The Sacramento Kings last night fired head coach Mike Malone after going 11-13 to start the season, citing underachievement. This is one of the stranger front office decisions in recent NBA history.
The Kings sit just one win out of the playoffs in the brutal West and are on course to win ten more games than they did last season. They are 15th in the league in offensive efficiency and 18th in the league in defensive efficiency despite possessing a deeply-flawed roster that I would rank among the bottom ten in the NBA on both ends. And all this with franchise player DeMarcus Cousins having missed the last nine games.
Prior to Boogie going down with viral meningitis on November 28, they were 9-6 for the season. They were developing an identity. They appeared to have good chemistry. They appeared to be going somewhere. They were overachieving.
They have gone 2-7 since then, but are the decision makers in the Kings front office even aware that Boogie has been out? Do they grasp that their starting lineup currently features Darren Collison and Ryan Hollins? How could they truly believe Malone was underachieving?
According to Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, among the reasons for the firing is the fact that owner Vivek Ranadivé “has wanted the Kings to play a faster style of basketball.” This is mind-boggling and points to deeply hare-brained thinking at the top of the Kings organization.
Cousins is a player who thrives on slow-it-down post-ups in the half-court. But Vivek wants them to run the ball up court more and forego their one distinct talent advantage?
Ben McLemore is an explosive finisher and Rudy Gay is a relatively good athlete, but this is not a roster that shouts “dominant fast break team” at you. That being said, they have not been a slow-paced team this season. They rank 11th in fast break points at 13.1 per game. They are in the middle of the pack in overall pace at 95.7 possessions per game – higher than San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Toronto, and just a shade under the Clippers and Mavericks.
What more does Vivek want? Does he believe they are the next incarnation of the mid-2000s Phoenix Suns, just waiting to be unleashed? Perhaps.
The irony: the 2001/02 Kings, the other team that set the standard for free-flowing, fast-paced offense in the post-Jordan era, averaged an almost identical 95.6 possessions per game.
This seems to be a classic case of a restless new owner involving himself in basketball decisions that he is unqualified to make. He has already shown such tendencies in his pushy insistence that they draft Nik Stauskas, a player who has done little to merit his No. 8 selection so far with averages of 3.5 points on 33% shooting. Stauskas appears to be a shooting specialist who cannot shoot particularly well – not much use to anyone.
The other young building blocks Malone has inherited have come on leaps and bounds under his tutelage, however. His firing surely cannot be based on a lack of player development. Pre-illness, Cousins was putting up All-NBA numbers and showing growth as a player and a leader. In his last six games, he put up 25.5 points and 14.7 rebounds. Meanwhile, McLemore is having a breakout season, averaging 14.1 points on 41.5% three-point shooting over the last 12 games and repaying Malone’s confidence in him.
Malone has persevered with Stauskas too – no doubt in fear of drawing the owner’s ire for not playing his chosen one – despite his deficiencies on both ends. Here he frantically urges Stauskas to take up a better weak-side help position on defense:
Defense always has been Malone’s calling card. As Mark Jackson’s lead assistant, he instilled the defensive scheme that eventually propelled the Warriors to the top of the defensive efficiency rankings. Of course, you will never be an elite defensive team without good individual defenders, but a coherent system can go a long way. He has been ousted whilst still laying its foundations in Sacramento.
What was the point in personally hiring a defensive-minded coach – before even hiring a GM, no less – only to fire him after 18 months on the grounds of not playing a “fast enough” style of basketball? This Vivek is one strange cat.
That being said, as an avid League Pass viewer there have certainly been moments in this Kings season that have left me shaking my head. Indeed, a team does not lose as many close games as the Kings have – each of their last three losses came down to the final minute – without some questionable late-game execution.
Rudy’s decision here to intentionally foul the Thunder’s Steven Adams off the ball with the clock ticking under the two-minute mark was ill-advised and resulted in a free throw plus the ball for OKC:
Perhaps you blame the coaching staff for allowing that blunder to happen, but Rudy should have known better.
Meanwhile, the team’s over-reliance on contested jump shots and isolation plays late in games has not been easy on the eye or particularly effective. Again, Rudy has been central to this:
A little more ball or player movement would be nice. This is nit-picking though, and the Kings appeared to be on the right path. Besides, Gay is a player whose career has been built on iso-ball. Did Vivek really envision a Spurs-style offense manifesting itself in Sactown when he traded for him?
Seemingly only in Vivek’s mind can this equation add up: Defensive-minded coach + back-to-the-basket behemoth + iso-hungry mid-range jump shooter = free-flowing, fast-paced offense.
One has to be deeply concerned for the Kings’ long-term stability with this man in charge. I pity their long-suffering fans, who deserve better.
Of course, I am not the only one baffled by the firing. This message board response to the news hit the nail on the head:
Who does Vivek have in mind to replace Malone? Tyrone Corbin is the new interim head coach, but hardly set the world alight during his 112-146 stint with the Jazz, who were 26th in pace last season. Vinny del Negro has been brought up as a potential permanent successor, drawing LOL’s all over Twitter.
One would hope the Kings have a more cogent plan than meets the eye.