SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Michael Malone is very experienced as an assistant, as well as smart and hard working. After serving as the No. 2 man in Golden State, he’s a graduate and believer of the Mark Jackson School of Empowering Players.
Malone is going to be a successful coach one day, maybe one day soon.
The first days in the first job, though, have been complicated. He was hired by the Kings before a general manager was, a backward approach by new owner Vivek Ranadive that could hurt Sacramento’s chances of landing the GM it wants. Any top GM candidate would expect the power to put the team together or, in the other risk, the eventual hire will arrive as something other than a staunch Malone ally.
Now, Ranadive has raised the possibility that the general manager will not be hired by June 27, telling NBA.com on Monday: “I want to get the right GM. I do expect to have a GM by the Draft, but that’s not a promise.”
So, Malone has also been forced to assume the lead role in Draft prep, running workouts until further notice — as was the case with French center Rudy Gobert as the headliner Monday — and going over tapes of prospects. At least Malone and Ranadive have the experienced hand of Geoff Petrie to advise during a very important time for the team with the seventh pick — the same Petrie who is being replaced.
And if no GM is in place by Draft night?
“Michael will be involved,” Ranadive said. “But I’ll be making the call.”
There is little chance that happens. The Kings will almost certainly hire a general manager by then. And missing workouts in Sacramento is not much of a setback either, as any candidate has either been working in a front office all season or been watching college games in hopes of getting a job. But if the owner is not saying a hire in time for the Draft is an absolute, the slim doubt has some reality.
The potential complication of hiring the coach before hiring the personnel director with a better understanding of rosters and coaches, that is definitely real.
“It’s a very valid question,” Malone said. “I was thinking about it last week and then I realized when I got hired in Cleveland, (coach) Mike Brown was hired before (then-GM) Danny Ferry. The luxury they had was they knew each other. There was a pre-existing relationship. It happened with (former coach) Eddie Jordan in Washington, with (GM) Ernie Grunfeld. It happened with Rick Pitino in the past.
“It’s not the normal protocol, as we all know in the NBA, but I’m hoping that obviously whoever comes in as the GM will not look at it like, ‘Well, he was hired before me. He’s not my guy.’ Because the reality is, if this is going to be able to have success, we’re going to have to be able to coexist, communicate and work with each other.
“It’s definitely [a risk]. And that’s going to come down, I’m sure, to the comfort level for the GM. There’s some guys that may have been interested in this job who now that [the Kings] have committed to me may be taken aback by that or say, ‘What message is that sending?’ Obviously, I can’t control that. My only hope is that Vivek will get the best GM possible because that GM is going to help me with my job as the head coach moving forward. I know from my end, it will not be a problem. But I cannot speak for the prospective general managers that come in here, how they’ll deal with it.”
Said Ranadive: “I know it was unconventional. I think we’re in unconventional times right now. The timing in terms of when the deal closed, when the Draft was, we didn’t want to waste a lot of time. It’s no secret coach Malone was the most-highly sought after assistant coach out there. Everybody wanted him … [This] his was a situation where I wasn’t 99 percent sure. I was 100 percent sure. I consulted with various people and the feeling was unanimous we should make this happen and make this happen right away. I invited the coach to come and have lunch with me. We sat down and talked about it and we shook hands at the end of it.”
Other teams were showing interest in Malone, a highly regarded assistant for many years. But, he said, “Out of all the jobs I could have been involved with, this is the one that excited me the most.”