There is absolutely no doubt now that Michael Malone's unexpected firing was a big mistake (although the Kings' refusal to admit so is incredibly frustrating). The Kings have gone just 5-14 since, a record worse than that of the Philadelphia 76ers, a team that has been accused of outright tanking. Even worse, the quality of opponent over these past 19 games has been far from the best. The average winning percentage of the opponent over those 19 games has been just .495. That's compared to Malone's 11-13 record against opponents with a winning percentage of .549, and his 9-6 record with Cousins against opponent winning percentage of .585.
Sacramento is currently mired in a six game losing streak that could get worse before it gets better. Tomorrow night they play the Toronto Raptors in Toronto followed by the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers. They end their road trip with a match against the Paul George-less Pacers, and then get a few days off before having to play the Warriors and Mavericks. The Kings were also hurt by yesterday's game postponement against the New York Knicks, as now they have to add another game to their season-long road trip in March and create another back to back, of which they have nine over the final 39 games.
Sacramento is only set to play 16 games against teams below .500 over the final 39 games, and 23 games on the road. Under Corbin, the Kings have gone 4-8 at home and just 1-6 on the road. The only teams above .500 that they've managed to beat have been the Oklahoma City Thunder (a rare great win, no excuses) and the Cleveland Cavaliers (who were without LeBron James).
The last two years, the Kings have managed just 28 wins, and their winning percentage in the lockout year essentially amounted to 28 wins as well (27.333 to be exact). The team itself hasn't reached the 30 win mark since the 2007-08 season when they went 38-44. That's a streak that didn't seem possible to continue in November given the team's hot start, and yet now it's looking more likely than ever. Sacramento only has to go 14-25 to hit 30 wins and just 12-27 to meet last year's win total, but is it so hard to imagine that the Kings not even being able to do that anymore? Corbin's current winning percentage as head coach, .263, only translates to a 10-29 record over the final 39 games if it keeps up, and that's not adjusting for the fact that there are more road games than home games. If we do that, we only project to about 9 wins.
We know this team is better than that. They proved it to us early on this season. We have a tremendous franchise player in DeMarcus Cousins, a very good supporting star in Rudy Gay, one of the best starting lineups in terms of net rating in the NBA, and yet the team is floundering. For those fans that care about such things, it looks exceedingly likely that Sacramento will keep their pick this year, as they're currently sporting the 8th worst record in the NBA, with Utah, Boston, Indiana, and Orlando possibly set to even leap the Kings in the standings. Those are teams that are supposed to be much further behind in their rebuilds than Sacramento.
This trade deadline and All-Star break is immensely important for the Kings, because something needs to be done to shake this team out of its current funk. What the team did in firing Malone was a bad case of hubris. This management group saw the success that Malone was having with the team and figured it could have the same (or better, as Vivek and Pete both implied) success under a different, more malleable coach. That's my personal theory as to why they fired Malone just when DeMarcus Cousins was set to come back; if Cousins could come back soon into Corbin's tenure, then the Kings would get back to winning and everything would be alright. It was a huge miscalculation.
This season was supposed to be about wins and losses. If the Kings not only don't improve from last year, but on top of that, somehow get worse, that's beyond a disappointment. By firing Malone, management bet on themselves. It's on their shoulders now to right the ship, and quickly, or else we'll probably be looking for more than a coach come this offseason.