Two coaches have already been fired in the NBA this season, with Mike Malone getting the ax from the Sacramento Kings in December and Jacque Vaughn receiving his pink slip from the Orlando Magic last week. The Malone firing came out of nowhere, but Vaughn’s came as no surprise given the Magic’s 10-game losing streak during a season that was supposed to represent a step forward for the franchise.
A third coach could be on his way out the door in the very near future, and funny enough, it’s the man who replaced Malone: Tyrone Corbin. The Kings have been a disaster since Corbin took over for Malone, and the rumbles about George Karl soon taking over are getting louder and louder.
The latest on that front has Karl and the Kings getting closer to a deal, according to Sam Amick of USA TODAY Sports. Contract terms aren’t much of an issue anymore, and the biggest hurdle left is a complication with star big man DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins’s agents reportedly don’t want Karl to be hired, although they have denied blocking the hiring and have supposedly become more open to the idea.
Even if Cousins’s representatives aren’t fans of Karl, Kings management may go ahead and make the hire anyway. Amick reports that owner Vivek Ranadive has given general manager Pete D’Alessandro the full go-ahead to hire whomever he wants, and Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher says an official contract offer has been made to Karl.
As for the Magic, James Borrego has taken over as interim head coach. Orlando is 1-1 under Borrego, although they should be 2-0. The Magic blew a six-point lead in the final minute against the Chicago Bulls on Sunday despite having the ball with just over 30 seconds left.
Karl appeared to show interest in the Magic gig via Twitter last week, and maybe it remains a possibility if talks with the Kings somehow go south. Both Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski and ESPN’s Chris Broussard have named Scott Skiles as a possible candidate for the Magic job, and other names that have been mentioned are Malone, Mark Jackson and Vinny Del Negro. There are sure to be others in the mix as well.
With these two jobs open for the time being, I’d like to examine them and take a look at which job is more attractive. There are pros and cons to both, and there’s no slam-dunk winner.
The case for the Kings job
The Kings have a bona fide star player in Cousins. Sure, the guy has his warts and the controversy surrounding him and the Karl situation isn’t a good look, but there’s no doubting his talent. Cousins has gotten better every season, not only on offense, but on defense as well. Sacramento has given up just 100.7 points per 100 possessions with the big man on the floor this season, compared to 111.5 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the bench, per NBA.com. The Kings’ starting unit has been excellent this season, outscoring opponents by 16.4 points per 100 possessions.
That’s a good building block, and Sacramento should have ways to improve this offseason. The Kings will have a good draft pick as long as it stays in the top 10 (the pick goes to the Chicago Bulls if it lands outside the top 10), and there should be some cap space to work with. Sacramento has about $55.3 million in guaranteed salary for next year, according to BasketballInsiders.com, which should allow the front office the ability to make some much-needed additions. The cap is just over $63 million this season and will go up next season, although it’s unclear how much.
The case for the Magic job
The Magic are one of the youngest teams in the league, and there’s a sizable amount of good young talent on the roster. Nikola Vucevic, Victor Oladipo and Tobias Harris have all impressed and improved in their young careers, and not one of them is older than 24 years old. Harris and Oladipo are both just 22, while Vucevic is 24. Having the ability to coach up that kind of young talent is a huge plus.
19-year-old rookie Aaron Gordon also has a lot of upside, even though his first season has been marred by injury. Rookie point guard Elfrid Payton has shown flashes, and when you toss in another high pick in the upcoming draft, that truly is a boatload of young players with a lot of potential. Orlando should also have cap space the next few years to mix in veteran players with all the youngsters, and with so much mediocrity in the Eastern Conference, the Magic have an opportunity to get into the playoff picture relatively quickly.
The case against the Kings job
There remains a dearth of legitimate NBA talent on the Kings’ roster, and in the loaded Western Conference, that’s a huge problem. The bench is absolutely horrific, and rookie shooting guard Nik Stauskas has been a major disappointment. The team has little shooting and a horrible defense despite the success of the starting group, and while some of the issues can be addressed via the draft and free agency, there are no guarantees that pans out.
There’s also the matter of the new ownership group led by Ranadive. Getting rid of the Maloofs and staying in Sacramento was great, but the new ownership group is gaining a reputation that they don’t know what they’re doing. The expectations for Malone this season were unreasonable, and firing him was a mistake, even if there were philosophical differences. Karl would be a better fit with management in terms of philosophy, but there are concerns this ownership group may be a bit too meddlesome when it comes to what happens on the court in an effort to be more innovative. Besides firing Malone, another example is the 4-on-5 defense idea reportedly pitched by Ranadive, which was widely panned.
The case against the Magic job
The Magic may have a lot of young talent, but they don’t have that bona fide star player like Cousins. Could Vucevic, Oladipo, Harris or one of the other youngsters blossom into a superstar? Sure, but it’s more likely they’re just really good players and not superstars. Also, Harris’s future in Orlando is still in question as he heads into restricted free agency in the offseason. Harris will command a big contract, and it’s unclear if the Magic feel strongly enough about him to pay up.
Any coach that comes to Orlando will have a lot of work to do when it comes to improving the Magic’s defense. Orlando has the fifth-worst defensive rating in the league, per NBA.com, and the defense performs at its lowest levels with the team’s best players on the floor. Vucevic offers little rim protection despite his great size, and he’s going to need to show a lot of improvement moving forward if he wants to be considered one of the best centers in the league.
It’s close, especially because of the conference difference, but I’m picking the Kings job because of Cousins. He may be volatile at times, but he’s one of the most dominant forces in the league. He’s a player you can build around, and Sacramento was a legitimately good team earlier this season when he was healthy and the team bought in on defense. With a good coach and shrewd roster additions, the Kings could have the makings of something special, even in the stacked West.