I'm still trying to make sense of the Sacramento Kings firing Michael Malone. I understand part of how this came to be, but it's still a mess of a situation. Malone was easily the best coach the Kings have had since Rick Adelman. The team is off to its best start since the Adelman era, even with DeMarcus Cousins having missed extensive time with viral meningitis. Cousins seems to love Malone, and Malone loves Cousins. Malone's system has gotten great results out of Rudy Gay, something that hasn't been easy for other NBA coaches. And on top of all that, he was an easy coach for a fan to like. Malone is passionate, answers questions directly, and came across as a very smart basketball mind. It's easy to say that I'm sad Malone is no longer the head coach of the Kings.
But there are ways this makes sense. The Kings ultimately painted themselves in a corner when Vivek Ranadivé hired Malone before hiring GM Pete D'Alessandro. It was unconventional at the time, but we talked ourselves into why it could still work. But it didn't. Management didn't see eye to eye with Malone, and that more than anything is what this all boils down to. Winning in the NBA is difficult. It's harder if your front office and head coach aren't on the same page.
If we're honest with ourselves, even the biggest Malone supporters must recognize there were flaws in his coaching style. He relied heavily on Ramon Sessions instead of giving an opportunity to Ray McCallum, and he publicly stated he would continue the trend. He recently became very fond of Derrick Williams, for reasons that are difficult to understand. He would keep the starters on the bench for long stretches as leads were wiped out. And he relied heavily on predictable isolation plays at the end of games, often with poor results. When Cousins started missing time with illness, these flaws became far more apparent.
I'm not sure there's a coach in the NBA who could've taken this roster without Cousins and done well. But the Kings did especially bad without Boogie. Losses to the Pacers and the Pistons were troubling. Even without Cousins the Kings should have handled those games.
Perhaps the strangest part of all this is the timing. The Kings are off to a great start, even with the recent stretch of bad losses. The start has been better than anyone had any right to expect. So if the recent are the excuse to give Malone the ax, why not make the change in the offseason? Why try to lure Alvin Gentry with an assistant role? If he's the coach you want, why not fire Malone and pursue Gentry in earnest? I'm not saying Gentry was the only savior, but it feels like the Kings knew they wanted a different direction, but hesitated to actually pursue it.
At the end of the day, I don't think Malone should have been fired. But if the Kings were intent on a new coach, you might as well get on with it. There's no sense in playing out the season with a coach that no longer has the support of management. That can only lead to bad blood and could poison the team dynamic. The front office is right to want a coach who has their same philosophy. The Kings' best days were when Adelman coached a team in the exact manner to get the most from Geoff Petrie's players. Malone didn't have a lot to work with, especially on the bench, but it's clear that management believes that the right coach could get more from the roster.
The front office made a bold move, as they have several times in the past. Those past moves, extending Cousins, acquiring Rudy, signing Darren Collison, have often worked out well. When moves don't work out, such as acquiring Luc Mbah a Moute, the team has shown a willingness to quickly move on from mistakes. They're making a bold move. We just have to hope it pays off.