Sacramento Kings

October 29, 2013

Ailene Voisin: Malone takes his turn on NBA hot seat

Michael Malone has been around long enough to recite the drill. If the team wins, the head coach is a genius. If the team loses, the head coach is soon to be unemployed.

Michael Malone has been around long enough to recite the drill. If the team wins, the head coach is a genius. If the team loses, the head coach is soon to be unemployed.

So is he a winner?

Sure. Maybe. Who knows?

While the Kings are on a roll – still in existence, remember – predicting whether an assistant will morph into a successful head coach is a little like preparing for the NBA draft. Owners and general managers can crunch the numbers until their computers freeze. They can consult friends, relatives, experts, Ouija boards. They can move quickly and rely on familiarity and gut instinct, as Kings majority owner Vivek Ranadive did when choosing the Kings' new head coach, or belabor the process and interview dozens of candidates.

But until the former assistant slides over to the hot seat, he's just another prospect approaching the opportunity of a lifetime, or perhaps, the only opportunity of a lifetime.

Malone, 42, doesn't need reminders: Father Brendan, a respected assistant who resigned last week after deciding he lacked the stamina for another season, has 27 years of NBA experience but only one tour as a head coach (expansion Toronto Raptors).

"I was blown away," Michael Malone said. "I said, 'Are you kidding me?' He didn't want to be a burden or a distraction, but he just couldn't do it, and as his son, I was totally supportive. Tomorrow is not promised to any of us."

Such is life in the NBA, a league of family ties, high intensity and even higher drama, nowhere more so than in Sacramento.

While Malone inherits a job with both unusual circumstances and the usual lottery-team-related issues – an unbalanced roster, too many guards, too little length, the challenge of coaxing an All-Star-caliber season out of a still-young DeMarcus Cousins – at least he won't have the Anaheim/Seattle/Las Vegas threat hanging over his head.

The conversation is back on point, as in, Greivis Vasquez or Isaiah Thomas? Who starts at shooting guard? Is there a more appreciative end-of-bench player than Hamady Ndiaye? And is it unreasonable to expect the Kings to reach the playoffs for the first time since Rick Adelman's departure in 2006?

Of course it is. Absolutely it is. Teams seldom make the leap from 28 victories to the playoffs.

Adelman's successors were burdened and distracted by the demise of the Maloofs' financial empire, the arena saga, repeated personnel mistakes and frequent disagreement in the front office about who should or should not be the Kings' head coach. Eric Musselman, Reggie Theus, Kenny Natt, Paul Westphal, Keith Smart. Who wanted whom anyway?

Malone starts with an advantage because he not only was selected by the owner, he was on the incoming general manager's short list when Pete D'Alessandro was still working for the Denver Nuggets and perusing head-coaching candidates.

None of this guarantees success, and even new owners who like their head coaches tend to love their new toys more; patience is rarely one of their virtues.

But there have been hints of progress throughout the preseason.

The maligned defense appears improved. Temper tantrums were limited and technicals nonexistent. Over-dribbling was minimal. Even the fast break was reintroduced with Vasquez throwing more outlet passes than any Kings guard since Doug Christie.

And Ranadive spent generously to provide Malone with a deep and experienced staff.

"We have a system," Cousins said bluntly. "Not everything is a pick and roll. He (Malone) knows what he wants, he knows what he expects, and he demands that we bring it. And I feel like he really what's the word? He connects with players."

Malone, trim and athletic with an almost-military bearing enhanced by his close-cropped hair, should never be confused with the touchy-feely type. He threatens to implode from intensity. After a turnover or missed assignment, he mutters to himself on the sideline. Other times, he will summon the offending player for an explanation, though noticeably placing his hand on a shoulder or an arm to keep the player attentive and engaged.

Married with two young daughters, the very mention of whom relaxes his features, Malone also lightens the mood at practices with joking asides, inquires about his players' lives and blurts out phrases in French or Spanish to the bilingual Vasquez, Luc Mbah a Moute or Ndiaye.

During casual conversations in his meticulously organized office, Malone speaks expansively and enthusiastically about his love of history, travel and languages and grins while revealing plans to become a secret agent if a coaching job hadn't materialized after college.

But this is Brendan Malone's son. He wants to coach. He always wanted to coach.

"The way Vivek came after me – so strongly felt like I was the guy – quite frankly was humbling," said Malone, a Warriors assistant during Ranadive's tenure as a minority owner with Golden State. "It really was. I realize there are only 30 of these jobs. Great owner, great fans. Staying in the area. It can only get better."

Call The Bee's Ailene Voisin, (916) 321-1208, and follow her on Twitter @ailene_voisin.

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