Kings Blog and Q&A

News, observations and reader questions about the Sacramento Kings and the NBA.

February 23, 2009
Opening tip: What the trade deadline may say about the coaching search

Hornets (32-22) at Kings (12-45)

Scoring: Kings 14th (99.3), Hornets 25th (96).
Shooting: Kings 24th (44.6 percent), Hornets 13th (45.6).
Scoring defense: Kings 29th (108.9), Hornets third (93.6).
Shooting defense: Kings 30th (48.2 percent), Hornets 14th (45.4).
Rebound differential: Kings 30th (minus-5.6), Hornets 22nd (minus-1.1).

The link: Hornets coverage in the New Orleans Times Picayune.
The almanac: On this date in 1986, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar of the Lakers passed Elvin Hayes to become the career leader in games played, at 1,304. Abdul-Jabbar eventually logged 1,560 appearances and was passed by Robert Parish (1,611). On this date in 1987, Nate McMillan of the SuperSonics tied the single-game rookie record by recording 25 assists. Ernie DiGregorio had 25 on Jan. 1, 1974.


The trade deadline last week was a lot about scoring cash for the Maloofs and hardly at all about building to the future with first-round draft picks (zero) or prospects (maybe Rashad McCants, and that's a big maybe) or players of any age with a good chance to be around next season (Andres Nocioni, who will turn 30 the first full month of 2009-10). These were bank-account moves more than basketball moves, minus the certainty of the past that the savings would be reinvested in the team.

So welcome to the next shoe drop: the coaching search.

It's only logical to consider the possibility (likelihood?) of a similar shift toward the cost cutting. This is a serious financial crisis for all and the Maloofs are reliant on entertainment spending that doesn't exist in Sacramento or Las Vegas, the locations of two major holdings. And, by the way, that entertainment spending doesn't exist in many other places the great speculators assume the Kings are headed. Based on the tightening that has already become public, not to mention the parts that haven't, this is a time for hanging on more than committing huge dollars.

Player moves at the trade deadline.

Coaching moves after the season.

If the Flip Saunders scenario didn't just go out the window, it took a major hit. Going four or five years at $5 million per doesn't seem the direction anymore. That's not to say Saunders was the likely hire -- he ideally would like to be somewhere that has the chance to win right away, he knows he is The Guy among the unemployed coaches, and he knows he can wait for his opportunity rather than have to jump at something to get back in the league. But, it is known that he likes Sacramento and is intrigued by the Kings, and that meant Flip was no pipe dream.

The economics may say otherwise now is the thing. Likewise if the Kings targeted the college ranks, the way they eyed Lorenzo Romar of Washington a few years and -- what? -- 19 coaches ago. A lot of campus big hitters think about the NBA and would listen, but no college guy of that prominence is going to leave a good gig for three years at $2.5 million-$3 million-$3.5 million.

The potential winner from all this, of course, is Kenny Natt. I'd still rate him a long shot. Just not as long as a couple weeks ago.

The option for a 2009-10 contract is just a formality. It's a smart business move, really. The Kings gained some control over the situation without giving up anything. Maybe Natt gets a small buyout if the team does not exercise the option. But they're not going to stand in his way anyway if he has the chance to interview for another job before the May 1 deadline, by which time they'll have a pretty good idea whether he's their guy for the future. And, that $2 million might not be the figure for next season if they do keep him. Letting a first-time head coach open camp as a lame duck, with no we-got-your-back message from management, is asking for nonstop speculation, so there might be a reworked deal along the lines of $1.5 million plus a 2010-11 option at $2 million. That's a chance at greater rewards for Natt, who has no bargaining power anyway.

The one certainty in all this is that the high sheriffs of the front office will have a conversation at some point directly related to the economics of the next coaching hire and that it's not the same conversation they would have had when Reggie Theus was fired in mid-December.

My list of potential successors then was Saunders one, Eddie Jordan two, Avery Johnson three, Maurice Cheeks four, Tim Thibodeau five. A clear shift from the previous hiring, when Theus got the job and Scott Brooks, Brian Shaw and Kurt Rambis received serious consideration, because I didn't see how the Kings can risk another promising assistant learning the No. 1 spot on the fly. The last few years have just been too much of a carousel. So Thibodeau, the well-regarded top aide on the Celtics bench, was the only rookie-in-waiting.

Now, all bets are off. Shaw. Thibodeau. Natt. Elston Turner.

(I'm not adding Terry Porter to any list, though. The Kings didn't even interview him a couple summers ago, before going with Theus, and that was before Porter had a very bad ending in Phoenix.)

The new No. 1: Jordan.

There is a slight cost issue. Jordan will get more than Natt or a current assistant on any bench. But he's getting $3.5 million this season from the Wizards for mostly not working and has $4 million due in 2009-10. Washington would have to pay only the difference between that and whatever EJ gets on another deal, an offset common in coaching pacts, but he still gets $4 mil no matter what plus another couple years of guaranteed money beyond that.

Cheeks has a similar situation. But Jordan has the comfort zone from his previous tour as Kings coach. He likes Sacramento and knows Sacramento and he knows Geoff Petrie fired him on orders from then-owner John Thomas.

This will evolve with the economy. But the Kings brass will be having the conversation about money and coaches, and the trade deadline may have just signaled how that talk will go.

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