were routinely rested down the stretch in hopes that the Nuggets would improve their odds in the NBA draft lottery.

As writer Nate Timmons astutely points out, the ESPN report carefully calls Malone “a top candidate” and not “the” top candidate. It’s quite possible, even with a second interview, that Malone simply represents due diligence on the behalf of the Nuggets. Maybe it’s just posturing. Maybe it’s just more fact-finding about Cousins.

Or maybe, Mike Malone is, in fact, the guy. Maybe he’s destined to be a great coach. Not possessing an exciting name doesn’t necessarily make someone a bad hire. Then again, the next head coach of the Denver Nuggets – Malone or anyone else – must be great.

If he’s not, the Nuggets will be looking for more than just a head coach.