Life is about timing, instinct, intuition, seizing opportunity. Same for sports. So given all that has transpired these past few weeks, particularly these past few days, the Kings’ brain trust shouldn’t need a playbook, an analytics crash course or a psych evaluation to make the wise move, the strong move, the obvious move.
In the aftermath of Michael Malone’s abrupt firing, the players are one greasy, traumatized mess, in desperate need of direction, structure, emotional stability and, most importantly, a powerful and established presence to convince them the sky isn’t falling, the roof isn’t caving, the locker room isn’t imploding.
This is about seizing one of those rare, big-time opportunities. There is one elite, accomplished coach available, and for the first time in almost two decades, the organization should act decisively before another franchise poaches Karl, currently wasting his time analyzing the NBA on ESPN instead of teaching DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay, Darren Collison and Ben McLemore, among others, how to run a fast break, how to space the floor, how to improve their conditioning, how to play the right way and start to move the needle in a favorable direction.
Most impressively, perhaps, Karl looks at his rosters and maximizes his talent; historically, his teams both overachieve and entertain.
Folks, this is the home run. Fastball, belt-high, middle of the plate. On so many levels, hiring the charismatic Karl immediately makes almost too much sense, is almost too brilliant in its simplicity.
But let’s start at the beginning and the rotten timing of Malone’s firing. In truth, Malone was not long for the job. Defense-oriented, methodical and brutally candid, he was coming off a 28-win season and out of rhythm with his management team. He said Beatles, they said Rolling Stones. He often disagreed with his bosses on personnel and style of play, and though he talked about faster tempo and fewer isolations, he struggled with the transition while his team failed to capitalize on a favorable, home court-heavy December schedule.
While his allies within the organization dwindled, Malone’s strained relationship with general manager Pete D’Alessandro, whose roster overhaul included giving extensions to Cousins and Gay and upgrading at point guard with Collison, became nearly nonexistent. The coach and general manager went the past several months without speaking.
Yet for all of the obvious organizational improvements, everything from cleaning up the building to placing the shovel in the ground for the new arena, Malone’s firing is the Vivek Ranadive regime’s first Big Botch for a number of reasons, most related to timing.
The Kings’ December skid is partly attributable to Cousins’ 10-game absence because of viral meningitis. When the emotional young center heard about the coaching change, he said he felt guilty and partly to blame, as if it was his fault he became ill.
He wasn’t alone. The locker room is a toxic mess, if a united mess. On the court, the players are bickering, visibly unsettled and demoralized; they liked and respected Malone, and more than one veteran suggested the second-year coach deserved at least a few more weeks – with his star center back – to kick-start the season before getting kicked to the curb.
The formal announcement of Malone’s demise hinted at a front office more tone deaf than attentive to its audience. The formal media sessions, for instance, took place Tuesday, overshadowing the retiring of the No. 16 jersey worn by Peja Stojakovic, who remains immensely popular in the community. Later that night, interim coach Tyrone Corbin was surrounded and pummeled with questions about his future.
Corbin already knows the answer. He is not a long-termer. Members of the front office are in the process of making a list, checking it twice, and trying to find out who fits their own characterization of “the home run.”
Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famers Larry Brown, Jerry Sloan and Don Nelson are too old. Ranadive, the former Warriors minority owner, has noted the success of coaching neophytes Mark Jackson, Steve Kerr, Jason Kidd and Larry Bird, and he has lobbied team adviser Chris Mullin to consider the job.
There are a few things to note, however. Jackson (Warriors), Kerr (Warriors), Kidd (Nets) and Bird (Pacers) inherited terrific teams. Think Derek Fisher (Knicks) wouldn’t swap seats with Kerr?
Yet if Ranadive is determined to lure Mullin from the East Bay, and Mullin is intrigued enough to alter his lifestyle, the only way this remotely makes sense would be for the Hall of Fame forward to move to the bench immediately and hire his old coach and one-time mentor, 74-year-old Nelson, as a sort of temp head coach. In April, Nellie’s gig would be up; it would all fall on Mullin.
But that’s another gamble and, while intriguing, it’s far from the best move. Been there, done that. Since Rick Adelman’s departure in 2006, the Kings’ head coaching position has been one protracted, Job Corps experiment. With the exception of Paul Westphal, coaches were hired on potential rather than experience, profile or previous accomplishment.
Eric Musselman. Reggie Theus. Kenny Natt. Keith Smart. Malone. Corbin.
These are all bright, talented men. Mullin, an original Dream Teamer, a Hall of Famer, a basketball Mozart, could prove to be a coaching genius. Who knows?
But Kings fans have a right to know. They deserve their shot at a coaching superstar, and there he sits, in front of his microphone, a coach who missed the playoffs only twice in 25 years, guided the Seattle SuperSonics to the 1995-96 NBA Finals and was a vocal, impassioned advocate for keeping the Kings in Sacramento.
Karl has been to hell and back – he beat cancer twice – and has coached overseas and in the now-defunct Continental Basketball Association. He is an offensive innovator who coaches defense, who shares philosophies with Kings executives, worked well in Denver with D’Alessandro and Mike Bratz and has coaxed and coexisted with difficult personalities (Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp). He also is strong-willed, demanding, outspoken and a little crazy, as are all elite coaches.
But there isn’t an NBA owner who hasn’t committed a rookie blunder, either, or who isn’t familiar with the term eccentric. The special owners are the ones who clean up their own messes. If you fire Malone this early in a season, with your talent level improving, you have a plan, you have an upgrade.
This is almost too easy. And by the way? Karl wants the job, badly.
Call The Bee’s Ailene Voisin, (916) 321-1208.