Kings owner says Malone fired because Kings now need “jazz director”

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I’m not sure what Kings owner Vivek Ranadive expected when he was seen as the driving force behind the firing of coach Mike Malone, but the general reaction from the locker room to the national media was negative. Count me among those that see this as a confusing step and a rookie mistake by the owner.

Ranadive doesn’t see it that way. Obviously.

Speaking in Sacramento on the matter — after meeting with Mark Jackson, Chris Mullin and DeMarcus Cousins — Ranadive said essentially that Malone had fulfilled his purpose. And he’s right in that when Ranadive bought the team from the Maloof family and kept it in Sacramento the locker room (and much of the organization) was a mess, so he hired Malone to clean up that mess. He brought in Malone to provide that structure the organization needed. Ranadive admits to James Ham of ESPN that Malone did that, but then said because that part of the job was done it was time for a change.

“The NBA has become like the high-tech business,” Ranadive said. Point 4 (of the five points he was making). “Just because you invented the iPhone, doesn’t mean you can rest on your laurels, because somebody else is building a better iPhone. Just because you win 50 games, doesn’t mean you can be satisfied with the status quo. Just because you win 16 games in a row, doesn’t mean that you don’t look for Ray Allen to make your team better. So we live in a time when good enough isn’t, and we need to keep getting better. So while we have a good foundation, we needed to pivot. We needed to go….

“Defense is great, but we need defense and offense,” he said. “We need to go from a rules-based organization, which was important when you had chaos, to a values-based organization. From kind of a programmatic offense, to a read-and-respond, free-flowing offense. I like to use a music metaphor. We had a Sousa marching band, which was needed when there was chaos, but now we need to shift to a jazz band, where people can be individually showcased and improvised. What we need is a jazz director. I think that’s the kind of leadership moving forward.”

As a fan of Jazz, I’ve never really heard the term “jazz director” before, because the best jazz doesn’t work like an orchestra with a conductor up front. But I understand what he’s trying to say, so I’ll let that part slide.

And as soon as the Kings do the NBA equivalent of inventing the iPhone, then they should worry about staying fresh.

To most of us it is bad form not to give Malone — who had this team at 9-6 with a healthy DeMarcus Cousins before his illness — a chance to see this through. Why make the change now, mid-season? So you can get a good look at Tyrone Corbin? It’s not like Malone was instilling bad habits in this team, it was just a philosophical issue. One that could have been dealt with last summer or next. One Ranadive should have thought through better before hiring Malone first, before he hired anyone else, like the GM or consultant Chris Mullin, both of whom have tried to push Malone and his slow-it-down style out the door.

The bigger issue is while I get what Ranadive wants, his roster is poorly suited for it. Staring with your franchise player but also your second biggest star — Rudy Gay has made strides but he’s still more volume scorer than playmaker. The Spurs got to be the Spurs by making an organizational shift that was led by Popovich, with Tim Duncan willingly ceding control of the offense to Tony Parker. Then they went out and got players — Boris Diaw, Tiago Splitter, Danny Green, Patty Mills and so on — who fit that system.

The Kings have a star in DeMarcus Cousins and should build to his strengths. Which is what Malone was doing.

And, Ranadive, if you’re really going to hire a strong coach — like a George Karl — you’ll find they are not fond of meddling owners who have suggestions based on what worked on their daughter’s youth basketball team. At all.