What is the appropriate grieving period for an NBA team? How long do you have to wait before you pick yourself up, get past the self pity and start playing ball again?
Michael Malone is gone. There are a few people who are happy about that fact, but they are far outnumbered by those who aren’t. Amongst those who were put off by the decision to let go of the second-year coach are 14 able-bodied NBA players.
There is no split in the locker room about the decision. There wasn’t a player who made a demand or a faction of players working to get rid of Malone. The players are as confused as anyone. Some are angry and more than one feels completely betrayed by the powers that be.
But nothing is guaranteed in the NBA, except player contracts.
The Sacramento Kings players are befuddled by the decision to fire Malone. More importantly, they are confused about how they are to proceed as a team.
Are the Kings the defensive team that started the season 9-6 under Malone? Are they the uptempo team scoring 107.9 points per game while giving up 113.1 in nine games under new head coach Tyrone Corbin? Or are they something in between that we have yet to see.
Following the Kings’ overtime win against the Knicks on Saturday night, DeMarcus Cousins sounded like he was reading a transcript from a previous Malone press conference.
“We have to get back to being our old team,” DeMarcus Cousins said following Saturday’s win. “That’s wanting to defend at a high level. Taking pride and actually playing defense. We can’t be a team that tries to come out every night and outscore people. That’s not us. We defend and our defense transitions over to our offense.”
Defend. Defense. Defend. Defense. Got it.
But when Rudy Gay was asked similar questions, he wasn’t so sure about what the plan is.
“We haven’t practiced, I don’t know our new philosophy,” Rudy Gay said. “That’s something we have to grow to learn.”
More than anything, the Kings look confused on the floor. The defensive principles drilled into this team by Malone are being ignored. And let’s be clear, this isn’t a fast paced offense as much as it is a horrible brand of basketball that is usually reserved for All-Star weekend.
The Kings look disinterested like they did two seasons ago when it was clear they were going nowhere, except maybe to Seattle. They are bickering on the floor, shifting into isolation basketball and clearly not playing as a team.
Here is the reality of the situation: The Kings are not the Golden State Warriors or the 2002 Sacramento team that made the game of basketball look so pretty. They are a grinder team, with grinder players and they were playing well for a grinder coach.
And now they are lost, dazed and disgruntled.
But there is hope. The players play the game, not coaches, management or ownership. They control what happens between those lines and the quicker they move past their frustrations and start playing for each other, the quicker they turn things around.
“I’ll put it like this, man,” Cousins said following the team’s loss to Brooklyn. “When you go through situations like this and things get tough, you start to see people’s real, true colors. You’re going to see who’s in it and who’s really not. So as bad as this may seem, it’s also a good thing, because you’re going to know who’s ready to go to battle with you every night.”
If they want to pay homage to their former coach, they can turn to his principles and win despite the gaff of management. But time is running out. The mood around this team is sinking. The culture is reverting to its former self and all of the goodwill created by Malone is turning to dust.
The Sacramento Kings are a mess. They are in a dark place and headed down an even darker road. Trust has been violated and the players are having a difficult time hiding their disdain for the situation.
It can get worse. The losses can stack up and the players can completely give up. They can demand trades. Free agents can look at an untenable situation and pass.
Or they can snap out of it and get back to the task at hand. Tyrone Corbin is a perfectly good man to follow into battle. He is different than Malone. Different can be good. Either way, he has the job and it’s time to push forward.