Even when the Kings started the season 5-1, coach Michael Malone may as well have been packing up his office.
His team came out hard-nosed, playing aggressive defense while scoring just enough to win five consecutive games.
Then things got tougher. Center DeMarcus Cousins got sick, and Malone was told his services were no longer wanted. The team fired him Sunday night.
The decision came down to philosophical differences, Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro said Monday.
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Malone was a coaching disciple of defensive-minded Jeff Van Gundy and Malone’s father, Brendan, an assistant with the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons when they won NBA championships in 1989 and 1990.
But defense is not what the front office or ownership wants to sell to fans.
“It wasn’t about wins and losses,” D’Alessandro said. “I didn’t really care about what our record was. It’s about who we want to be, what we want our identity to be as a team.”
That vision is a team that plays a fast-paced offensive style Tyrone Corbin will try to implement as interim coach.
D’Alessandro would like to see the Kings play like the Rick Adelman-coached Sacramento teams more than a decade ago, when they piled up wins with a dynamic offense – especially with the new downtown arena expected to open in 2016.
“What we’re trying to do is put a style in that reflects the Sacramento fan base, which to us is a free-flowing, up-and-down style of play,” D’Alessandro said. “That’s what we’re striving for; we have time now to install it before we get there. I think it’s going to ignite the arena when we’re playing with the style of play we intend to play with.”
Now the questions are whether the Kings, 11-13 overall and 2-7 without Cousins, have the players to make that style work and direct the team long term.
D’Alessandro wouldn’t commit to Corbin for the rest of the season, though he said Corbin has his support. The Kings are interested in veteran coach George Karl, an analyst for ESPN who was fired by Denver following the 2012-13 season, according to league sources. D’Alessandro worked with Karl in Denver.
Chris Mullin, a Hall of Fame player and an adviser to primary owner Vivek Ranadive, might be interested in the job, league sources said.
Until a permanent coach is hired, Corbin will have the challenge of changing the team’s style.
“It’s so new right now,” Corbin said. “I’m just trying to weather the storm right now and get these guys ready to play a game (Tuesday) .”
The Kings’ style will change gradually, Corbin said.
“Faster pace, more movement in our offense, and I believe we’ll still have the same defensive schemes,” Cousins said.
Entering Monday’s games, the Kings were tied for last in the NBA in assists (19.5 per game) and tied for 21st in three-point shooting (33.1 percent). Teams that play D’Alessandro’s preferred style, such as Golden State and San Antonio, boast depth, plenty of scorers and experience playing together.
“I think we have some pieces on this roster that are very much suited for this style of play,” D’Alessandro said. “I think everyone can run; I really believe that. I don’t care who you are in this league – you can run because it’s a mindset.”
That includes Cousins, who previous coaches said is not suited for an up-tempo style. Cousins is one of the league’s premier post players, and a style that allows him to control the flow would seem to fit him best.
The same could be said for forward Rudy Gay, who recently signed a three-year, $40 million contract extension.
Opposing coaches this season have described Sacramento as a physical team that is at its best when Cousins and Gay overpower opponents. But Kings management believes the team can run, and do it now.
Corbin cautioned that drastic changes will not happen overnight and said there are times Cousins (6-foot-11, 270 pounds) might need to catch up with a frenetic pace.
“At times, he’s getting down the floor quickly; at times, he’s not. So how do we function in those times?” Corbin said.
TYRONE CORBIN AT A GLANCE
▪ Age: 51; born Dec. 31, 1962, in Columbia, S.C.
▪ College: DePaul; averaged 11.5 points in 120 games over four seasons.
▪ Drafted: San Antonio, 11th pick of second round, 1985.
▪ NBA career: The 6-foot-6 forward played for nine teams in 16 seasons, including part of the 1995-96 and 1999-2000 seasons with the Kings; averaged 9.2 points and 4.7rebounds in 26 minutes per game.
▪ Coaching career: Hired as Kings assistant coach on July 13; coached for the Utah Jazz for 10 seasons, including 31/2 as head coach (2011-14, 112-146 record); Jazz was swept in first round in Corbin’s only playoff appearance.
KINGS COACHES DURING SACRAMENTO ERA
Rick Adelman (1998-2006): 395-229 (.633); 34-35 in playoffs
Reggie Theus (2007-08): 44-62 (.415)
Garry St. Jean (1992-97): 159-236 (.402); 1-3 in playoffs
Eric Musselman (2006-07): 33-49 (.402)
Phil Johnson (1985-87): 51-77 (.398); 0-3 in playoffs
Rex Hughes (1992): 22-35 (.386)
Michael Malone (2013-14): 39-67 (.368)
Eddie Jordan (1997-98): 33-64 (.340)
Keith Smart (2012-13): 48-93 (.340)
Jerry Reynolds (1987, 1988, 1989-90): 56-114 (.330)
Paul Westphal (2009-11): 51-119 (.300)
Dick Motta (1990-91): 48-113 (.298)
Bill Russell (1987-88): 17-41 (.293)
Kenny Natt (2008-09): 11-47 (.190)