Mike Malone's Blueprint to Getting the Sacramento Kings Back to the Playoffs

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Mike Malone's Blueprint to Getting the Sacramento Kings Back to the Playoffs
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

Mike Malone had been itching for a head coaching job in the NBA. Now, he'll finally have his shot to shine, as the latest man charged with saving the Sacramento Kings.

Guiding the Kings back to the playoffs will be no easy task for Malone, a former assistant with the Golden State Warriors and the New Orleans Hornets. Sacramento has gone seven years without a postseason appearance, during which time, the team has collapsed into disrepair, if not outright despair, while losing more than 66 percent of its games.

Five coaches (including one interim) have tried to engineer a turnaround since Rick Adelman was let go in 2006. Reggie Theus came closest; his Kings went 38-44 in 2007-08, though he was fired the following year.

Of course, the failures of those coaches have everything to do with the toxic runoff that trickled down from the top of the organization.

The Maloofs, who owned a majority stake in the team, were hit hard by the economic downturn, but had shown only a fleeting interest in running things properly prior to the emergence of their financial troubles.

Geoff Petrie, once hailed as a front-office guru for the work he did constructing the Sacramento teams of the early 2000s, appeared to lose his Midas touch with each successive signing, pick and trade that went sour.

And so began a vicious cycle of losing, which begat a poor environment in which to develop players, which, in turn, begat even more losing and misery amongst the team's tired fan base.

Luckily for Malone, many of the remnants of Sacramento's dark days are gone. The Maloofs are no longer in charge, having sold their share of the Kings to Vivek Ranadive, a billionaire tech tycoon who provided the financial muscle to keep the team from fleeing to Seattle. Ranadive has already handed Petrie his walking paper, after nearly two decades on the job.

According to Dave Mason of CBS Sports 1140 in Sacramento, Ranadive has already reached out to one of the more important (and disgruntled) constituents of the Kings' locker room:

 

That doesn't mean the Kings are necessarily going to keep DeMarcus Cousins around. According to Sean Deveney of Sporting News, the new ownership has yet to decide on Boogies' future, though Malone figures to have plenty of input thereabouts. For what it's worth, Cousins says he wants to stay (via Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee):

 

That's a good sign for Sacramento, especially if Malone can keep Cousins in check. Talents like "Boogie" (i.e. a 6'11, 270-pound double-double machine through whom you can run your offense) don't grow on trees. It's imperative, then, that the new ownership and coaching staff gain Cousins' trust and respect from the outset—if a quick turnaround is in store, anyway.

As well it should, if history is any guide. Malone was brought in to replace Keith Smart, who has a track record of being ousted from soon-to-succeed situations. He was the interim coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers the year before they drafted LeBron James, and stewarded the Golden State Warriors just prior to Mark Jackson's arrival. By that logic, the Kings should be back in business under Malone in relatively short order.

Assuming Ranadive and the Kings bring in the right people to staff the rest of the franchise. At this point, that's no guarantee. According to ESPN's Marc Stein, former Boston Celtics and Memphis Grizzlies executive Chris Wallace is the leader in the clubhouse to become the next general manager in Sacramento, with Mike Dunleavy on deck for consideration.

Wallace did well to turn Pau Gasol into Marc Gasol and Quentin Richardson into Zach Randolph via trades during his days in Memphis, though his resume is littered with more than its fair share of red flags. Among his biggest blunders:

  • In February of 2002, he traded Joe Johnson, then a rookie, along with Milt Palacio, Randy Brown, and a first-round pick to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for Tony Delk and Rodney Rogers.
  • In July of that year, he traded for Shammond Williams and a washed-up Vin Baker.
  • At the 2008 NBA Draft, he swapped a package built around Kevin Love to the Minnesota Timberwolves for OJ Mayo, Antoine Walker, Greg Buckner and Marko Jaric.
  • In February of 2009, he traded away Kyle Lowry.
  • He spent the second pick in the 2009 NBA Draft on Hasheem Thabeet, thereby passing up (among others) James Harden, Stephen Curry, Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson, and Ricky Rubio.
  • In 2010, he inked Rudy Gay to a five-year, $82 million deal.

Then again, at least Wallace's work gave way to a team that's participated in the last three playoffs and made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals this year.

Mike Dunleavy had no such luck during his 17-month tenure in the Los Angeles Clippers' front office, which came toward the end of a failed stint on the sidelines. During that time, Dunleavy traded for Z-Bo and then dealt him away nine months later while overseeing a squad that won less than 30 percent of its games.

But hey, at least he nailed the No. 1 pick in 2009 by taking Blake Griffin...because that must've been a tough decision...

Or not.

In any case, it would behoove the Kings to bring in a smart, savvy GM rather than a retread with an uneven history.

To that effect, they're reportedly considering Warriors assistant GM Travis Schlenk, according to a report by Sam Amick of USA Today), who, like Malone, knows Ranadive from their days in Oakland. Pete D'Alessandro, a member of the Denver Nuggets' front office, might also get a look, according to Jason Jones.

Whoever ends up calling the shots above Malone would do well to avoid filling the Kings' roster with more shoot-first gunners.

Sacramento already employs plenty of players of that ilk, including Marcus Thornton, John Salmons, Jimmer Fredette and Isaiah Thomas. They also parted ways with Aaron Brooks shortly after bringing him back stateside from China and may well cut ties with Tyreke Evans, the former Rookie of the Year, who's set for restricted free agency this summer.

Which is why it's so strange that the Kings are apparently eying Monta Ellis. According to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports, Ellis may well decline his $11 million player option with the Milwaukee Bucks for 2013-14.

If he does, Ellis could seek a return to northern California to play for Malone, for whom Monta has tremendous respect from the time the two spent together with the Warriors during the 2011-12 campaign.

Ellis is practically the "poster child" for chuckery, as Grantland's Zach Lowe discussed back in November.

On the whole, Ellis' performance has declined considerably since he tearing a ligament in his left ankle during a moped accident in 2008. This past season, Ellis shot an abysmal 41.6 percent from the field, including 28.7 percent from three, for a Bucks team that went 38-44 and was steamrolled by the Miami Heat during the first round of the 2013 playoffs.

More importantly, Ellis has long been a liability on the defensive end. Sacramento is already terrible in that regard, having finished 29th in defensive efficiency in each of the last two seasons.

Is Mike Malone the right man for the job?

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If Mike Malone's going to right the Kings' ship, his efforts to do so figure to begin with the team's shoddy defense. Ellis' arrival would hardly help his cause in that regard.

What Malone needs, more than anything, is a fresh roster filled with high-character guys who are ready, willing and able to work hard, play a physical brand of basketball and get after their opponents defensively.

Ranadive's courtship of Chris Wallace, former Indiana Pacers GM David Morway and (in a "Hail Mary" attempt) San Antonio Spurs GM RC Buford, according to USA Today's Sam Amick, points to ownership's desire to mold a tough-minded, small-market squad that the local community turns out to support, just as it did to keep the Kings in Sacramento.

Assuming Malone and the Kings can get back to basketball basics, they should have a winning product on the floor in relatively short order. Surely, hoop heads in Sacramento deserve as much, after all the turmoil through which they've toiled for the better part of a decade.


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