“This is part of our journey,” Malone said.
Malone got a keener sense of that process from 2011 to 2013, as an assistant with the Warriors under Mark Jackson when Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson were young players learning how to be pros. The Warriors went 23-43 in a lockout-shortened season. But by the 2012-13 season, Curry and Thompson were forming winning habits. Malone recalled a seven-game road trip when the Warriors went 6-1, with their only loss coming against the Orlando Magic after the team spent an extra night in Miami (and perhaps that was no coincidence). But the trip was otherwise an unqualified success.
“I think that’s when we, as a team and as an organization said, ‘Man, we have a chance to be pretty good,’ ” he said.
The Nuggets have had moments like that this season — beating the Raptors in Toronto on Dec. 3 was a big deal — but they still have a lot of work ahead, Malone said.
“We’re a young team that is trying to become a playoff team, and once you become a playoff team, you hope to become a championship team,” Malone said. “You can’t skip steps.”
Since Malone was hired by the Nuggets in 2015, they have improved each season, from 33 wins in 2015-16, to 40 wins in 2016-17, to 46 wins last season, when they narrowly missed the playoffs. Malone signed a two-year extension over the summer, and the Nuggets are now on a pace to win 56 games. Their last playoff appearance came in 2013.
No less an eminence than Kevin Durant, who, to be fair, joined the Warriors a year after they had won their first championship of the Curry/Thompson era, praised the Nuggets organization.
“Continuity,” Durant said. “You don’t fire your coach after a losing season. You’re patient with him. You’re patient with your young players. You let them make mistakes, let them grow.”