Was the Sacramento Kings’ Decision to Fire Mike Malone a Good One?
In what is considered one of the most shocking decisions of the young NBA season, Mike Malone has somehow lost his job as the head coach of the Sacramento Kings despite exceeding expectations and getting the Kings to a respectable 11-13 start in the tough Western Conference.
Assistant coach Tyrone Corbin will assume interim-coach duties and will be afforded a chance to coach the Kings for the rest of the season.
There are a number of stories at play here, so we’ll try to address the big ones and find out what really matters: was it a good decision?
The Sacramento Kings hired Mike Malone at the beginning of last season when Vivek Ranadivé bought the club. Jared Dubin reported last night that Ranadivé had actually hired Malone before he bought the Kings. That’s certainly odd and seems a bit unpractical, especially considering that Ranadivé didn’t hire a general manager until later on. Usually, NBA teams tend to hire GMs first and then work as a team to evaluate and choose a coach. That was the first thing that struck me as odd, but the decisions continue to get more and more interesting.
Some sources are citing philosophical differences between GM Pete D’Alessandro and Malone, which sounds similar to why Golden State fired Mark Jackson last summer, despite the team’s successes. Wojnarowski reported that D’Alessandro and Ranadivé were seeking a fast-pace passing style and that Malone wanted to grind games out, which resulted in the Kings being ranked 16th in pace.
Ranadivé has also wanted a passing style similar to the San Antonio Spurs model, but Malone’s team ranked 17th in passes per game. Those aren’t the only issues, though.
The Kings are also very committed to analytics, which generally support a high rate of three-pointers and free-throws. Malone’s Kings ranked second-to-last in three-point attempts, but it’s hard to blame Malone for that considering the team’s best players are DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay. They also ranked first in free-throw attempts. First. Considering the personnel, Malone has thrives in getting the most in the categories that matter to the front office.
Mike Malone went 28-54 with the Kings last season, but there were actually some positive signs in Sacramento. For one, he was getting a lot out of mid-season trade acquisition Rudy Gay. Cousins also seemed to be hitting his stride finally, and despite his behavior, he was playing fantastic basketball. Even though that didn’t account to wins, it was hard to blame Malone for winning only 28 games with that roster.
This season was an entirely different story. Malone lead the Kings to a 9-5 start that then turned into 11-13 after Cousins suffered from a virus. The team currently sits at a winning percentage not achieved since the 2007-08 season and is showing signs of improvement day in and day out. In just two years, Malone has reached a level of success not seen for over six years.
It’s not just the improvement that’s a positive. Malone has crushed everyone’s expectations, including ours.
We expected the Kings to win 35 games this season, and we were being generous compared to others. Many expected the Kings to be worst team in the Western Conference alongside the Los Angeles Lakers. That hasn’t been the case at all, and Sacramento was on pace to win 53 games before DeMarcus Cousins went down.
As of December 15, the Kings ranked 15th in the league in nERD, which is how our algorithms predict winning percentage. Their nERD of 50.0 projected them to be a .500 team, which is significantly better than 35 wins.
Under Malone, the Kings were overachieving, and there’s really no debating that, according to our analytics.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski, Kings management has even higher expectations for the team, and that’s the primary reason for Malone being fired, but it’s hard to blame him for their record dropping when their best player has been out for more than a week. Management wants the Kings to be in playoff contention, but considering we had their playoff chances at less than 20% at the beginning of the season, we’d consider 11-13 to be overachieving for sure.
Where to Next?
The big question for the Kings now is who will be their next coach. Reports have put George Karl and Vinny Del Negro in the conversation, but the Kings insist they won’t hire a replacement until the offseason.
The biggest task now will be keeping Cousins happy. As Jason Jones reported last night, Cousins was one of Malone’s biggest supporters, and the news might not go well with him. While keeping Cousins happy, the Kings must also find a replacement and find him fast because the fans won’t be happy with Ty Corbin leading the team if Corbin’s past is any indication. This decision will be judged by the Kings’ success in the future, but considering Malone’s over-achievement, we don’t think it will go down in history as a good one.