SACRAMENTO (AP) — Of all the lessons Mike Malone has learned from his head coaches in over a decade as an NBA assistant, the problem of unrealistic expectations was obviously one of them.
Malone was introduced Monday by new Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadive as the first head coach in the new era in California’s capital city and he made sure to avoid a mistake that plagued his former boss in Golden State.
Malone said: “We’re not going to guarantee the playoffs in the first year like we did in Golden State that’s for sure.”
Mark Jackson took the Warriors to the playoffs in his second year instead. Malone’s immediate goals for rebuilding the struggling Kings are less tangible than wins and losses.
He said the three things he’s going to judge himself on in his first year as coach are his ability to change the culture in the locker room, to establish a defensive identity and to develop players.
That meshes with the thought process of Ranadive, a former minority owner of the Golden State Warriors who got to know Malone well during his time as assistant there the past two years.
“It’s a process,” Ranadive said. “It’s going to take a couple of years. Our success criteria aren’t going to be wins and losses right off the bat.”
Ranadive, the chairman of TIBCO Software, likened an NBA team to a jazz band filled with individuals rather than a regimented marching band.
“Everybody can do their own thing but they come together and the coach provides the sheet music and it’s all music at the end,” he said. “That’s what we see for the future.”
Ranadive takes over a franchise that fell on hard times in the final years of stewardship by the Maloof family. After making eight straight playoff appearances, the Kings have failed to make it to the postseason the last seven years and have the second-worst record in the NBA during that span.
Ranadive’s group closed a deal last week to acquire a 65 percent controlling interest in the team at a total franchise valuation of more than $534 million. That came after NBA owners blocked the Maloofs’ agreement with investor Chris Hansen to buy and relocate the Kings to Seattle earlier in May.
The next major decision for Ranadive will be filling the role of general manager. Geoff Petrie has run the basketball operations for the Kings since 1994, building the perennial contender that almost brought a title to Sacramento but also overseeing the recent downfall. His contract expires June 30 and he is expected to stay on through the draft.
Ranadive has already interviewed potential replacements but does not want to rush into any decisions. He moved quickly to hire Malone because he didn’t want to risk losing him to other interested teams.
“I’m not a person who shoots from the hip or makes quick decisions,” he said. “I’m a deliberate thinker. But this was not a case where I was 90 or 99 percent sure I had the best person. I was 100 percent sure I had the absolute best person in the league.”
The Kings also must decide what to do with volatile but talented center DeMarcus Cousins, who has averaged 16.3 points and 9.8 rebounds per game his first three seasons. Cousins has struggled with defense and discipline and was suspended three times last season — twice by the NBA and once by the team.
“I’m going to go with him with open arms and accept him because we all know that on any given night he’s the most talented big man in the NBA,” Malone said. “There aren’t many guys out there. You just don’t get rid of those guys. He could be and should be the cornerstone of this franchise for years to come. That’s my hope.”
Ranadive said one of the first things he did after closing the deal for the team is contact Cousins. The two have talked multiple times already. Ranadive, the first NBA owner of Indian heritage, tried to sell Cousins on the global opportunities with the team.
“I would like nothing better than a billion Indians to know who DeMarcus Cousins is,” Ranadive said.
Malone also has to hire a staff but he said that his father, longtime NBA assistant and head coach Brendan Malone, will be part of it. Brendan Malone helped establish the “Jordan Rules” as an assistant in Detroit and his son is also known for defense, starting with his role on Jeff Van Gundy’s staff with the New York Knicks.
He has helped engineer defensive turnarounds at almost every stop, which also includes Golden State, New Orleans and Cleveland.
Malone helped turn the Warriors into a capable defensive team that made the playoffs for only the second time since 1994. The Warriors finished 47-35, beat Denver in the first round of the playoffs and were eliminated by San Antonio in six games.
He will try to do the same with a Kings team that ranked at or near the bottom in nearly every defensive statistic last season.
“There’s a wide-held belief that you need to have a team full of great defensive players to be a good defensive team,” Malone said. “I would not agree with that. ... If you have a system in place where they can trust each other and they can communicate, you can cover up for those guys.”