If the NBA has taught us anything over the last decade or so, it’s that if you work long and hard enough for Gregg Popovich, sooner or later you’ll be a made man.
Just ask the Atlanta Hawks’ Mike Budenholzer and the Philadelphia 76ers’ Brett Brown, the two most recent sideline skippers to have had a seat next to the San Antonio Spurs’ legendary coaching curmudgeon.
According to CBS Sacramento’s Dave Mason, Malone and Popovich met on a “Basketball Without Boarders” trip to Argentina back in 2005.
And while it may have taken Malone a few years to reach his profession’s pinnacle, he says it might not have been possible without a good vino bonding session, per Mason:
I didn't try to kiss his a-s, you know I wasn't trying to show him how much I knew about the game. I drank a lot of wine that week, and I’m not a big wine guy. At the end of the week he said ‘I don’t know if you know s--t about the game but if you ever need a job, let me know.'
Not long after, Malone got a job as an assistant under Mike Brown, who was then just starting off with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
For his part, Popovich saw something in Malone worth sticking his neck out for. "He had a toughness about him. A fairness, but a toughness about him where I thought he’d persevere in all kind of situations and in an NBA season there’s all kinds of ups and downs," said Pop, according to Mason.
Sound like someone we know? One Greggory Popovich, perhaps?
While with the Golden State Warriors, Malone was seen as the X's and O's counterweight to the more motivationally inclined Mark Jackson, as Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rose Press Democrat (via Bleacher Report's Jimmy Spencer) pointed out back in June.
Though no slouch himself on that front, Pop has prided himself on a more personally engaged, creative-motivational approach to his job, to the point where, well, even he doesn't know exactly what to draw up next.
Malone has a ways to go before being spoken of in the same breath as Pop, of course, why with his Kings poised to finish below .500 for the eighth consecutive year.
But the Kings are also without a first-round pick in this year’s draft and are still reeling from a summer in which the team was very nearly sold to an ownership group based in Seattle. Not the most stable of franchises, to be sure.
Perhaps Malone can change all of that. The son of basketball-lifer Brendan, the younger Malone certainly knows his way around a basketball court.
Whether he knows enough to occupy the vaunted sideline real estate of his one-time drinking buddy, however, remains to be seen.