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A History of Incompetence: Putting the Michael Malone firing into context

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Michael Malone's firing was a franchise-altering bad decision. How does it stack up?

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

When the Sacramento Kings unexpectedly fired Michael Malone, Kings fans figured something better was just around the corner. As time went on, it became clear that there is no next step beyond Tyrone Corbin. The team has gone into a tailspin, and we know now that Malone's firing was a bad decision that irreparably altered the course of the franchise.

Kings fans are accustomed to heartache like this. Look no further than the top-10 protected pick that the Kings owe the Chicago Bulls (by way of the Cleveland Cavaliers) that still looms from the failed Omri Casspi for JJ Hickson swap. Hickson failed so miserably that the Kings bought him out after just 35 games. Casspi, meanwhile, has ended up back with the Kings.

Or look at the infamous draft-day trade where the Kings moved down in the draft for the honor of re-acquiring John Salmons, only to compound the blunder by drafting Jimmer Fredette over Klay Thompson or Kawhi Leonard.

In terms of coaching disasters, Corbin isn't even the worst Kings coach in the last decade. For all his faults, he's still better than Kenny Natt or Keith Smart.

No, the issue is that all those other issues happened under prior ownership and management. After enduring so many bad seasons, and so much Maloofery from ownership, Kings fans were enjoying new owners, new management, and, most importantly, winning basketball. The rug was pulled from under the feet of fans, and the fan base is having difficulty coming to grips with it.

The question now is whether this mistake is unique in its scale. To try to answer that, I reached out to some of my SB Nation brethren of basketball bloggers. I asked them for some of their franchise's biggest blunders. The results were impressively dire.


Nate Parham of Golden State of Mind reminded me that Bill Simmons wrote an article detailing 60 mistakes the Golden State Warriors had made. Massive mistakes that alienated fans repeatedly. Worth noting though, the 60th mistake, the mistake that inspired the article, was unloading Monta Ellis. The fans revolted in response, but it seems to have turned out pretty well.

Nate added:

[W]hen we voted for a theme day a few years ago we went with the Webber trade (and honestly, maybe even drafting him to begin with), which I wrote way too many words about.

When you think about how many years it set the franchise back, I don't think there's any question that it was the single worst move in franchise history and up there among the league's worst due to the many ripple effects it had.

Joseph Flynn of Posting and Toasting noted that the Knicks could fill several books with their mistakes, but highlighted a few.
I'd go with the Eddy Curry deal. It's hard to top giving away the picks that turned into LaMarcus Aldridge and Joakim Noah.

If you're going purely for shock value, though, it's hard to top the underrated "Steve Francis for Penny Hardaway and 20-year-old Trevor Ariza" trade. At least with picks you don't know who you're giving up, but Knicks fans had already seen Ariza's promise. Giving him up for the dried husk of Steve Francis to pair with Stephon Marbury was a trade only a maniac would make.

And I guess the Bargnani deal fits somewhere in between the long-term devastation of the Curry deal and the instant regret of the Steve Francis swap. The details were slow to leak out, so it took time to digest just how much the Knicks had given up. Also, they had been linked to him for so long that it wasn't as surprising.
For my money, the Knicks' issues could be summed up by just saying Isiah Thomas and Jimmy Dolan. When it comes to meddling, Dolan makes Vivek Ranadivé look like he's asleep at the wheel.

Dave Deckard of BlazersEdge reminded us of the many high-profile personnel issues with the Portland TrailBlazers.
Bill Walton, 1978, foot problems. Pain-killing shots, rushing him back into action. Dynasty ruined.Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan in 1984. Dynasty ruined.Young Jermaine O'Neal for Old Dale Davis in 2000. Maybe not a dynasty ruined but the next 6-8 years ruined.Greg Oden over Kevin Durant in 2007. Dynasty ruined.

It's like a progressive slot-machine jackpot of badness, spilling coins of misery over the floor high enough to fill your boots. I can only wish we had fired 100 Mike Malones instead. Give me Walton, Jordan, O'Neal, and Durant back and I will let Derek Fisher be the franchise's coach for life.

(Just kidding about that last part.)
And as Dave was responding to my question, the Blazers were allowing LaMarcus Aldridge to delay surgery and play with torn thumb ligaments. I'm sure that'll work out just fine though.

