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Remembering Michael Malone for who he was and what he did

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Michael Malone was the guy to lift the Kings out of a transitional period, and he did that well.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Being around Michael Malone over the last year was an overall positive experience. He would often exchange pleasantries before a media scrum, wanted to shake your hand when your conversation concluded, looked you in the eyes and would regularly thank you for your time. He criticized his team when they needed it and consistently used stats to back up the points he would try to get across. He also backed up what he said to his players and built a reputation as a player's coach.

But his communication skills were not what was being tested during his tenure. After a season of transitional change last year, the front office wants a new style of play, less disagreements over personnel decisions and a new focus on offense moving forward, which has left the defensive-minded Malone without a job after 19 months into his first gig as a head coach.

In other words, reigning in DeMarcus Cousins, being a straight shooter and getting the team off to a hot start this season (general manager Pete D'Alessandro was on KHTK 1140 on Tuesday and said it wouldn't have mattered if the team was 16-9) wasn't enough to spare Malone.

His work with Cousins was of most value. Cousins repeatedly had issues with past Kings coaches and since Malone came on board, the big man has stayed collected, played more within himself and has turned in to one of the most dominant players in the league. Many give credit to Cousins' stint on Team USA as a main turning point (and he did sign a long-term contract going into last season), but Malone deserves a lot more credit than many give him. He and Cousins appeared to be completely in sync. The Kings started 5-1 in November and the relationship between the two looked to be paying dividends. They were almost finishing each other's thoughts in postgame interviews. Heck, Cousins was restraining Malone from getting into shouting matches with the refs!

With Malone gone, one can only guess how Cousins will take it. He expressed support of the organization on Monday despite admitting to finding out about the firing on Twitter, and shared his thoughts on his now former coach.

"I hate it had to end this way, but he has my respect...he's a great coach," Cousins told reporters on Monday. "So many guys believed in Malone and his system."

The nine-game stretch that Cousins has missed did expose Malone for some of his coaching flaws. Games were full of questionable rotation decisions and poor play calling - the broken play drawn up for rookie Nik Stauskas to take the last shot at the end of the Dec. 9 Lakers game, in which the Kings lost, was a stark example. In Malone's final game as head coach, Josh Smith (the guy who Malone and Vivek Ranadive apparently disagreed over) destroyed the Kings for 21 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals and 5 blocks as the lack of transition defense and the isolation play continued to plague Malone's Kings. Following Saturday's loss to the Pistons, Malone said he liked the team's execution, and when asked what his team had learned with Cousins out, he responded with this.

"I'm not sure what they've learned, but hopefully we realize that we have to play a lot smarter, a lot more disciplined when your best player is out," Malone said.

Call it playing smarter, better or with a whole new style, whatever needed to be done, Malone did not always have the answers. When it came to rotations, and him playing one guy over another (Ramon Sessions v. Ray McCallum for example) Malone would give an "X guy was playing better" response. That's not to say he has to say anything about his rotations, but it was curious nonetheless.

On Saturday, Darren Collison said Cousins bails his teammates out a lot with his talent. In that sense, he may have bailed Malone out a lot too. When plays broke down, they could always depend on Cousins to score in the post or get to the foul line. The offense and defense is anchored on Cousins and in reality, Malone was working with what he was given as far as complementary players in a stacked Western Conference, but it could have been better.

Malone apparently didn't have answers for his front office either and the firing wasn't just about the nine-game stretch. D'Alessandro wants someone who can help the team take the next step. The long-term goal is wins, but it appears the short-term goal isn't so much about wins (despite the organization's claims going into this season) as it is a change in philosophy to get those wins.

As the conversation switches to the future and who the solution is for the coaching position, we shouldn't forget who Malone was - a leader of men who garnered respect and helped see this franchise through a unique and laborious transition period. He was served with an empty slate when he came in as both a head coach and a quasi-general manager at a time when the city and fans were still riding high off keeping the team. In June 2013, he was told by Ranadive that he was "100 percent" the right guy for the job, and maybe he was for a team of younger players trying to gel and find an identity. All the way up until Sunday, this newly minted head coach never lost control of the locker room despite the constant revolving door of players last season while trying to win with the non-defensive minded players he was given.

But the focus transitioned into wins and the fast-paced concept Ranadive, D'Alessandro and company so desire, and then the microscope got larger, the clashes got louder and ultimately, the guy who was once the best guy for the job was suddenly not qualified at all based on the team's standards.

Malone will find another job soon. He is well respected around the league and is known as a player's coach (his relationship with Cousins could be slotted No. 1 under experience on his resume). He commanded respect and harnessed the passion of Cousins for good. The timing of his firing is certainly curious and speculation is abound, but let's call it for what it was: A traditional-minded coach was thrust into an untraditional situation and culture, and it ultimately resulted in his own demise.

Best of luck in your next role coach Malone.