Ownership’s Patience with Coach Malone Brings NBA Championship to Denver

Ken Cross

June 14, 2023 at 4:53 pm.

Going into Denver’s 94-89 win over the Miami Heat in Game 5 of the NBA Championship series, the Nuggets had the reputation of an offensive mantra. But, it was the Heat who had presented a noted defensive culture throughout the season.

The Nuggets stowed the Heat away by holding them to 34.4 percent from the floor and only 5-of-21 in the fourth quarter after Denver held only a 72-71 lead after three periods.

Put that one period of championship defense beside the eight years that owner Stan Kroenke gave coach Michael Malone and you have the patience from ownership that it takes to win at the championship level in any sport.

Malone took over the team at the outset of the 2015-16 season and Denver had two losing seasons in his first two years. They finished 46-36 in year Three after a loss to Minnesota on the last day of the season extinguished the Nuggets once again.

Kroenke pumped the breaks and brought Malone back for his fourth year and the Nuggets have been a playoff team ever since. They had two appearances in the Western Conference semifinals, as well as one in the Western Conference Finals, before this season’s world championship.

Kroenke, who also owns the Los Angeles Rams, has been a savvy owner in hiring coaches in both sports who had a solid depth of knowledge of their games. See Rams coach Sean McVay, who led LA to the Super Bowl Championship two years ago.

Generally, sports owners have no patience and work with immediacy to fire coaches if they do not win almost immediately.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to poll the other 29 NBA owners and ask them how many would have copied Kroenke and kept Malone after missing the playoffs in his first three seasons?

Malone’s plan was to draft center Nikola Jokic one year after he settled in the Mile High City as the head coach. Then Jamal Murray was departed as a sharpshooter at guard one year later. Michael Porter, Jr., who struggled in the series, but had a nice Game 5, happened upon Denver in 2019-20.

Obtaining Aaron Gordon from Orlando in ’20-21 as another physical post and then signing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope helped Malone amass a versatile starting lineup. It has had many variations on offense which could give opponents’ defenses grave issues.

With Jokic in foul trouble in Game 4, Gordon scored 29 points on 11-of-15 shooting and he pulled down seven rebounds with six assists. The 108-95 win in Miami that evening gave Denver a 3-1 lead in the series and made the Nuggets’ first World Championship in their 47-year history of the NBA all but a certainty.

That bought the Nuggets into a tough matchup in Game 5 where they trailed Miami for most of the night.

However, on Monday evening, Jokic finished with 28 points and 16 rebounds to lead Denver one last time as the Nuggets carved out 16 wins in this season’s NBA extravaganza.

He was prime in the fourth quarter in hitting 5-of-6 field goals. Role players nailed the title for Denver after Jimmy Butler’s two free throws gave Miami an 89-88 lead with 1:31 remaining.

Guard Bruce Brown then made a stick back and two free throws which bracketed a pair of tosses from the line by Caldwell-Pope for the 94-89 win.

Talk about players stepping up for Denver. How about rookie Christian Braun who scored 15 points in Game 3?

Braun became only the fifth player in history to win a national championship as he did with Kansas and then follow with an NBA title.

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