Kings’ coaching carousel is nothing new


The NBA coaching fraternity is a tight-knit group.  For the most part, everybody knows everybody.  And figuring out the real story behind a coaching dismissal isn’t hard.

In the last five years of covering the Sacramento Kings, I have seen plenty of coaches come and go.  Be it head coaches or assistants, the Kings’ coaching carousel is always turning.

Michael Malone isn’t the first coach to be shown the door in Sacramento and he won’t be the last. The Kings are working on their fourth head coach since 2011 and who knows how long Tyrone Corbin will last.

Malone will land on his feet quickly.  He’s young and by all outside accounts, the job he did with the Kings was nothing short of miraculous.  Despite his unceremonious dismissal in December, the word around the league is that Malone is more valuable now than he was before taking the job.  His work with both DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay did not go unnoticed.

Most coaches need a cooling off period, but Malone is such a hot commodity that he has already turned down opportunities.  According to one source, nearly a dozen head coaches reached out to Malone once he was relieved of his duties in Sacramento, many with offers to join their staff this season.  He is currently hanging out with Flip Saunders in Minnesota, but he has kept his options open.

Keep an eye on the situation in Cleveland where coach David Blatt has been on the hot seat for a while. Malone worked as an assistant from 2005-10 with the Cavs, and his relationship with LeBron James is well documented.  The Cavs lack a defensive identity, something Malone specializes in.

With multiple coaching situations unsettled around the league, Malone may get a call much sooner than his predecessors.

On Friday night, former Kings frontman Keith Smart dropped by for a visit.  After spending a season away from the game, Smart accepted an offer to join Erik Spoelstra’s staff with the Miami Heat this summer.

I’ve said it a million times – Keith Smart is a very good man.  Despite us not seeing eye to eye in his final few months in Sacramento, all seemed forgotten.  I was greeted warmly with a handshake and a hug.

Smart was in an untenable situation with the Kings.  After taking over for Paul Westphal seven games into the strike-shortened 2011-12 season, Smart was thrust into round two of the relocation saga in his second season with the Kings.

While ownership hid in Las Vegas like cowards, Smart tried his best to keep his team focused on the game of basketball.  For months, Smart and his players were the only people around to answer questions about Seattle.  As a coach embroiled in an ownership change, Smart had no chance of surviving, no matter how well his team played.

Smart almost had it easy in his 141-game stint as the coach of the Kings.  Westphal had been out of the NBA for a while when he accepted the Kings post.  He had the privilege of not only dealing with the first round of relocation attempts, but also with a 19-year-old DeMarcus Cousins fresh out of college.  Oh yeah, and the lowest payroll in the NBA.

Remember Pooh Jeter?  How about Donté Greene, Luther Head, Darnell Jackson, Antoine Wright and Jermaine Taylor?  Not one of those players were in the league a year later and you could also include Hassan Whiteside in that mix.  Those were the players that Westphal had to go to war with every night.

After spending the lockout teaching Basketball 101 to Sacramento Kings season ticket holders at local health clubs, Westphal committed one of the ultimate blunders just days into the 2011-12 season.  No, he didn’t “get involved in a land war in China” or “go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line,” but he made an NBA franchise choose between a coach and a great young player.

Westphal is back in the league this season, second-chairing the Brooklyn Nets alongside longtime friend Lionel Hollins.  Like Smart, he will swing by this week for a visit after nearly four years away.

This is how the league works.  Coaches come and go in a wild, “what have you done for me lately” world.  Stability is reserved for the very few.

Regardless of how this season ends, Corbin is likely coaching for the other 29 teams around the league.  He too will get another shot in the NBA, likely as an assistant, where he will have to rebuild his brand.

As for Sacramento, they will search for continuity through chaos.  It’s tough to build a program when you hit the reset button on your coaching staff, but that is the Kings way.


James Ham

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