Michael Malone heats up, loses sight of big picture

Michael Malone on the sidelines against the Atlanta Hawks. (Photo: Tobin Halsey)

In case you missed it, Sacramento Kings head coach Michael Malone came undone a bit following his team’s 113-100 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans on Monday night.  No, he didn’t resort to profanity, like his starting center did in the locker room, but he did take the opportunity to express his disappointment in his team’s performance and he even uncharacteristically threw in a few player names to heat up the pot.

“We come out of a timeout in the fourth quarter, and we can’t make an entry pass to the wing,” an agitated Malone told reporters following the loss.  “We turn the ball (over) out of a timeout – our starting point guard to our starting small forward.  Rudy Gay has seven turnovers.  DeMarcus (Cousins) has four, Isaiah (Thomas) has four, Marcus (Thornton) has four.  We’re not that good where we can give a team 22 extra possessions; I’ll tell you that much.”

It’s clear that Malone is at his wit’s end.  For the ultra-intense first-year coach, the excuses are over.  He wants players who will take pride in their performance, especially on the defensive end.  He wants improvement, and he wants it now.

“It’s the same problem every night,” Malone said.  “We’ve got to get some better players that can contain the basketball.  Because right now we can’t.”

As Malone’s quotes got shorter and shorter, they carried even more meaning.  This guy is done with the pleasantries.  He’s done with the coddling.  The gloves are off.

“We’re a bad basketball team. That’s the bottom line,” Malone said.

Adding insult to injury, Malone’s team embarrassed him in front of one of his former employers.  Before taking the job with the Kings, the longtime assistant worked for the Warriors and coach Mark Jackson.  Before that, he spent two seasons working under New Orleans head coach Monty Williams.

Williams knows Malone well.  And it doesn’t take a coaching degree to see some of the issues that his former understudy is dealing with.

“It just takes time,” Williams said.  “When you have a young team and a new team, that’s a dynamic that’s not really conducive to being a first-time coach.”

Malone took on a bear of a job.  He took on a team that had just traveled through the ninth circle of hell.  And many of his players were broken through the process of losing and constant franchise instability.  A culture of losing doesn’t capture what has developed in Sacramento and that is why general manager Pete D’Alessandro has been so quick to make wholesale changes.

Again, this is another area where Williams can advise his former assistant.

“I’ve been in New Orleans four years, and I’ve had four different teams,” Williams added.  “That lends (itself) to hiccups at times and so he’s just got a lot of work to do, as we all do as head coaches.”

Williams’ first year in New Orleans, he led the Hornets to a 46-36 record, losing in the first round of the playoffs to the Los Angeles Lakers in six games.  He had a team built to compete, headlined by All-Stars Chris Paul and David West, as well as solid NBA contributors in Emeka Okafor and current King Carl Landry.

The dynamic of his team changed dramatically the next season when Paul was dealt for Eric Gordon during a lockout-shortened, 66-game season.  Gordon played a total of nine games due to knee injuries, and the team struggled to a 21-45 finish.

Losing isn’t always a bad thing in the NBA.  For its 21 wins, New Orleans received the luck of the draw in the form of the first overall selection in the 2012 NBA Draft.  Anthony Davis is a franchise player and a perfect compliment to Gordon and power forward Ryan Anderson.  This group was better, but not good enough to avoid another sub-30-win season.

New Orleans had a base to work with and general manager Dell Demps went into this last offseason armed with a handful of money and plenty of draft picks.  The results were the additions of 23-year-old All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday and former Sacramento King Tyreke Evans.

Four distinctly different teams in four seasons.  If anything, it has taught Williams’ patience.

And that is what Malone is going to have to learn.  In just 27 games, the Kings have completely overhauled their roster.  Gone are John Salmons, Luc Mbah a Moute, Chuck Hayes, Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasquez.  Four of the five were major rotational players at the time they were traded.

Added to the roster are Rudy Gay, Derrick Williams, Quincy Acy and Aaron Gray.  Three of these four have stepped into major roles with the Kings.  It is an ever-changing, ever-evolving roster, and the moves probably aren’t done.

D’Alessandro is trying to accomplish what Demps did in four years’ time.  He’s added talent, but he has also added a major headache for his head coach.  With every new piece comes a new learning curve and new frustrations.

“I know Mike is detailed, he’s thorough,” Williams said.  “I learned a lot working with him, so I understand that process.”

For a detail-oriented coach, you need a training camp.  You need a preseason and you need practice time.  Malone has had none of this.  While we have preached patience to the fanbase in light of such dramatic changes, it is time for the Kings’ head coach to step back and look at the big picture.

Losing is embarrassing.  We get it.  And for a coach who has built a career on defense and precision, losing on miscues and missed assignments has to drive Malone crazy.  But perspective is needed.

The Pelicans weren’t built in a day.  And neither will the Sacramento Kings.  All of this is the process of recovering and rebuilding a broken franchise.  Passion is good, but barring a Christmas miracle, Malone is in for more nights like Monday’s loss to New Orleans.

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