Michael Malone is probably his own worst critic. If you asked him, there’s not much to be happy about at the halfway point of his first year as Sacramento Kings head coach.
But Malone also knows that this season isn’t being measured by wins and losses. He came into his first campaign as Kings head coach knowing that patience would be needed to turn around a franchise mired in a six-year playoff drought.
“I think through all the changes we made, which have been quite a bit this year,” Malone said following practice Saturday. “The fact that we’re still able to play a fairly efficient brand of basketball on the offensive end, that we’ve been able to integrate a player like Rudy Gay, pretty seamlessly, to put him alongside Isaiah (Thomas) and DeMarcus (Cousins), that’s been encouraging.”
With the exception of a few minor additions, Malone came into this season with a roster fairly similar to last year’s team. That all changed after general manager Pete D’Alessandro pulled the trigger on two major trades that sent away five players and netted the Kings Gay, Derrick Williams, Quincy Acy and Aaron Gray.
Considering the major turnover the Kings have experienced in the last two months, Malone is pleased with the way his team has come together, particularly on offense. In Gay, Thomas and Cousins, the Kings have three players each capable of scoring 20 points on any given single night.
“The offense is the least of my worries,” Malone said. “But we’re able to score with anybody I think in the NBA.”
Defense, however, has been another story. So far this season, Malone, a heralded defensive strategist, has been puzzled by his team’s effort on that side of the floor. He’s seen the Kings bring their best and he’s also seen them bring their worst against their competition this year. Just last night, the Kings surrendered a season-high 125 points in a loss to the Denver Nuggets.
“In our wins this year, we’ve defended at a very high level against some of the best teams in the NBA,” Malone said. “Even in some of our losses like (against Indiana), but we just haven’t been able to do it consistently enough. And my hope is moving forward that we can be a team that at least competes and fights and plays hard like we did (Friday). And if we do that, we’ll put ourselves in positions to win games.”
Learning how to win remains an area in which Malone believes the Kings have yet to grasp at this point in the season. Seeing the game as a full 48 minute affair is a concept he’s still trying to hammer home with his team.
But when it comes to changing the culture of the Kings, Malone does feel there’s been major progress. In conversations with longtime members of the organization, he’s received glowing remarks about the new environment being established in Sacramento. There is a belief that the team is headed in the right direction under its new leadership.
In-fighting has also been kept to a minimum. In years past, the Kings have self-combusted due to tension and hard feelings among teammates. This year, that hasn’t been the case according to Malone. There have been a few hiccups here and there this season, but for the most part, the Kings haven’t fractured.
“We’re staying together,” Malone said. “We haven’t had a lot of off-the-court turmoil and dissension. So I think we’re definitely headed in the right direction, we’re all staying together, we’re all trying to get better every day and that’s my job as the head coach, is to make sure that we stay in the right path.”
Wins and losses don’t reflect what Malone and the Kings have been able to accomplish in the first half of the season. They still have a long way to go, but for the first time in a long time, there’s finally measurable progress in Sacramento.
“There’s a lot of areas they can get better at,” Malone said. “And that’s what encourages me is that I think we’ve gotten better, but we still have so much room to grow.”