The Sacramento Kings fired coach Mike Malone on Sunday night, as Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski first reported, and USA Today‘s Sam Amick confirmed. He’ll be replaced by assistant coach Tyrone Corbin on an interim basis. There was a clash over playing style between GM Pete D’Alessandro and Malone, who were hired in the reverse order by headstrong owner Vivek Ranadive. The news has surprised most NBA watchers, who were impressed by the way the Kings were playing with DeMarcus Cousins before he went down with viral meningitis.
According to a “high ranking Kings source” who spoke with Woj, it’s unlikely Ranadive and D’Alessandro will replace Corbin before the end of the season, but “people with knowledge of the situation” tell Amick, “the Kings are expected to eventually hire a new coach.”
Whether Corbin gets all season or just a week to coach the Kings before George Karl, or Vinny Del Negro — both of whom are said to be in the running to replace Corbin — take over, is up in the air, as is the reasoning behind the decision.
Malone was 9-6 with the Kings when Boogie was healthy, with big wins over the Bulls, Spurs, and Clippers:
The star and coach also seemed to have developed a rapport after Cousins has feuded with coaches — primarily DMC’s rookie coach Paul Westphal — during his four plus seasons in Sacramento.
Acording to reports, Malone wanted to play a more traditional style, while Vivek and D’Alessandro wanted a faster, more up-tempo attack, which doesn’t really gel with Sac-town’s personnel — they have the best low-post scorer in the game. Here’s Woj on the roiling friction between the front office and Malone, and how the current losing streak — with Boogie trying to get back on the court — was the excuse they needed to terminate him:
There has been significant tension between management and Malone on several fronts over the past year, and the firing ultimately turned out to be another cautionary tale in what happens when ownership doesn’t put together management and coaching staffs that have similar philosophies and a shared partnership.
Owner Vivek Ranadive has wanted the Kings to play a faster style of basketball, and D’Alessandro – who has worked with Don Nelson in Golden State and Karl in Denver – has sought a similar style. Ranadive has been a hands-on owner and expected the Kings to compete for the playoffs this season.
Over the summer, Malone, who had been hired before D’Alessandro on June 3, 2013, had believed that a slow start could cost him his job, league sources said. Management interviewed candidates for his top assistant job, but Malone ultimately hired his preferred candidate, Corbin, the ex-Utah Jazz coach. Malone doesn’t believe Corbin undermined him, sources said.
Ailene Voisin of the Sacramento Bee agrees with Wojnarowski’s report that the Malone firing was a difference of opinion over style of play:
Malone was Vivek’s first hire before bringing on Pete D’Alessandro as GM. Usually, a franchise will hire the general manager first, who will then participate in the vetting process for a new coach.
Malone didn’t agree with Sacramento’s flirtation with trading for Detroit’s Josh Smith in July. Malone was right, the deal woud have been a headache and it was Detroit who nixed the talks, according to Woj:
It also seems management wasn’t happy with Malone’s player development, game plans and adjustments, though all of that sounds like window dressing:
If the Kings don’t have a new coach ready to hire, like Karl, the timing just doesn’t make sense, as Voisin tweets:
While it’s unclear a Vinny Del Negro or Karl hiring will happen during the season, the Bay Area News Group’s Marcus Thompson mentions how close Warriors executive and former player Chris Mullin is with fellow Brooklyn and St. John’s alum, Mark Jackson:
As Woj and Amick both note, the news of the ouster stunned a lot of NBA heads, but the tension between D’Alessandro and Malone had been building since they had little communication over the offseason.
The Kings had won just 28 games the last two years, but a 9-6 start made it seem like they were possibly headed for a playoff spot in the loaded West. And the losing over the last couple weeks — dropping seven of their last nine — is easily explained by Cousins’ absence. Still, Malone is gone and now Corbin — who said he’s willing to implement management’s up-tempo style — will have a chance to run the team like management wants.
Malone had his first three years of his $9.4 million contract guaranteed, and a team option for the 2016-17 season, so they’re paying him not to coach the next two years.
Perhaps the worst part about this is the possibility they’ll hire Vinny Del Negro, an inept play-caller who has struggled with the white board in his two previous stops as an NBA coach.
VDN got Chicago to play .500 ball in consecutive seasons before getting bounced in the first round of the playoffs. After Del Negro was let go in 2010, Tom Thiobdeau turned Chicago into the top seed in the East the next two seasons and got them to the Eastern Conference Finals in his first year.
But Vinny caught on in LA with the Clippers that same summer, and led them to the second round of the playoffs in his first season as head coach with a newly acquired Chris Paul. The Clippers didn’t get out of the first round the next season, and it was obvious they looked like a stronger group, especially out of timeouts, after they terminated Del Negro and hired Doc Rivers before the start of last season.
From an X’s and O’s standpoint, Vinny Del Negro is a downgrade from Mike Malone, even though Malone was in his first head coaching position.
Good or bad move?
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