While you were sleeping snugly in your bed Sunday night, there was a seismic earthquake in the NBA blogosphere as second-year head coach Mike Malone was shockingly fired by the Sacramento Kings.
Malone had gotten off to a terrific 9-4 start this season behind MVP-caliber play from DeMarcus Cousins and the strong all-around game of Rudy Gay. But then Cousins got sidelined with viral meningitis, teams loaded up on Gay and the Kings didn't have enough other weapons to compensate. The team now stands at 11-13 with Tyrone Corbin as an interim coach and the team reportedly high on George Karl or Vinny Del Negro.
And there is, of course, only one person to blame in all of this -- Josh Smith. That would make three coaching casualties in just 10 months on Smith's resume.
Hear me out!
No, this isn't another rant against Detroit Bad Boy's favorite punching bag. Instead, it appears that the Pistons' 95-90 victory over the Kings on Saturday and the extremely solid play of Smith was the straw that broke the camel's back for Malone.
Yes, it appears Smith played so well that he might just have gotten Malone the boot.
Smith scored 21 points, shot greater than 50 percent for the first time this year, and also chipped in 13 rebounds, five assists, five blocks and two steals. Yes, he was too careless with the ball (seven turnovers) but it was his best game of the season, a sign of how head coach Stan Van Gundy wants to use Smith and it couldn't be in front of a more apt audience -- the Kings and owner Vivek Randive and GM Peter D'Alessandro.
Because, as Mos Def informed us, "Why did one straw break the camel's back? Here's the secret -- the million other straws underneath it."
If you recall it was Smith whom the Kings targeted as their latest reclamation project in the offseason. The goal was to buy low on an overpaid player and hope to turn his game around. This is what had worked so successfully with Gay the year before.
There were rumors throughout the summer of the Kings' interest in Smith, but there was one person who was not a fan of the move -- head coach Mike Malone.
Malone had disagreed with ownership's pursuit of a Josh Smith trade in July, and made his position known to Ranadive, league sources said. Ranadive joined D'Alessandro in talks with the Detroit Pistons, but no agreement was ever reached.
NBA Trade Rumors
NBA Trade Rumors
Woj clarified on Twitter that the reason the deal was never reached was because the Pistons said no. Perhaps Sacramento's version of buying low meant offering the similarly bloated deals of Carl Landry and Jason Thompson whereas the Pistons wanted the expiring deal of Derrick Williams and/or perhaps a young player such as Ray McCallum, Nik Stauskas or a pick in return.
Regardless, the deal didn't happen, Malone objected to the very idea of trading for Smith and the front office went ahead and pursued it anyway. Another source of contention, according to media reports, is the slow pace preferred by Malone while Randive and D'Alessandro wanted a more up-tempo style (hence the interest in Karl).
For Pistons fans who like to rail on the unreasonable expectations of owner Tom Gores, I don't think you can get a more explicit example of ownership overconfidence than the Kings firing Malone 24 games into his second season when he is hovering around .500 despite missing a possible MVP candidate during the team's only time of pronounced struggle.
With Malone gone could the Smith trade be back on the table? Who knows. There's no indication that ownership is going to be anything but aggressive. But Smith, despite showing signs of life recently, has not done anything close to rebuilding his trade value so it's unlikely the offers would get that much more appealing from Van Gundy's perspective. Also, it doesn't seem like Van Gundy is in any rush to pull the plug on his reclamation project.
Only time will tell.
Zooming out, while Gores often gets dismissed as clueless about basketball from frustrated fans, the Kings incident is also exhibit A in why Gores and Van Gundy talk about the importance of a connection between the floor and the front office. And despite his early-season struggles in year one, Van Gundy is probably feeling pretty confident he made the right decision about holding out for some executive authority before returning to the NBA after seeing Malone get the axe.
It was less than 48 hours ago that we saw Malone on Fox Sports Detroit all smiles posing for pictures with his children (I think) and his father, Pistons assistant coach Brendan Malone. Now he's fired. And it's all Josh Smith's fault.