ORLANDO, Fla. — The fraternity of NBA coaches always feels the ripple effect when something happens to any one of them. But when Charlotte announced on Wednesday morning that coach Steve Clifford would be taking an indefinite leave of absence due to health reasons, the news hit Nuggets coach Michael Malone particularly hard.
The two have known each other for years, and are good friends. Malone said he reached out to Clifford after he heard the news.
“I definitely reached out to him right away,” Malone said. “I’ve known Cliff since I was a little kid. My father used to run a camp, he worked at the camp, he was the only one that was courageous enough to coach me, and I have a lot of respect for Cliff. I think he’s a great coach, but more importantly it’s personal.
“This business, it’s an unforgiving business, especially for coaches. We all know what we’re getting into when we sign up. But I’m definitely thinking about Cliff because, forget about him being a great coach, he’s a great man, he’s a good person. And I just want him to know that I was keeping him in my thoughts and prayers and he appreciated that.”
The news of Clifford also underscored the many health hazards of coaching. Malone spoke to that aspect, and how he deals with it.
“I grew up in it,” he said. “I’m a son of a coach, and my father set the example for me. The pressure, the stress, the no-sleep, the diet. It all comes into account. For me, I’m lucky. I have a wife and two girls who balance me out. And I use that, and I make sure I step back and be a father, be a husband, because that makes me a better coach. I just hope that Clifford is okay, he’s heathy, and he gets back on the sidelines as soon as possible.”
Millsap Update: Paul Millsap has missed the last seven games after left wrist surgery and has had a hard cast put on it. Nuggets coach Michael Malone talked about his progress and when he’s expected to resume traveling with the team.
“He had just had his follow-up appointment,” Malone said. “(Tuesday), I think they put a hard cast on his wrist. So, at some point when he is able to get cleared to travel, he will travel and be around the team. I talked with him about this: I think it is really important that he be around the team for him, but also for us.
“I don’t want him feeling like he’s on an island by himself. He needs to feel like he’s a part of this team. And he just got here, so we’re still getting to know Paul Millsap, and Paul is just getting to know us. So he’ll be around when he’s cleared to travel and be with the team.“
Team meeting: The Nuggets had team meeting Thursday morning in Orlando, in the aftermath of Wednesday night’s loss to New Orleans. Coach Michael Malone said it was beneficial, and added the team must move on and focus on the next game.
“We had a good meeting after that game last night,” Malone said. “Some guys stepped up and said some really spot-on things, I thought. But if we come in here and feel sorry for ourselves and ‘Woe is me,’ then we’ll get beat again tomorrow.”
Big picture focus: There is no doubt the Nuggets have areas to clean up, especially on the road. There is also no doubt that they are still off to a good start this season, standing at 13-11 and sixth in the Western Conference as December games get into full swing.
“Before the game last night there was a TV in my locker room, where I’m sitting,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “And they were talking about ‘Upcoming is Golden State at Charlotte.’ And they said the ‘short-handed Warrriors.’ And then I see the ticker, and it says Denver at New Orleans. And it says, ‘New Orleans: (Anthony) Davis to miss third straight game.’ Nobody ever talks about us being short-handed. No one ever talks about Paul Millsap being out and Nikola Jokić being out. And we don’t use that as an excuse. That is not why we lost (Wednesday) night. We still have other guys in this room that need to play better, and they will. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that we’re 13-11, we’ve been unbelievable at home, we’re struggling on the road, and we are without our two best players.”
Christopher Dempsey: firstname.lastname@example.org and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.