Author: Kurt Helin

Los Angeles Clippers v Sacramento Kings

Kings fire coach doing quality work, that always works out well


The Sacramento Kings were off to an impressive 9-6 start to the season until their star center and best player — DeMarcus Cousins — came down with a life threatening illness (viral meningitis). They had gone 2-7 after that but done so while playing the second toughest schedule in the league to this point and are half a game out of a playoff spot. This team had taken a quality step forward from last season, both the offense and defense were playing better. You could feel a positive culture change around the team. Plus the Kings and their system had gotten more efficiency and quality play out of Rudy Gay than any previous stop in his career.

So Sunday night the Kings fired their coach, Mike Malone.

That always works well in the NBA, firing a coach doing a good job. Just go ask the Nuggets about it.

(To be fair, it seems to be working in Golden State this season. But that’s more the exception that proves the rule.)

This is on owner Vivek Ranadivé, who had hired Malone personally before even hiring GM Pete D’Alessandro when he bought the team. It was a rookie ownership move because he hired a star assistant but not one with the same basketball philosophy as himself or the GM — remember Malone (an assistant to Mike Brown at the time) was part of the group that kept a young LeBron James in a slowed down, walk-it-up offense (and won a lot of games that way). Ranadivé and his man Chris Mullin (an official advisor) wanted more showtime, which reportedly led to tension between Malone and ownership.

Ranadivé tolerated some losing last season but as’s Bill Herenda notes Ranadivé said this season he wanted wins and lots of them.

What he really wanted was more offense. The Kings are currently right at the league average, 15th in offensive efficiency at 103.6 points per 100 possessions, playing at what is a middle of the road pace of 95.7 possessions a game (16th in the league). Again, that’s without Cousins the past nine games and after D’Alessandro traded away Isaiah Thomas in the off-season. What bothered Malone more was the Kings’ defense, which at 104.2 points allowed per 100 possessions was 18th in the league.

And Malone is right — if the Kings envisioned themselves a playoff team defense was what mattered. Well, that and getting Cousins healthy.

That said, the owner has the right to set the tone and style he wants to see from his team. If Ranadivé wants it more up-tempo, he should be able to push the team that direction. But three things need to be mentioned. First, again, why hire Malone in the first place if that’s the style you want (Ranadivé knew Malone from Golden State, where Malone had coached and Ranadivé was a minority owner)? Second, why bring Malone back this summer? There had been rumblings his job could be in jeopardy, why not make a clean break then, why in the middle of the season?

Third, and finally, this roster is not really built to run. Cousins works best in the half court, Gay isn’t young anymore, they don’t have enough ball handlers, and while I could go on you get the point. If they want to play fast it’s going to take more than a coaching change, some roster changes are needed.

Sacramento will ride out the season with former Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin in the big chair. He has a clear mandate and will play faster, but short of him getting the Kings the playoffs — something highly unlikely in the deep West, especially with Cousins still out a while — you have to think they will go coach shopping next summer. The biggest name being floated is George Karl (the quality coach fired by the Nuggets after a 57-win season), who has a big supporter in D’Alessandro from when both were in Denver. He certainly likes to pay up tempo. Two other names being mentioned as guys to watch are Mark Jackson and Vinny Del Negro. Neither of those last two are upgrades over Malone.

At least this time around Ranadivé should hire someone who is on his page philosophically.

As for whether that person is a better coach than Malone, I wouldn’t be so sure.

Dwight Howard drops 26 and 13 in return, James Harden adds triple-double Saturday

Jusuf Nurkic,Dwight Howard

If you had any concerns about how Dwight Howard would look upon his return to the lineup after missing 11 games with a knee issue, he would like to show you his 26 points on 11 shots, including going 8-of-10 inside eight feet from the rim. Oh, and his 13 rebounds. And his three blocks. And the fact that Denver went 3-of-9 at the rim when Howard was there to contest shots.

If you had any concerns about how Donatas Motiejunas would fit in at the four and in a different role next to Howard, he’d like to show you his 13 second quarter points on his way to 25 for the game. Howard gave Motiejunas space, deferring to the guy with the hot hand (if you believe in the hot hand, that is).

If you had any concerns about how James Harden would look having to share the ball a little more, well, he’d suggest you watch this video of his triple double.

All of which is to say, Houston looked very good beating Denver Saturday night.

It’s a mistake to read too much into one December game, but the Rockets looked like a team on a 64-win pace (which in the ridiculous Western Conference is still just the three seed). And one that just got its defensive key back.

Mike Conley hits three to force OT, keys Grizzlies comeback win over Sixers (VIDEO)

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Mike Conley took over late — he has 16 fourth quarter points Saturday night keying Memphis’ comeback from 18 down on the road to force overtime against a feisty Philadelphia team (that has played improved ball the last couple weeks).

That takeover included a contested three at the end of regulation to force overtime. The drawn up play got the ball to Marc Gasol out above the arc, a shot he could hit, but Hollis Thompson read the play well and switched out to take away his shot. Gasol can’t create off the dribble out there so he threw it to Conley, who got himself enough space to get off the shot and force overtime.

In OT Conley added six more points, bringing him to a career high 36 as the Grizzlies escaped Philly with a win. And it was escaped, because for 42 minutes Memphis was terrible and Philadelphia was the better team, but Memphis had a better last 11. Down the stretch Conley owned Michael Carter-Williams and that was key.