JR Wilco of Pounding the Rock was less helpful than some (stupid smart Spurs management), but reminded us that even San Antonio has made some mistakes:
The Spurs not only traded Bruce Bowen for Richard Jefferson, but they also gave Luis Scola to Houston for nothing.

Yeah, things can get pretty bad in San Antonio
The Spurs also gave away a young Goran Dragic once upon a time. For Malik Hairston and a second round pick.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are another long-suffering franchise. David Zavac of Fear The Sword had a few painful memories.
The Stepien rule is named for us?

Ron Harper trade.

Dan Gilbert's letter

Drafting Anthony Bennett first overall.

that's off the top of my head.
Think about the Stepien Rule for a moment. Seriously, there's a rule named after the team's awful owner because that awful owner was so bad that the league had to invent a new rule to stop him from being so terrible.  Sheesh. Personally, I'd add nearly a decade of poor personell moves that squandered LeBron James' first tenure, resulting in a missed championship (or several), and LeBron breaking the hearts of the fan base. The Cavs have put their fans through hell. Moving on.

Daniel Reynolds of Raptors HQ summed up management's most egregious move pretty succinctly.
Hi, I'm a Toronto Raptors fan. The team I am a fan of once traded Vince Carter for a couple of guys named Williams and an angry Alonzo Mourning. It was not a good time.
Perhaps too succinctly. Mourning was so angry that he never even reported to the Raptors!

Jason Walker of Peachtree Hoops gives us a dark vision of how long a bad move can haunt a franchise:
Well let's see, the Hawks were in first place and all was happy and we were eating ice cream and singing songs and then our team traded it's most loved and honored player ever to the Clippers for Danny Manning, who bailed on a multi year, multi million dollar deal with the Hawks to sign a wink-wink, 1 year min deal with the Suns, after which he cashed in and caused the NBA to change the rules of free agency and Bird Rights.

Oh and the city hated the team because they traded Nique up until about two weeks ago

Amar of SLC Dunk taught me of many, many horrible mistakes the Jazz franchise made, many of which I wasn't aware of. And one that features a familiar face.
Making Tyrone Corbin the full-time head coach instead of interim head coach, not doing a coaching search to replace the interim head coach, and then keeping him for 3.5 seasons. 

Signing/trading for 'rent-a-vets' to play 1,000 to 2,000 minutes every year pushing back the development of Derrick Favors (#3 pick, 2010), Enes Kanter (#3 pick, 2010), Gordon Hayward (#9 pick, 2010), and Alec Burks (#12 pick, 2011). Guys like Josh Howard, Mo Williams, Randy Foye, etc would join the team, get favorable treatment, not get pulled for poor defense, and push the youth to the bench . . . and then leave after a year (or in the case of Marvin Williams, two years).

Playing Rudy Gobert a little over 400 minutes in a 25 win season (last year)

Not signing Wesley Matthews to a longer term contract, as an undrafted rookie

Letting Kyle Korver walk in free agency

Deciding to keep Carlos Arroyo and Raul Lopez over Mo Williams

Signing Mark Jackson, have him stage a mid-season coup where he wanted to turn parts of the locker room (John Amaechi, etc) against John Stockton, so Jackson would be 'elected' as the starter. Making John Stockton feel so bad about the whole experience that he made his mind up to retire during the ordeal. 

Letting Dell Curry go after his rookie year, instead of pairing him up with John and Karl in the mid 80s

Selling Dominique Wilkins to the Atlanta Hawks, with the hindsight theory that they would have also had him and John (#16 pick, 1984) and Karl (#13 pick, 1985) in their peaks -- both those players were under the radar and likely to be had at the #15-#20 range even if a 'Nique led Jazz team picked later in those drafts.

Signing Gail Goodrich as a free agent, and then having to surrender 1st round picks back to the Lakersbecause that's how free agency used to work . . . and one of those picks ended up being Magic Johnson
Dear lord that's a lot of bad stuff. I never knew the Mark Jackson stuff. Definitely excited he's on the coaching radar for the Kings.

Jeff Clark of Celtics Blog discussed what a truly vile coaching choice looks like.
The Celtics worst trade was probably sending Joe Johnson (and filler) off to the Suns for Tony Delk and Rodney Rogers.

