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The Kings need a bold move to fix their new crisis

As Sacramento flails after firing head coach Michael Malone, management has a reason to make a bold, expensive move.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

When the Kings fired Michael Malone on Dec. 14, Sacramento was not in crisis. The club had fallen to 11-13 amid DeMarcus Cousins' long bout with viral meningitis. Three straight narrow losses, including a crusher to the hated Lakers, had discouraged fans (and apparently management), but Boogie was close to a return and the positives of the season had outweighed the negatives. The Kings' defense, long a wasteland of ineptitude and inaction, was finally decent (especially before Cousins' illness) and the team played with a certain spirit lacking in recent campaigns. The losing turn had been seen by most as an unfortunate consequence of losing Cousins.

But for reasons that still don't quite make sense, the front office was disappointed enough in Malone's performance to dismiss him. Three weeks later, the crisis that didn't exist is now so, so real.

Sacramento has gone 3-7 against a relatively easy schedule since the coaching change. Under Ty Corbin, the Kings' three wins have come against the Lakers, Knicks and Wolves, and all three featured heavy doses of Boogie. But Corbin's Kings have also managed to lose to the Pistons by 19 and the Celtics by 22, plus the Nets and Bucks.

The defense that was league average under Malone is suddenly in the bottom five. Cousins, who looked like a changed man early in the season, is exhibiting open frustration in roughly 80 percent of the Kings' possessions. His ejection against Boston -- a deserved one after he slammed Marcus Smart to the floor -- justified fears that Malone's dismissal would have a negative effect on his attitude.

Just as aggravating, the front office's vision for an up-tempo, ball-sharing style of play isn't any closer to realization under Corbin. The Kings' two best offensive players are Cousins, perhaps the league's best halfcourt big man, and Rudy Gay, a creative but methodical slasher. Darren Collison is fast and Ben McLemore can fly down the wings, but there are no rotation bigs on the roster you'd imagine thriving in an up-tempo system. The team has all of two good passers who aren't point guards (Cousins, Gay). Jason Thompson isn't Boris Diaw, nor is he Draymond Green, no matter how much you wish it so.

Based on the narrative floating around, Malone entered the season with a short leash and clear expectations that management needed his team to win and fit the front office's vision. That the team began to do the former made holding Malone to account for the latter impossible. To fire a successful but inelegant Malone, the Kings needed crisis.

Well, now they have one.

As has been said numerous times, the way to salvage this disaster is to replace Corbin with a successful coach who can fulfill management's basketball vision. I remain skeptical that George Karl's classic style is an obvious fit for a team led by Cousins and Gay, but Karl is an innovator of the highest order, and Boogie has the ball skills to fill multiple roles. Ailene Voisin reported on Sunday that Karl is still on the table to be hired this season, and even tops the list of candidates. But GM Pete D'Alessandro wants to take his time and make the right move.

At this point, there's no rush: the Kings are playing for next year. Sacramento isn't going to challenge Phoenix, New Orleans and Oklahoma City for the final playoff spot barring a miracle turnaround, and the bigger concern is whether the Kings will be bad enough to keep their first-round pick. (It goes to Chicago if it falls outside the top 10. Thanks, J.J. Hickson trade.)

So, having created a crisis where none existed by canning Malone, D'Alessandro's question is whether the coach he thinks is the best fit for his vision is currently available (meaning Karl, Mike D'Antoni or someone else fully unemployed) -- and if so, whether it's worth trying to incorporate that coach's system midseason or waiting until June.

There is, of course, precedent for Karl turning a team around midseason: the 2004-05 Nuggets were 17-25 before Karl was hired, and went 32-8 under him. (In fact, Denver was about .500 under the incumbent head coach, lousy under the interim and spectacular under Karl.) The Nuggets went on to make the postseason in every season of Karl's tenure. They crumbled once he was fired.

Perhaps this downturn is all a part of the plan. Perhaps letting the team languish under Corbin stokes the crisis and allows D'Alessandro to hire Karl at a high salary, burning through Vivek Ranadive's cash. Everyone thinks D'Alessandro overplayed his hand, and everyone is laughing at the Kings. Perhaps the GM still has something up his sleeve. Basketball 3.0, of course, is all about staying two seconds ahead of everyone else. While the fandom burns over the present, it may just be that the front office is already working on tomorrow.


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