The Sacramento Kings, owners of the second longest postseason drought in the NBA, unceremoniously committed the first head coaching swap of the 2014-2015 NBA season, when they fired head coach Mike Malone after the Kings won just two games in their last nine contests, or, in other words, not “meet[ing] win-loss expectations of ownership,” per Adrian Wojnarowski. The Kings, who were missing star center DeMarcus Cousins for those last nine games, had started out the season with nine wins and just six losses — the typical statements about early season overachievement can probably be applied here, but it’s no secret that Sacramento’s ownership and management are looking to field a competitive team and make it back into the playoffs for the first time since 2006.
There were also reported stylistic differences between Malone and General Manager Pete D’Alessandro, the former preferring a deliberate version of the game while the latter favoring up-tempo basketball. The Kings’ official stance is that they’re not going to hire another coach this season: Assistant Tyrone Corbin will take over the head coaching position (he spent three uneventful years as the head coach of the Utah Jazz in the immediate aftermath of the Deron Williams trade) for the immediate future. It’s worth noting here, though, that the Jazz spent the majority of the Corbin era playing at a pace that ranked in the bottom half of the league, so we can safely assume that Corbin won’t be long at the job.
So, with that laid out, who else could the Kings be considering for their newest head coach? We narrowed down three options that fits what the ownership seems to be looking for, as well as coaches who are currently unemployed.
1. George Karl
This is almost too easy, which is why his name keeps coming to the forefront. Karl, who last coached the Denver Nuggets in 2013, made the last stop of his extensive coaching career almost entirely on the back of an up-tempo system that emphasized teamwork at the expense of stars, particularly after the Carmelo Anthony trade left him with a host of good-to-great players but no top tier talent. After posting a career record of 1,131 wins to 756 losses, as well as a consistent track record of taking teams into the postseason (although he’s never won a championship), Karl would seem to be an obvious choice, particularly given the frenetic pace that defined his tenure in Denver.
On the other hand, at the age of 63 and enjoying employment as an occasional ESPN analyst, it could be hard to coax him out of retirement — after his firing, an interview with the Denver Post revealed that Karl “want[ed] to coach a good team. I don’t want to coach a rebuilding team.” The Kings aren’t quite a rebuilding squad, at least they’re not in dire straits like the Philadelphia 76ers, but they’re certainly not a finished product. It would seem to take quite a bit of effort to bring Coach Karl back into the NBA at the head of the Kings, even if he is probably the best fit for the job.
2. Vinny Del Negro
This is not a joke — apparently the Kings have an eye on the former head coach of the Clippers and the Bulls, Vinny Del Negro. To his credit, the Bulls and the Clippers both performed up to standard under Del Negro’s tenure. On the other hand, both teams got better after he left, replaced by Tom Thibodeau and Doc Rivers, respectively. To put it kindly, Del Negro is a middle-of-the-road NBA coach, one who has shown a decent developmental hand to go alongside his sometimes puzzling late game rotations.
At worst, Del Negro can probably get the Kings to .500 (he’s done that in almost every season he’s coached), which would be a welcome achievement for Sacramento. Of course, we’re not sure that would be enough for Vivek Ranadive, the Kings’ owner. The coach’s pedigree on the San Antonio Spurs — complete with playing time alongside David Robinson and Tim Duncan — certainly doesn’t hurt, either.
3. Mark Jackson
Hand down, man down. Mark Jackson, who was replaced as the head coach of the Golden State Warriors at the end of last season, could have enough sway within the Kings front office to make a case as the newest coach for the SacTown Royalty. Consider: The three big decision makers in the Kings front office — Ranadive, Pete D’Alessandro, and Chris Mullins — all have significant ties to the Dubs. Ranadive was a minority owner before he bought the Kings, D’Alessandro worked in their front office, and Mullins saw his Hall of Fame career bolstered by his play in the Bay Area before joining the management team there.
What does this mean? It means that everyone involved in hiring the new head coach knows Mark Jackson, and while Jackson was dismissed by Golden State for clashes with management (not unlike Mike Malone, in fact), it would follow that none of the disagreements were with the new Kings staff. With Jackson’s successes in Golden State fresh in everyone’s mind, he could leave the broadcaster’s booth for the sidelines in the near future, even if the team is going to stay with Tyrone Corbin for the meantime.