It’s as close as a done deal as it can get, so I guess it’s safe to say this – the Sacramento Kings are changing coaches for the second time in the 2014-2015 season.
Unlike the unceremonious and unexpected coaching turnover in December, however, this change should be a significant upgrade.
George Karl, who had been working as an analyst for ESPN since his last coaching gig with the Denver Nuggets ended in 2013, is set to become the team’s newest head coach after the All-Star Break. Corbin has likely coached his final game as head coach, earlier tonight against the Milwaukee Bucks – a game they lost 103-111.
The details of the deal have yet to be disclosed, but reports say it will be in the five-year range, worth upwards of $4 million per year. (UPDATE 2/12/15: The deal is reportedly for 4 years and $15 million.) The formal announcement will likely be in the coming days, but the deal is all but official.
The head coach ordeal started when owner Vivek Ranadive and GM Pete D’Alessandro decided to let go of Malone, who had held the position for a little over a season. He started the 2014-2015 season with a middling record of 11-13, but the team – especially franchise C DeMarcus Cousins – seemed to be responding well to Malone, in a sign of continuity for the squad. That didn’t stop the front office from getting rid of him for “philosophical differences,” and Corbin, an assistant at the time, was tapped to replace him.
From there, the Kings essentially went into a nosedive, winning only 7 of their last 28 games with Corbin at the helm. All the while, apparently, D’Alessandro was in contact with Karl, both of whom worked together during their time in Denver.
Now, the Kings, in response to a fan base already feeling like the franchise was directionless after the Malone firing, will have a head coach who currently has the sixth-most wins in NBA history (1,131) and a quarter-century worth of NBA head coaching experience under his belt. But, considering how this whole thing was handled, there have been many critics of the Kings’ front office, the franchise, and even their franchise player in Cousins. So, what to make of all this?
The Kings Front Office: Crazy or Crazy Like a Fox? Throughout this entire ordeal, Ranadive and D’Alessandro have been put through the wringer for making moves that seemingly made no sense for the team’s progression into a possible playoff contender.
After all, when they moved to fire Malone after 24 games, it seemingly came out of nowhere. There wasn’t any indication that Malone’s job security was in jeopardy, but, there he was, on the unemployment line after an 11-13 start – one that precipitated from a respectable 9-5 record after November 25. It was an unorthodox move, to say the least, and the front office was criticized for it.
This was coming off the heels of Ranadive expressing interest in a “cherry-picking” defensive strategy (a 4-on-5 defensive scheme that left one player on their offensive side of the court) – an idea that was insane by any professional basketball metric standard. This was coming off rumors that they wanted to trade away cheap-yet-productive Darren Collison for an overpaid, over-the-hill Deron Williams. And that’s not even mentioning the way they treated Corbin – a guy who probably wasn’t ready for a sport like the one he was forced into – throughout the whole process.
But, in the end, they pulled off what looks like a boon in the coaching department – a proven producer of improved teams that wanted to come back to the NBA. Maybe they aren’t as crazy as they look in the scope of the national media.
That doesn’t mean they should employ that cherry-picking scheme, though. That’s just nuts.
Malone & Corbin: Pawns in the Kings’ Ultimate Gambit? Needless to say, if people are looking at the Kings’ front office as the bad guys in this whole mess of a season thus far, Mike Malone and Tyrone Corbin were obviously the ne’er-do-well victims. After all, they were just trying to do their jobs, in slowly improving a Kings team without a competent bench, but with talent in the starting lineup they could work with.
If anything, both of them got jobbed – Malone got his head chopped off without so much as a warning that the ax was heading in his general direction; and Corbin was given a team on its way down, with no help whatsoever from his superiors – all despite the front office essentially giving him the impression that he would be head coach for the rest of the season, lifting his “interim” tag at the end of the 2014 calendar year. It was enough for Detroit Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy to blast the Kings for their handling of Corbin.
Ultimately, to say that the front office could have handled this better is the understatement of the year. Getting a guy like Karl into the Kings’ coaching fold, however, is something that cannot be ignored – to me, at the very least, this hiring looks as good as the Maloofs and Geoff Petrie hiring another successful coach coming off retirement more than 16 years ago.
“Golden Age” Kings fans may remember him as Rick Adelman. This hire looks just as good.
The DeMarcus Cousins “Controversy.” One of the things that bothered me most about how this situation was handled was the narrative surrounding the controversial 6’11” All-Star center. After all, after initial reports of the Kings’ wooing Karl came out, talk of a deal being held up by Cousins’ agents expressing their opposition to the move made Cousins to look like the bad guy.
The flames stemming from those rumors were further fanned by what the media called “cryptic” post-game comments, after Cousins hit a game-winning shot to beat the Phoenix Suns on Monday:
Cousins clarified his position in an effort to quell the rumors, despite his hesitance out of respect of Corbin’s recently-confirmed lame-duck status:
I don’t fire coaches or hire them. Everyone knows I liked and respected Coach [Michael] Malone. I didn’t want [Malone’s firing in December] to happen. I’m not involved in any coaching decisions right now. I’ve heard that George Karl is a great coach. If that is the direction that the organization chooses, I’ll support it. Out of respect for Coach [Tyrone] Corbin, I hadn’t planned on making any comments about what is rumored out there. But at this point I felt some things needed to be clarified.
The fact that he had to defend himself speaks to the perpetuated image he possesses, both on and off the court (though, through some fault of his own) – an image that will continue to haunt him until he can show continued maturity as he comes into his own as a projected leader of the team. It will certainly be a perceived challenge Karl will face heading into his first games as the Kings head coach.
What Will Karl Bring to the Kings? So, after all this, what can the Sacramento Kings expect with their newly-minted head coach coming out of the All-Star break? After all, the guy didn’t win over 1,100 games by accident. But this is also a team that is essentially incomplete, from a personnel standpoint.
Well, first they can expect a pace that will likely utilize the team’s overall speed. Cousins is one of the fastest and most agile big men in the game, and Karl will take that into consideration when working on an offensive game-plan that will likely be centered on the former Kentucky Wildcat. According to an ESPN coaching profile, Karl has a “random basketball” philosophy that relies on a core of “30 free throws, 30 layups and 30 assists.” If this loose system of offense can be utilized and perfected in the second half of the season, the Kings will certainly have something to work with going into the 2015 offseason.
Karl’s system and coaching style will definitely provide structure to a team still in flux, figuring itself out in terms of how to function, as well as how to win. If all goes well – in this team’s best-case scenario – the Kings will win more games than they lose for the rest of the season. And if D’Alessandro can make some maneuvers to bring in more productive players for their bench, Sacramento might see the postseason in their sights for the first time since 2005.