Ailene Voisin

Opinion: Michael Malone’s ouster was fated from the start

Interim coach Tyrone Corbin, left, and general manager Pete D’Alessandro prepare to talk about the Kings’ coaching change Monday – the day after Michael Malone was fired. Corbin, the former head coach of the Utah Jazz, was added to the staff in the offseason.
Interim coach Tyrone Corbin, left, and general manager Pete D’Alessandro prepare to talk about the Kings’ coaching change Monday – the day after Michael Malone was fired. Corbin, the former head coach of the Utah Jazz, was added to the staff in the offseason. hamezcua@sacbee.com

The square peg in the round hole doesn’t work anywhere, and certainly not in sports. Ask Jim Harbaugh. Ask former Warriors coach Mark Jackson. Ask Michael Malone, and frankly, the ex-Kings head coach probably will say he read the tea leaves and predicted his fate months ago.

The owner hired the coach. Then the owner hired the general manager.

Now, in the creative, innovative, ever-evolving world of high tech, maybe unconventional introductions succeed. But in the NBA – in most of pro sports, really – opposites rarely attract and almost never collaborate. The getting-to-know-you process is a precondition for long-term success and stability, for the slightest whiff of title contention.

But this was an arranged marriage without the honeymoon, without a chance, with the divorce papers always within reach.

Malone preaches defense, and his ex-bosses obsess about offense. All of them. A rookie when he was hired, Malone was outflanked before his first game. While general manager Pete D’Alessandro said he made the call to replace Malone with Tyrone Corbin on an interim basis, the Kings think tank is a crowded, powerful and surprisingly cohesive squad; this was no one-man decision.

Starting at the top, managing partner Vivek Ranadive and Mark Mastrov, the influential minority owner who seldom misses a game, want the team to reflect the Kings of old – of Vlade Divac, Chris Webber, Peja Stojakovic, Doug Christie, Mike Bibby – or the Golden State Warriors of the new age. D’Alessandro and executives Mike Bratz and Chris Mullin, joined by adviser Mitch Richmond and part-owner Shaquille O’Neal, swap horror stories about the Kings’ chronic tendency to overdribble, to stand around, to treat the extra pass like a contagious terminal illness; the Kings again rank last in assists.

“It’s just about how we play,” D’Alessandro explained Monday. “Philosophical differences. That’s really what it comes down to. Who do we want to be? What is our identity? What is the next phase? Where are we going from here? Is this the coach (Malone) to take us to the next level? We felt, no, that at this time, for phase two, we want to go in a different direction.”

Other factors most assuredly influenced the move that team officials had been contemplating for weeks, among them: declining attendance figures; depleted energy and excitement within Sleep Train Arena that management attributes to sluggish style of play; disappointing homecourt losses to teams with inferior talent; and a current skid (eight losses in 10 games) that coincides with DeMarcus Cousins’ absence because of viral meningitis.

After Monday’s practice, Cousins appeared slightly fatigued and visibly saddened. The fifth-year veteran, who clashed with his previous coaches, reiterated his fondness for Malone, whom he describes as a close friend and “straight shooter,” and credits with accelerating his development into an All-Star-caliber center.

The media availability, in fact, was far from a dump-on-Malone session. D’Alessandro praised his ex-coach for his exhaustive work ethic, improving the defense and maintaining solid relationships with his players, particularly Cousins. Additionally, the GM noted that Malone helped stabilize a franchise confronting enormous challenges when the sale from the Maloofs to the Ranadive-led group was finalized on May 31, 2013. The building was filthy. The sales force was depleted. The basketball operations offices had more empty boxes than employees.

Yet in his haste to prepare for the NBA draft, which was only three weeks away, Ranadive made a doozy of a rookie blunder. Instead of hiring a GM and empowering his top executive to assemble a coaching staff that embraced a similar approach to the game, the Silicon Valley tycoon rushed to sign Malone, a former Warriors assistant whom he knew from their time together in Oakland.

The philosophical differences – yes, that phrase again – surfaced early last season. The sluggish tempo and familiar one-on-one style elicited murmurs of concern from the new owners and front-office executives, with the relationships notably strained by the Feb. 15-17 All-Star festivities.

Asked that weekend to address the obvious tension within his organization during an interview with The Bee, Ranadive responded candidly:

“Look, I know people talk about that my coach is always focusing on defense, while guys like Mullie (Chris Mullin) and Petey (D’Alessandro) are offense-oriented. It’s no secret the game has become an offensive game, with three-point shots, layups, the rule changes. We all see it. So we have to reconcile that. And I think it’s good. If I had everyone who agreed, why would I want them?”

Sounded great at the time, didn’t it? But lest anyone forget, basketball is a team sport. If the coach is dribbling toward one basket while the owners and front-office executives are streaking the other direction, the end game is lose-lose. That, unfortunately, had become the Kings.

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

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