But I think ultimately the worst decision was to hire Rick Pitino (spit) over just about any other option that was out there - including possibly asking Larry Bird to stick around in some capacity.
Andrew Feinstein of Denver Stiffs narrowed it down to one fantastically awful decision.
In 1996, coming off a 35-win season, the departure of Dikembe Mutombo (for which we received nothing) and holding the 10th overall pick in the draft, then GM/coach Bernie Bickerstaff declared that "there's no one worth drafting after 10" and proceeded to trade the 10th pick, a 23 year old Jalen Roseand Reggie Williams to the Indiana Pacers for the 23rd pick, a 31 year old Mark Jackson and a 36 year old Ricky Pierce. Bernie then selects Efthimios Rentzias (you're saying, who?!) from Greece with the 23rd pick, even though he had never scouted him. Guess who was drafted between 10 and 23 that we missed on? Kobe Bryant (13), Peja Stojakovic (14), Steve Nash (15), Jermaine O'Neal (17) and Zydrunas Ilgauskas (20). That's two MVPs and five perennial All-Stars. Meanwhile, Jalen Rose went on to having a fabulous career in Indiana and Rentzias played in just 35 forgettable games for the 76ers in 2002-03.
Mike Prada of Bullets Forever fame managed to pick a single moment for the Wizards, which I consider pretty impressive.
Wizards deciding to trade the No. 5 pick for one year of Mike Miller and Randy Foye instead of drafting Stephen Curry, who they liked
Tom Lorenzo of Nets Daily gave a great example of the horrific ripple effects of a single decision.
The Nets traded Mehmet Okur, Shawnee Williams and a first round pick (No. 6) to the Blazers for Reggie Evans and Gerald Wallace. The Blazers turned the No. 6 pick into Damian Lillard, while the Nets used Gerald Wallace to convince Deron Williams to stay with the team on their move to Brooklyn, hence, building a team around Deron Williams.
In free agent news, the Rockets have made some baffling decisions. From Ethan Rothstein of The Dream Shake:
The Rockets had Kyle Lowry and Goran Dragic on the same team. With both as free agents -- even though Kyle Lowry didn't want to come back because he hates Kevin McHale -- the Rockets decided to give Jeremy Lin a 3-year, $25 million contract and let them each walk.
Matt Watson of Detroit Bad Boys endured the Joe Dumars era. He's a saint.
The Pistons traded Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson's expiring contract, AND THEN gave away Arron Afflalo and Amir Johnson in salary dump deals, AND THEN used all of that cap space to sign Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva on the first day of free agency, AND THEN had to give up a first-round pick just to get rid of Gordon a few seasons later.
Responses from the Mavs Moneyball crew were varied:
The 1990s
I know letting Tyson go was recent, but that's what immediately comes to mind.
Chris Faulkner of Grizzly Bear Blues notes that despite their recent successes, the Memphis Grizzlies haven't exactly been a model franchise over the years.
Drafting Thabeet over _____.

Brian Cardinal, 6yr/$34mm

Signing Allen Iverson.

The first rendition of their baby blue alt uni's (also worn by Iverson)

Featuring a Shane Battier poster night after trading him to the Rockets.

Not providing an actual backup PG to Mike Conley from 2010-2013. (they were either rookies or late season rentals like Gilbert Arenas and Keyon Dooling)

Trading Kevin Love for O.J. Mayo.

Offering Rudy Gay $50mm, declining his $65mm counteroffer, waiting a few months, and then giving him a 5yr/$80mm extension.

Memphis Tams alt uni's.

The net effect of the salary dump and Rudy trade which ended up giving up Mo Speights, Wayne Ellington, Rudy Gay, and two 1st Round Picks for what is now essentially two years of wasting Ed Davis, two years of Tayshaun Prince's remains, Jon Leuer, and possibly a 4-month rental of Jeff Green.

It was quite the decade.
And the Bucks. Oh the Bucks. Frank from BrewHoop picked a few choice moments.
Trading peak Ray Allen for an expiring Gary Payton and Desmond Mason

Tobias Harris for JJ Redick

Giving Michael Redd and Bobby Simmons a combined $140 million in July 2005

Speaking of tortured fan bases, the Los Angeles Clippers were a wreck for...everything before Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, basically. From Steve Perrin of Clips Nation:
1 -- Drafting Michael Olowokandi first overall in 1998. (This one is obviously terrible in retrospect -- most GMs would have taken him at the time. Bear in mind that Mike Bibby was considered the other option and was drafted second overall, Raef Lafrentz third). Among several decent options, Kandi is considered the worst first overall pick in NBA history.

