Ailene Voisin

Opinion: Sacramento Kings-Michael Malone union never had a chance

Kings head coach Michael Malone pleads with an official during the game between the Sacramento Kings and the Orlando Magic at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento on Friday, December 5, 2014.
Kings head coach Michael Malone pleads with an official during the game between the Sacramento Kings and the Orlando Magic at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento on Friday, December 5, 2014. rbenton@sacbee.com

Michael Malone was doomed from the start.

Incoming Kings principal owner Vivek Ranadive – one of the three individuals (along with David Stern and Kevin Johnson) who rescued the franchise from the clutches of prospective buyers in Anaheim, San Jose, Las Vegas, Virginia Beach and, most dramatically, Seattle – bought the team on May 31, 2013, and had less than a month to prepare for the NBA Lottery.

So what did Ranadive do? He asked Jerry West to take over his franchise, and when West opted to remain as a consultant with the Golden State Warriors and recommended Malone as a head coach, he bought in. He was sold. And that was his mistake.

Owners hire general managers. General managers hire coaches. And the front office that Ranadive methodically assembled weeks later, the one headed by Pete D’Alessandro, Chris Mullin and Mike Bratz, with strong influence from Mitch Richmond and minority owner Shaquille O’Neal, agree with Malone on only one thing: The ball is round.

Malone sees defense; they see offense.

Malone leans on isolations and half-court sets (like most young coaches); they wanted movement, a faster tempo, more creativity, more passing, more attributes consistent with the modern game.

In essence, this was a shotgun wedding, an arranged marriage, a rookie-rookie union, and it had no chance of longevity. This doesn’t mean Malone, who was fired abruptly late Sunday, can’t be a successful NBA head coach. But it placed him in an untenable situation. How was he to know his incoming bosses preferred Mozart to Stravinsky? Listened to one tempo while his headphones sang in a slower, more deliberate voice?

And, deep down, bosses always want to hire their own people. That’s reality in the real world and in professional sports.

Despite the Kings’ recent struggles, and even among players who disagreed with some of his decisions, Malone was well-respected. He will resurface. He never lost his locker room. He was perceived as a straight shooter who, more than most of his predecessors, implemented a work ethic and held his stars, among them DeMarcus Cousins, accountable.

Cousins was – and is – the key. He is a monster talent and emerging superstar, and while Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski and USA Basketball czar Jerry Colangelo’s influence on the fifth-year center at the FIBA World Cup last summer could prove to be the career-changer, Malone formed a strong, enduring relationship with the oft-maligned center. That should not be forgotten. Cousins became a better player and more mature presence under Malone’s tutelage.

Of courses, coaches get hired and fired annually. They win and they lose, and when they lose eight of 10 games, as have the Kings – and most of them at home – trouble looms. It’s always about timing.

But Malone’s firing is questionable for several reasons. Cousins is sick. The organization is retiring the jersey of former Kings small forward Peja Stojakovic Tuesday night. Vlade Divac, Doug Christie, Bobby Jackson, Scot Pollard are in town for the festivities.

Really? Sunday night? Couldn’t wait a few days?

Couldn’t Ranadive and his advisers feel the pulse of the community?

Well, it’s only Monday morning. There must be more to this than simply giving Tyrone Corbin another chance to establish his bona fides as a head coach. The Kings have been a testing ground for young, talented, but unproven head coaches for far too long.

Call The Bee’s Ailene Voisin, (916) 321-1208.

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