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.

Nikola Jokic’s All-NBA first-team selection shows his meteoric rise

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Just four years ago, Nikola Jokic was a second-round pick still playing in the Adriatic League. Just three years ago, he was battling a struggling Jusuf Nurkic to be the Nuggets’ main center.

Yesterday, Jokic made the All-NBA first team.

Jokic has risen incredibly quickly. Before this season, he had never even been an All-Star.

That makes Jokic the first non-rookie in NBA history to make an All-NBA first team without a prior All-Star season (including ABA All-Stars).

The No. 41 pick in the 2014 draft, Jokic is just the fourth second-rounder to make an All-NBA first team since the NBA-ABA merger. The others: DeAndre Jordan, Marc Gasol and Marc Price.

For most players not immediately deemed to hold first-round talent, it takes a while to build stature in the NBA. Jokic made the All-NBA first team in just his fourth season. That’s way sooner than Gasol (seventh season), Price (seventh season) and Jordan (eighth season):

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The Nuggets didn’t wait for this honor to make Jokic their franchise player. They gave him a near-max contract last summer, and by leading them into the second round of the playoffs, he triggered incentives to reach a max salary.

Denver has built a young supporting cast – mainly Jamal Murray and Gary Harris – to grow with Jokic. The Nuggets also signed veteran Paul Millsap, whose defense complements Jokic’s offensive-minded game.

So much is coming together so quickly for Denver, and Jokic’s honor is just the latest example.

Report: Trail Blazers sign president Neil Olshey to contract extension

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Just after a rumor emerged about the Wizards trying to hire Trail Blazers president Neil Olshey…

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

It’s nice to be wanted. It always adds leverage in contract negotiations.

Olshey has done well in Portland, building a winner around Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum after LaMarcus Aldridge left. But Olshey’s job will get harder now.

Evan Turner, Meyers Leonard and Maurice Harkless each have another season on the expensive contracts Olshey gave them in the wild summer of 2016. That’ll inhibit flexibility this offseason.

Then, Lillard is set to sign a super-max extension that will take effect in 2021. As great as Lillard is, it’ll be difficult building a contender around someone projected to earn $43 million, $46 million, $50 million and $53 million from ages 31-34. There’s so little margin for error, especially if ownership is less willing to pay the luxury tax than the late Paul Allen was.

But Olshey has earned a chance to handle these dilemmas.

Jazz center Rudy Gobert hits super-max criteria for extension projected to be worth $250 million over five years

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Anthony Davis signed a max rookie-scale contract extension in 2015, between his third and fourth seasons. Based on the Collective Bargaining Agreement at the time, the extension called for him to earn a higher salary if he was twice voted an All-Star starter or made two All-NBA teams during his first four seasons. Davis was voted an All-Star starter and made the All-NBA first team in his third season.

Unfortunately for Davis, he missed both honors his fourth year. The All-NBA and All-Star-starter tracks ran independently. Davis couldn’t qualify for a higher max salary by earning one of each.

That cost him $19,683,908 over the four pre-player-option seasons of his extension, which will end next year.

The current CBA’s more significant adjustments to super-max eligibility – changing the years for qualification, using Defensive Player of the Year instead of All-Star starter – obscured a minor tweak. The tracks now run together. A player can qualify with one Defensive Player of the Year and one All-NBA selection. He needn’t achieve two of one category.

So, Jazz center Rudy Gobert – who won won Defensive Player of the Year in 2018 and made All-NBA this year – quietly became eligible to sign a super-max extension in the 2020 offseason. The extension’s highest-allowable value projects to be $250 million over five years. The first four years would follow the structure of the super-max Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers are set to sign.

Newsflash: Gobert isn’t Lillard.

Gobert is elite defensively and underrated offensively. But paying him $50 million per year from ages 30-34 in a league overflowing with good centers? That’s a recipe for disaster for Utah.

But Gobert earned eligibility. That makes it harder for the Jazz to tell him they don’t deem him worthy. That tension is an unintended consequence of the super-max rules.

There is room for negotiation. In this case, Gobert’s designated-veteran-player extension must be for five seasons and have a starting salary between 30% and 35% of the 2021-22 salary cap. But his salary can increase or decrease annually by up to 8% of his first-year salary. The deal can be partially guaranteed.

Still, the lowest possible designated-veteran-player extension for Gobert projects to be $155 million over five years. If fully guaranteed, that’d be expensive for a player of his age. If not fully guaranteed, the Jazz would get savings only by waiving him, and that’d mean dropping the cheaper latter years.

Because he doesn’t have enough experience to qualify, Gobert can’t sign a super-max extension until the 2020 offseason. He met the award criteria, but a player must have seven or eight years of experience. Gobert just finished his sixth year. He’s also under contract for two more seasons – locked into salaries of $24,758,427 next season and $26,275,281 the following year.

So, there’s time to figure this out.

But this is the most uneasy super-max situation so far – unless Gobert just doesn’t insist on the money. Good luck with that.

Rumor: Wizards interested in Trail Blazers president Neil Olshey

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The Wizards struck out on luring Nuggets president Tim Connelly.

Washington’s next choice?

Ben Standig of NBC Washington:

As for the rumor mill, one name stands out: Neil Olshey.

Numerous sources told NBC Sports Washington of the Wizards’ interest in Blazers President of Basketball Operations

Olshey has done a good job in Portland. He drafted Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum then built a winner around those two after LaMarcus Aldridge left. Trading for and re-signing Jusuf Nurkic to a reasonable contract looks great. Olshey also overpaid Evan Turner, Meyers Leonard, Allen Crabbe and Festus Ezeli, but many teams spent wildly in 2016. It was a weird summer.

The Wizards would do well to hire such a proven executive.

Would Olshey leave the Trail Blazers? Their ownership situation remains uncertain following the death of Paul Allen in October. Wizards owner Ted Leonsis has demonstrated extreme loyalty to his executives.

Portland will also reportedly sign Damian Lillard to a super-max extension – a move that practically must be made, but one that carries massive downside risk. However, if he goes to Washington, Olshey would be trading uncertainty in Damian Lillard’s value on the super-max for certain negative value with John Wall on his super-max extension.

A couple years ago, Olshey signed his own extension through 2021. Maybe he’s ready to move on.

Or maybe he’s ready to use the Wizards as leverage for a raise.