Introducing Mike Malone

Brian Windhorst of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported yesterday that "according to a source, Malone will leave the Cavs after five seasons to join the New Orleans Hornets and new coach Monty Williams' staff." So allow us to roll out the red carpet for Mr. Malone, who may very well be our lead assistant in 2010-2011, and give him a proper introduction.

Malone was born in 1971, the son of former NBA coach BrendanMalone. When Brendan became the University of Rhode Island's head basketball coach in 1985, his family moved to Warwick, RI. Malone attended Bishop Hendricken High School, where he played on the basketball team. But just two years later, Brendan Malone landed his first NBA coaching position- an assistant job with the New York Knicks.

So Mike Malone completed his final two years of high school at Seton Hall Prep in West Orange, New Jersey. After graduating high school, Malone attended Worcester Academy in Massachusetts. I'm not very familiar with the concept of post-graduate prep schools, but Wikipedia indicates that "many student-athletes attend Worcester Academy solely for their senior year, or for a single postgraduate year, to increase their exposure to college coaches or to improve their academic standing."  Malone completed his education, attending Loyola University, Maryland.

He wanted to get into coaching immediately, but as he would later tell it, "I got a job working as a volunteer coach at Oakland University but I also worked at Foot Locker and was cleaning office buildings from midnight to four in the morning. I didn’t think (coaching) would work out so I was on my way to becoming a Michigan State Trooper."

He eventually caught on at his father's old school, Providence, in 1995 under Pete Gillen. When Gillen left for the University of Virginia in 1998, Malone followed him there. He then coached at Manhattan College under Bobby Gonzalez for two seasons. In 2001, another of Gillen's former assistants at Providence, Jeff Van Gundy, gave Malone his big break, hiring him on his New York Knicks staff. 

Said Malone later: "I was going to stay in college, but he kind of created a position for me: coaching associate.

"It was pretty much like an assistant coach. I worked with the players, sat behind the bench, went to all the meetings . . . [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 and we still stay in touch."

 Malone stayed with the Knicks after Van Gundy left. Given the fact that Malone eventually forged a reputation as a defensive coach, it may be instructive to point out that New York's lead defensive coach during Malone's time there was one Tom Thibodeau. 

But even though Malone had one foot in the NBA coaching door with his Knicks position, his real break didn't come until 2005. Malone participated in the NBA's Basketball Without Borders program in Argentina that summer, where he met Spurs' coach Gregg Popovich. From a 2008 Boston Globe story:

Malone explained that during a trip to Argentina with Manu Ginobili and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, for a "Basketball without Borders" mission in 2005, he forged a relationship with Popovich. "At the end of trip, [Popovich] 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,' " Malone recalled. "And I said, 'I might be calling you real soon.'

"So as it turns out, Larry Brown gets the [Knicks] job, I'm trying to be proactive and I leave Pop a message and he calls me back at work, my cell, and at home. He says, 'I'm way ahead of you; I talked to Larry Brown.' He goes, 'I'm not sure if it's going to happen because he's got a lot of his own guys, but Mike Brown just got the job in Cleveland and Danny Ferry's the GM, and they both worked for me in San Antonio, so I got you an interview. Now it's up to you. I've done my job.' "

"It's funny, because I said to Mike Brown, 'Should I have Lenny Wilkens or Jeff Van Gundy call? " Malone said. "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."

As Brian noted when I mentioned this story to him, it sounds like Malone and Poppovich may simply have been drinking buddies (or whatever the Argentinian equivalent of drinking buddies is). That doesn't exactly inspire much confidence. What does inspire confidence, though, is Malone's performance in Cleveland. 

Malone served as the Cavs' defensive coordinator in his time there. In 2008-2009, his first season as the lead defensive coach, Cleveland finished with the league's second best defense. In 2009-2010, the Cavs decided to move Malone over to being the lead offensive coach. Said LeBron James this year: "Mike is Mike – he’s going to be great no matter what circumstances you put him in. One, he has a strong voice – he can command guys to listen to him and command guys to do what needs to be done. He’s very smart; he knows the game of basketball. So, he’s going to be good not matter what – offense, defense, whatever."

 

Monty Williams becomes the sixth NBA head coach Malone will have coached under and the Hornets the tenth organization he's played/coached for since high school. "For me, my aspirations are to become a head coach," Malone said earlier this year. Let's hope New Orleans is the last proving ground he needs.

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