Michael Malone Rumors
During his first trip to Serbia (he went back again this summer), Malone was walking through Kalemegdan, a park built around a historical fort that features some of the city’s very first basketball courts. It’s where some of the country’s top clubs, like Partizan, were founded near the end of World War II. Malone was touring the area with Ognjen Stojakovic, a player development coach for the Nuggets who is from Belgrade. “And all of a sudden this couple comes up to me with their baby and says, ‘Will you take a picture with our baby? We love the Nuggets; we love Nikola; we love you,’ ” Malone recalls. “I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is crazy.’ That happens quite frequently anytime I’m there. That speaks to their love of the game of basketball, but it also speaks to their love of Nikola. They only know me because of Nikola, and I understand that. They don’t recognize me because I’m Pat Riley. They recognize me because I’m Nikola’s coach.”
Malone got a closer look at Jokic’s hobby than he bargained for during his most recent visit to Sombor. It’s a well-documented tale that, on the day Malone arrived in Serbia last summer, Dreamcatcher won his first race, leading to a night of celebratory toasts led by Nemanja and Strajinha. But Malone got a more personal race-horsing experience this time around. “We go to the track and I’m thinking I’m just going to watch the trainer work the horse out,” Malone says. “The next thing you know the trainer stops the horse, gets out of the carriage and says, ‘OK, Coach, you get in.’ I’m from New York City. I’ve never ridden a horse before. So I go around the first time and Nikola and his trainer are both yelling, ‘Coach, slow down! You’re going too fast!’ I come around the second lap and they’re yelling, ‘Coach, you’re going too fast!’ I was just having fun with it. “That’s his getaway, man. He loves it.”
One colleague during that period was Nuggets coach Michael Malone, who was an assistant with the Cavaliers from 2005-10. Impressed with Fernandez’s development in the organization, Malone hired Fernandez as an assistant coach in 2016. “He gets his foot in the door,” Malone said of Fernandez, “and he’s going to find a way to continue to fill gaps and do things that are necessary for the team and the staff to move forward.”
“Me having a real close relationship with coach Malone was probably the biggest key,” Thomas said. “And knowing that I wanted to go somewhere where they were going to allow me to be who I am, allow me to play to my strengths and at the same time be around a good group of guys that got the potential to be special.”
Thomas met with Denver President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly and coach Michael Malone in Las Vegas in recent days, continuing to talk and text with them about a role and circumstances surrounding him joining the Nuggets, league sources said.
Malone is planning for Thomas, rehabbing from hip surgery, to play a significant scoring and playmaking role off the Nuggets bench. Malone coached Thomas with the Sacramento Kings in 2013-14 and has been enthusiastic about incorporating him into the Nuggets.