If you want to pile on, you can.
This has all the hallmarks of an easy read. The Sacramento Kings surprised everyone this season by racing out to 9-5 record. The team then lost its out and out superstar, the ever-improving DeMarcus Cousins, to a debilitating bout of viral meningitis. The Kings lost their last game with DMC, and expectedly whiffed on seven of nine contests with Cousins recovering (mostly) away from the team. The Sacramento Kings also feature a new’ish owner that sometimes embarrasses the team’s fan base with his musings on how the sport should be played, and they boast a general manager and influential consultant that were hired after the team’s coach was hired – a rare NBA move.
That coach was fired, late on Sunday, as first reported by Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski. Michael Malone was dumped after just 24 games this season, following the first year of a three-year deal with a team option for a fourth year. Clashes in basketball philosophy were cited as the reason for the dismissal.
The NBA cognoscenti, as you’d expect, was gobsmacked.
The quick take would mention something along the lines of a front office working under the whims of an unknowing owner. That the owner and front office needed to wait until the team had dipped under .500 with Cousins sidelined in order to make a move, hardly caring about the nearly two final years of pay it would have to throw Malone’s way. That the owner was foolish to hire a coach first, and front office second.
The take would move on to speak to the idea to place Tyrone Corbin, a genuinely good dude and genuinely terrible NBA head coach, as interim head coach is an absolute joke. The take would then explain that expected the Kings’ flat-footed and poor-passing lineup to turn into some amalgamation of the 1970 New York Knicks and 2014 San Antonio Spurs is laughable. That this is just another incident of a new owner gone mad with expectation, and a general manager willingly following along so as just to keep his phony-baloney job.
Toss this in …
… and you’ve got a narrative, son.
(Nik Stauskas has missed exactly two-thirds of the shots he’s taken this season, and over three-quarters of the three-pointers he’s tossed up. An unfair sample to rip on, I submit, but we’ve got a while to go on this guy.)
What’s worth mentioning, though, is that Michael Malone presided over a 23rd-ranked defense last year, one that has only moved up to the 20th spot this season in spite of the Kings’ ascension to the ranks of the mediocre. He’s also watched helplessly as his team has wasted a 24 and then 26-point lead in losses to the Mavericks and Grizzlies this month. His team has fallen to the Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook-less Oklahoma City Thunder, the Dwight Howard-less Houston Rockets (twice), and the bleedin’ Los Angeles Lakers. Dude lost to the Pistons on Tuesday.
Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro worked closely with George Karl in Denver, and it’s quite possible that Karl could work as the sort of go-between pitched in the middle of someone like Michael Malone, and more up-tempo sorts like Don Nelson – a coach team advisor Chris Mullin and team owner Vivek Ranadive adores. After all, Karl recently told SiriusXM that he still feels as if he has one more coaching stint left in him, taking on the Bob Hill role of tossing his name out in every open NBA coach candidacy out there, and he’s just 19 months removed from winning the NBA’s Coach of the Year award.
Seriously, though. Come off it.
DeMarcus Cousins was always going to be a star, once he figured this league out, but it’s hard to slough off Boogie’s accomplishments over the last two seasons without crediting Malone to some degree. Rudy Gay isn’t exactly a Houston Rocket-styled wet dream at this point, but he has at least modified his previously-untenable offensive game to an ideal that suits the modern NBA. The Kings dumped Isaiah Thomas at Cousins’ behest, reportedly, in order to bring in Darren Collison – and Collison is playing his best ball in years in spite of a role that probably doesn’t suit his strengths. Omri Casspi had to start a couple of games and even play huge minutes. Reggie Evans is the team’s supposed defensive force, and at times he makes Carlos Boozer look like Taj Gibson. RYAN HOLLINS IS ON THIS TEAM.
Woj lists Karl and Vinny (seriously) Del (you’re joking, right?) Negro as possible long-term replacements, which apsatively boggles the mind. Karl is a fine coach, but his faux-zone trapping schemes and emphasis on position-less play seem ill-suited for this roster. Nearly as ill-suited as expecting a team literally centered on DeMarcus Cousins to turn into some flash and dash running outfit, as the Kings’ front office apparently expected.
It should be noted that the longest-tenured coach in the NBA was a former front office executive that fired his head coach on the day that his team’s best player returned from a major injury. Gregg Popovich fired Bob Hill after San Antonio’s 3-15 start in 1996-97, a turn addled by David Robinson’s back injury. Robinson returned just in time for Popovich’s head coaching debut, and the team won three out of six games before The Admiral broke his foot, knocking him out for the remainder of a season that eventually netted the Spurs the chance to draft Tim Duncan.
That’s how luck and timing goes in this league. Pete D’Alessandro’s mentor from Denver, the much-lauded Masai Ujiri, is currently kicking tail in Toronto while working with a roster and coaching staff primarily hired by the much-maligned and since-fired Bryan Colangelo. There are no easy answers in this gig.
It’s more than possible that Michael Malone may not be the sort of coach to push a team over the top. He was thought to be the defensive mastermind in Golden State while working under Mark Jackson, and yet the Warriors shot up from 14th to fourth and then first in defensive efficiency in the seasons following Malone’s leave from the Bay Area (the actual basketball players involved may have also had something to do with that). George Karl could be in the wings. Tyrone Corbin may have been hamstrung by a mismatched Utah Jazz roster. The Kings could win the 59 or so games it will take to secure the seventh spot in the Western playoff bracket.
We don’t know. What we are aware of is the fact that the Kings fired a very good basketball coach over the weekend, and that the owner has made some curious moves since taking over this team. It’s just fine to judge them from afar, and it’s up to the Sacramento front office to prove us all wrong.
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