2 -- Drafting Yaroslav Korolev 12 in 2005. This one is bad not just in hindsight. All indications are that Mike Dunleavy made him a promise, which was stupid, and even when Danny Granger fell in the draft, Dunleavy was obligated to stick with Korolev.

Obviously the list for the Clippers could go on and on...

Letting Larry Brown go in 1993 -- but of course they weren't the first team Brown ever left, but he was the only coach until Doc Rivers to ever lead the Clippers to consecutive post seasons.

Signing a post foot injury Bill Walton as a free agent in 1979. At that time, the NBA took compensation for free agent signings, so it cost the Clippers more than just Walton's salary (Kermit Washington and a first round pick).

Trading Terry Cummings (and others) for Marques Johnson (and others) in 1984. Cummings had been ROY two years before and was 23 years old. Johnson was a fine player, but was 28. Clipper fate stepped in as well and Johnson suffered a career ending injury 10 games into his third season with the Clippers.

Trading away an unprotected first rounder in order to get rid of Baron Davis' contract in 2011. This pick became Kyrie Irving in the lottery, but I'm of the opinion that the protections weren't the issue so much as the pick itself which could have produced Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, Nikola Vucevic, Klay Thompson, etc even in it's original place.

Of course, this is also the franchise that until 2003 had only ever re-signed two of their own free agents --Eric Piatkowski and Loy Vaught. So "Letting everyone walk ever" would be the easiest way to put it.

...and he didn't even mention Donald Sterling!

We're almost there, but not done yet. Joshua Priemski of At The Hive discusses the sordid history of the Bobcats.
One, the drafting of Adam Morrison.
Two, Michael Jordan bringing in friends and close associates early in his tenure.
Three, naming the team the Bobcats after former owner Bob Johnson.
Four, trading Emeka Okafor.
Tom Lewis of Indy Cornrows with a history lesson:
In 1981, Pacers traded their 1984 No. 1 pick to Portland for journeyman center Tom Owens. Turned out to be the No. 2 overall pick in '84 draft which means the Pacers missed out on a history-altering pick of Michael Jordan. But in their defense, Tom Owens started 40 of the 74 games he played in '81-82 and averaged 10.5 points and 5 rebounds.
Oleh Kosel of The Bird Writes summed up the troubles of the Hornets franchise into multiple issues all related to one man.
That George Shinn was allowed to run a franchise in the NBA as long as he did.
- He spurned Charlotte thanks to his sex scandal screwing up his Christian image.
- He penny pinched the New Orleans franchise when they were relevant because not only did he never had the deep pockets like most other owners but was seeming in debt most of the time while in N.O.
- Once his debts really started to mount, he traded away Tyson Chandler, and it ensured West and CP3 would be leaving once their contracts were up.
- He was ready to move the team from New Orleans to OKC after Katrina, but we were fortunate Stern had another team lined up (so sorry Seattle).
Which transitions to the granddaddy of them all, the biggest misstep in recent NBA history, a moment that forever altered the course of a franchise:
Former owner sold to a guy who was dead set on moving the team to another location out of spite because he couldn't get a new arena to replace the one that was 9 years old.
That's from Kevin Nesgoda of Sonics Rising.


Are all of these issues apples-to-apples comparisons with the Kings' firing Michael Malone? Of course not. But there's a common thread to be found here. Many of these decisions were made by management who thought they knew what they were doing, or by a meddling owner, or by some combination of the two. Personnel mistakes, coaching mistakes, draft mistakes, trade mistakes. Big mistakes are common in the NBA.

Kings fans have known their fair share of mistakes thanks to years of the Maloof family and Geoff Petrie. But even with them gone, the Kings will continue to make mistakes. Every franchise does. And some of those mistakes don't end up being mistakes after all. At the time, everyone knew that Memphis got killed when they traded Pau Gasol to the Lakers. Last week Marc Gasol, who Memphis received in the deal, was named as the starting center for the Western Conference All-Star team.  Time changes things.

Firing Malone was a mistake. It was a big mistake. And we've yet to see the full ramifications of that mistake. It could impact player's willingness to sign here, or coaches' willingness to sign here. Who the team eventually hires as coach will have a huge impact on how we view this moment 10 years from now. Perhaps it's a bump in the road, perhaps it's a derailment of the franchise. We don't know.

And while it feels dire right now, hopefully hearing from other franchises has helped put some of this into context. Bad mistakes are made by franchises, even the good ones.

Hell, can you believe the Cavs traded Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love?