The Sacramento Kings made the first dramatic change of the NBA season by firing their head coach Mike Malone midway through December.
At the time, the Kings were 11-13 and falling out of the playoff race, but they were also missing star center DeMarcus Cousins, who had missed several games with viral meningitis.
It was a legitimately surprising move by the Kings’ ownership, who placed blame on Malone, despite the Kings playing their best basketball in several years.
Since, the Kings have gone 3-7, and Cousins, who was an MVP candidate in the Kings’ surprising 5-1 start, has looked out of sorts. Recently, Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee asked Cousins if the Kings missed Malone, and Cousins answered bluntly:
I asked DeMarcus Cousins if losing Michael Malone hurt more than anyone realised: “It’s clear. We’re not the same team.”
— Jason Jones (@mr_jasonjones) January 5, 2015
Malone, as Zach Lowe noted when the firing took place, was not “some incredible coaching genius,” but he did have the Kings playing an effective style of basketball. They were defending well, feeding Cousins in the post, and utilising Rudy Gay. The Kings were struggling without Cousins, especially in the brutal Western Conference, but they didn’t look bad.
Furthermore, Malone seemed to get through to Cousins, who has a reputation for being a temperamental player.
Since Malone’s firing, some of Cousins’ old habits have resurfaced. In a blowout loss to the Celtics, he needlessly tossed rookie Marcus Smart to the floor and got ejected:
In a recent game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Cousins stood completely still on a critical fourth quarter play, perhaps frustrated with Gay going one-on-one and not passing the ball:
The Kings’ problems are also a matter of playing style under new coach Tyrone Corbin. Since Malone’s firing, the Kings are just 28th in the NBA in defensive rating, giving up 111.6 points per 100 possessions. Their offensive efficiency has increased because of an increased pace, but a fast-paced style doesn’t suit Cousins’ bruising post play. As SB Nation’s Mike Prada noted, the Kings’ quick pace is just wearing Cousins out:
They tried pushing the pace … which only tired DeMarcus Cousins and caused many of his bad defensive habits to return. Mind-boggling.
— Mike Prada (@MikePradaSBN) December 30, 2014
Head coaches often get the short end of the stick in the NBA when things don’t go as planned. But the Kings firing Malone is a perfect example where the team’s problems were not caused by the coach, and as a result, they have upset their franchise player.