Tyrone Corbin has an impossible job. He is like the substitute teacher sent into a middle school classroom without a lesson plan or any assurance of permanent employment. The kids smell blood, morph into sharks, and start throwing erasers around in an utterly chaotic, dysfunctional and familiar scene.
So far, the Kings haven’t tossed erasers, chairs, desks or computers, at least not that we know.
But the fallout from the Dec. 14 firing of Michael Malone – the timing of the decision, followed by management’s disagreement regarding a successor, followed by a collective team funk – keeps dumping debris around the premises. Kings management committed not one, not two, but three head-scratching blunders these past three weeks.
The first was dismissing Malone while his best player was sidelined because of viral meningitis, and doing so within hours of Peja Stojakovic’s jersey retirement ceremony and close to the holidays. The second was totally botching the one obvious fix: explaining that the simmering rift between Malone and general manager Pete D’Alessandro was unresolvable and then immediately introducing George Karl as the successor.
But the Kings can’t agree on anything these days, as we continue to learn, and the inability to trot out an accomplished, high-profile coach has done nothing to quell the angry fan base or the disgruntled mood in the locker room. And by the way, Karl has beaten cancer twice; he doesn’t need this nonsense. He can continue to watch the Kings’ owners and executives squirm from afar – those who feared him and those who didn’t – and when another franchise approaches, he can sit back, exhale gratefully, and send condolences to Corbin.
Meantime, there is the third strike. Once the decision was made to fire Malone, pass on Karl, and table the coaching situation until the offseason, the players needed to hear that Corbin was their coach, period. Not an interim coach for two days, two weeks, two months. Their coach. Period.
Instead, with the owners and front office folks pointing fingers and engaging in a private blame game, clearly shocked by the negative player reaction to the coaching change, Corbin himself revealed he was signed for the rest of the season.
Tough, tough job. With the Kings back from their bruising four-game trip and opening a six-game homestand tonight against Oklahoma City, Corbin is still searching for an emotional light switch. Offense, defense. Faster pace, fewer turnovers. New this, new that. But those are among the least of his concerns.
His team is 3-7 since he took over, his players alternately disengaged, demoralized and resentful that he’s not Malone, and thus far unwilling to give him a chance. A running game? A more creative offensive scheme? Right now, the Kings are sleepwalking their way toward another appearance in the draft lottery.
“We are where we are,” Corbin said after practice Tuesday. “We are where we’ve been. When you go through adversity … it shows your character, who you are. Do you fight your way through it? Do you separate and pick and choose things? Or do you stay together and fight and see if you can work things out?”
The operative term here is “if.” Corbin has been in the neighborhood a long time. He played for nine teams before becoming an assistant in Utah and replacing Jazz icon Jerry Sloan in February 2011. There isn’t much he hasn’t seen or experienced. He was there when Sloan wearied of his feuds with point guard Deron Williams and walked off the job. He was there, too, when Jazz management promptly shipped Williams to the Nets.
“This is a different situation,” Corbin noted with a half-laugh. “(I) had been there (in Utah) for 61/2 years when that (Sloan departure) happened. This is completely new. The whole dynamic of the process is different. It’s a lot of juggling as we move forward.”
While the answers are elusive, and players and their emotions surprisingly fragile, the job for now is his. His challenge is to somehow reverse the slide, to somehow pull DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay, Darren Collison out of the abyss, to somehow salvage something of a season.
Daunting, improbable, perhaps even impossible. But winning streaks change everything. Winning streaks also keep coaches employed. That’s the game.
Call The Bee’s Ailene Voisin, (916) 321-1208.