Did a disgruntled Bones Hyland make a good point about Michael Malone?

Feb 17, 2023, 3:34 PM
Bones Hyland, Coach Malone...
Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

At the Rising Stars news conference to kick off the NBA All-Star festivities, recently traded Nuggets guard and now Los Angeles Clipper Bones Hyland again spoke of his frustrations with Denver’s coaching staff.

“It (the communication issues) was more so just coaching staff. Just talking to me, just letting me know what’s going on. Stuff like that. I feel like it was just so low. I’m just going into the locker room every game, just not knowing,” Hyland said. “As professional athletes, as a coach, you talk to your players, let them know what’s going on. Even if you don’t, at least another coach comes to you and stuff like that. I just feel like I didn’t have anything like that.”

This gets complicated.

When is it on the athlete more than the coach when it comes to a relationship?

On Jan. 22, the Nuggets lost one of only four home games so far this season. They dropped a 101-99 decision to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Jamal Murray missed a would-be game-tying jumper to end regulation. The loss and lack of 100-point scoring should’ve been the headline story, but Hyland’s disappearance got more attention.

Hyland had been completely ineffective in his 11 minutes of play with zero points on just four shots (two missed three-point attempts) with only three assists. Fill in head coach David Adelman—Michael Malone was out due to health and safety protocols—sent Bones to the bench with more than nine minutes left in the fourth quarter.

Hyland had had enough and raced off to the locker room while the game was still going. It’s unclear if Bones left the building during the game as well.

Adelman said Bones left to tend to an injury. We now know that wasn’t the case at all. Hyland threw a fit. His punishment was that he had to fly commercial to their next game in New Orleans. The Nuggets at least got him a first-class seat, but still, if you were in a DIA security line that day, you may have been taking off your shoes and belt next to an NBA player.

Hyland was available but did not play against the Pelicans after missing a shootaround. I’m sure it was an interesting discussion about whether he should be on the team at all. However, Hyland did play for 25 minutes against the Bucks the next night and 21 minutes against the 76ers three days later. Both games were losses. The Nuggets returned to face the Pelicans at home on Jan. 31, where Hyland only went for a little more than four minutes in a 122-113 victory.

The young budding guard—in five games, left a game, flew commercial and was scratched, played significant minutes in two losses and barely played in a win.

The writing was on the wall when after the home game against the Pelicans I asked Malone where he stood with Bones, “I stand with Bones. Bones is on our team. I stand with everybody in our locker room. You know, he got a chance to play tonight. That group was struggling a little bit. It wasn’t just because of Bones Hyland. I threw CB (Christian Braun) out there and I thought CB had a good night. Yea, I’m with all of our players win, lose or draw.”

From that moment on, Hyland would never step on the court as a Nugget.

So, at what point did the coaching staff stop talking to Bones?

I asked Michael Porter Jr. about Bones when it seemed inevitable that he would be dealt. MPJ was very thoughtful about how much Bones meant to him and how he hoped a deal wouldn’t get done.

I asked the same to two-time NBA MVP Nikola Jokic and he said, “No comment.”

Jokic sees basketball as a business and his role on the team as an important job.

It is to be taken seriously and if there is an impediment to success, it should be cleared from the proverbial road. MPJ is younger and perhaps basketball to him is more about friendships and relationships. Not that he doesn’t want to win, but it’s natural to feel close to those you spend time with and have things in common.

The coaches are thus caught in between. There is a bottom line of winning that always has to be attended to. However, without the buy-in of the athletes, it really doesn’t matter how focused you are on winning because, without the critical bond between coach and athlete, the end product will inevitably be a failure.

But I don’t want to give the coaches a pass. Too often coaches just write off players. They forever dismiss them without giving them a chance to explain themselves or perhaps to grow up in front of their eyes. Did Malone truly spend the requisite time with Bones? Clearly, a player like Jokic whose value is far superior likely needs very little attention. Does that mean ALL the players should be treated the same as a player who would prefer you to leave him alone? Of course not is the answer. But, in the pro ranks, when do you spend so much time with the athlete that you are more like a father than a boss?

Malone and his players have spoken at length about keeping in touch regarding expectations and playing time.

Jeff Green, De’Andre Jordan, Vlatko Cancar and Christian Braun have all related stories about how Malone communicated to them at length about reasons why they wouldn’t be playing in certain situations. Malone has relayed a myriad of stories about how important it was to make sure guys knew what was expected both good and bad news in terms of playing time.

Jamal Murray said it’s about making the sacrifices for the benefit of the team that makes the Nuggets so special. Those same sentiments were echoed by newly traded for backup center Thomas Bryant.

So, why does there seem to be such a distinct disconnect between all of those players and the coaches and Bones Hyland and the coaches?

My guess is the truth lies somewhere in the middle. But Hyland’s comments shouldn’t simply be dismissed as sentiments of ticked off, fired, disgruntled ex-employee.

There is something to learn for the current Nuggets staff that although you thought you may have done enough, you clearly didn’t. Not all players are alike and thus, shouldn’t be treated that way. There is even a deeper message for coaches both on the professional and amateur levels that lines of communication with your players is absolutely critical not only for the player’s mental health, but for the ultimate goals and success of the team.

Trading Bones was the right thing to do. The Nuggets are on a championship path, and he was just too much of a distraction. However, this is a fair warning, that the Nuggets coaches should take serious stock of how things are operating to get the most out of ALL their players. It doesn’t look like Jokic needs much attention, but it sure seems like MPJ does.

What Bones said whether it was valid or not, was certainly his reality and that should be enough to get the coach’s attention. It’s always easier to be a bully by yelling at and ignoring those who frustrate you. For all coaches on teams and in life, when was the last time you really sat down and truly listened to your players?



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Did a disgruntled Bones Hyland make a good point about Michael Malone?