I’m not sure there is a single person inside the Sacramento Kings that will tell you the ownership transition has been easy. In fact, it has been one challenge after another because the franchise is playing from behind. Way behind.
We aren’t talking about a 10-point deficit. We are talking about 30 points with 15 minutes left in the game.
Vivek Ranadivé and his group have to assemble an entirely new front office and coaching staff, while prepping for the draft and the quickly approaching free agency period. It is a mad dash and it’s a good thing there is plenty of gas in the old private jet.
While the Kings’ world is spinning a million miles an hour, there is a loud and commanding voice that is rising above it all. That voice is demanding excellence from players that do not belong to him. He is running and jumping and playing defense like a 20-year-old prospect trying to raise his draft stock. And that voice is new head coach Michael Malone.
You never truly know what to expect from a new head coach. For that matter, you don’t know what you are getting from a seasoned vet either. Each has their own way about them. They handle the media differently. They address their teams differently. They run practice and game days differently.
I showed up early for Saturday morning’s draft tryout. You could hear the low thud of the ball hitting the floor and the squeaking of sneakers, but all of that noise was secondary. A distinct voice rose above it all.
Malone’s tone has no trouble carrying through the thick one-way glass. It is raspy and distinctly New York. He is in charge and there is no doubt about it.
You could see players running to the corner through the small space at the edge of the curtain. And as they caught the ball, Malone would fly out of nowhere trying to block their shot.
He’s not just running the drill, he is part of it.
“I love it,” Malone told Cowbell Kingdom following yesterday’s morning workout. “I love being on the floor again. The press conferences and all of the other stuff is nice, but that’s what I am. I’m a teacher and that’s what I love.”
What we have seen so far from Malone may not be sustainable, but it is flat out impressive. His energy level is off the charts and it should be. He is getting his first shot to run an NBA team and with no one to answer to but a brand new owner who is behind him 100 percent. Malone is running the show and his method is not to hold a tryout, but to conduct a teaching clinic.
“For me, it’s great because I want these guys, when they leave here, to have a feel for me and what I’m about,” Malone said. “They can spread the word that you go to Sacramento, coach Malone is going to be out there working with you and preaching defense and teaching. I want to see guys that can understand and buy in.”
Until there is a front office in place to make this pick, Malone is the guy. So he is getting down and dirty in his search for the Kings’ next draft picks in a way that we have not seen or heard before.
It makes sense. You want competitors who can accept coaching. You have these kids in your house, so you might as well put them to work and see how they react.
“You can look up the stat sheet and find out what their percentages are,” Malone told the media. “I want to get into the intangibles. I want to try and get inside these guys. See what kind of a heart they have. What kind of a competitive soul that they have and if they can fit into the culture we’re going to try and create.”
Malone knows that getting draft picks to buy in isn’t going to be a tough sell. Some of these guys won’t understand his style and their lack of effort will eliminate them from the process. But most of them are young and you can still mold them with teaching.
“I want workers,” Malone said. “I want guys who are willing to compete every minute they are on the floor because those guys may not be as talented right now. But with that work ethic and mentality, they will definitely catch up to those other guys.”
The real challenge will come in October when the veterans show up. Will they take to Malone’s strong-handed approach? Will he have the same energy level when he looks into the eyes of a player who is making millions of dollars and tuning him out?
Those questions will be answered in due time. For now, Malone is setting a new standard. He is establishing a new culture and if the last two days of workouts are any indication, people are taking notice.
A year ago when the Kings held the fifth overall pick, not a single top five prospect showed up in Sacramento to showcase their skills. On Wednesday, there were rumors that this might be the case again, but I doubt it now.
Trey Burke, who will go anywhere from No. 2-7, got an incredible one-on-one audition with an NBA head coach. It was clear afterwards that he enjoyed the process.
“Coach pushed me, it was a great workout,” Burke said Friday. “He was encouraging me out there. Some of the other places, they put you through workouts (and) they just want to see how you respond. But coach encouraged me, telling me to keep making shots. It’s always good when you have a head coach out there telling you to get your shot up, get more arch on your shot. He’s pushing you through the workout.”
Burke was followed by C.J. McCollum, a player slated to go somewhere in the top ten and Michael Carter-Williams, another potential lottery pick. With the NBA draft board still in major flux, don’t be surprised if we see more top tier talent walk in the door.
It’s early, but Malone is making a major impact in his first six days on the job. The road ahead is long and certainly filled with many pitfalls, but one thing is clear – he is the boss. By hook or by crook, he has every intention of changing the culture of this franchise from the ground up and I’m not betting against him.