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NBA AM: Are The Kings Targeting George Karl?

Are the Kings targeting George Karl to replace Mike Malone?

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Kings Fire Mike Malone:  While this one seemed a little out of left field, the Sacramento Kings decided to part ways with head coach Mike Malone. The truth behind the curtain is, this one wasn’t nearly as shocking as it may seem despite the Kings’ hot start and somewhat improved situation.

Malone is a defensive-minded coach that was hired by new Kings owner Vivek Ranadive before he had hired his front office. There was a sense at least initially that Malone would be dictating a lot of the structure of the Kings, however over time that’s changed somewhat dramatically.

Ranadive has become much more hands on. He is much more involved in the day-to-day than your typical NBA owner in a very Mark Cuban kind of way. Malone’s defense-first mindset has been problematic for Ranadive for some time.

Sources close to the process say while Ranadive respects how important defense is, the stagnation of the Kings’ offense and the massive lapses the team has endured are placed more on Malone as a coach than on the players and it seemed Ranadive had enough.

Malone was hired in the summer of 2013 on a three-year, $9 million deal that was to pay him a bit more than $2 million per season. Malone has this year and next year fully guaranteed, unless he takes a job with another team.

The Kings have named assistant coach Ty Corbin the interim head coach, although they reportedly have eyes on former Nuggets head coach George Karl.

Given General Manager Pete D’Alessandro’s history with Karl and his style of play, he’s a natural fit. D’Alessandro was hired after Malone in 2013 and had no say in the hire. This time he will and he has a comfort level and trust in Karl that he was never able to form with Malone.

Karl has said numerous times he’d like to get back into coaching and has been visible during the offseason scouting players and being around the league’s offseason process.

Karl parted ways with the Nuggets after a highly successful season that yielded the Coach of the Year award in 2013. His contract was oddly structured, giving him three fully guaranteed years as a single team option. The Nuggets were interested in keeping Karl for one more season. However, the option locked in three years, something the Nuggets were unwilling to do and Karl was unwilling to negotiate.

Karl is currently 63 and was diagnosed with neck and throat cancer in 2010. Karl underwent treatment and was declared cancer free.

Karl was a panelist during last year’s Sloan Analytics Conference and joked that he had gained a reputation as being someone who could win a bunch of regular season games, butn his style had the a reputation that it couldn’t win playoff games.

Karl played professionally for the San Antonio Spurs both in the ABA and the NBA in the late 70’s. He began his coaching career in 1978 and has coached the Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors, the former Seattle Sonics, Milwaukee Bucks and Nuggets. Karl also coached two stints in the defunct CBA with the Albany Patroons and internationally with Real Madrid.

In his 25 seasons as a NBA head coach Karl has amassed an 1131-756 record in the regular season and is 80-105 in the postseason, qualifying for the playoffs in 22 of 25 seasons.

While Karl is viewed as the primary target for the Kings, there is no guarantee that he’ll take the job, especially in-season. That’s why the Kings are giving Corbin the chance to earn the job long-term this season.

The Kings are currently 11-13 on the season and have lost three straight games and eight of their last ten games.

Kings big man DeMarcus Cousins is recovering from viral meningitis. He has missed the last nine games and has been at practice trying to work himself back into game shape.

One Of The Greatest To Have Done It:  Last night Lakers star Kobe Bryant passed Michael Jordan on the career scoring list, placing himself as the third highest scorer in NBA history with 32,310 points – now 18 more than Jordan.

After knocking down two free throws and passing the milestone, the game was stopped and Bryant was presented with the game ball.

Bryant now sits 4,618 points behind second place Karl Malone and 6,077 points behind first place Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. To put those figures into perspective since the 2007-2008 season Bryant has scored 2323, 2201, 1970, 2078, 1616, 2133, 83 and 610 points.

To eclipse Malone, Bryant would need to continue to score at his average rate this season and roughly two more seasons after that.

After passing Jordan, the Charlotte Hornets owner and retired star released a statement congratulating Kobe on the accomplishment:

“I congratulate Kobe on reaching this milestone,” Jordan said. “He’s obviously a great player, with a strong work ethic and has an equally strong passion for the game of basketball. I’ve enjoyed watching his game evolve over the years, and I look forward to seeing what he accomplishes next.”

Bryant, 36, is playing in his 19th NBA season and is averaging 25.4 points per game on 38.6 percent shooting from the field a career low by a little more than three percent. Bryant’s career average is 45.2 percent from the field.

Bryant has one more year remaining on his contract after this season and there has been massive speculation that he would retire when his current contract is up.

Among Bryant’s many career accomplishments, he has won five NBA championships, been the Finals Most Valuable Player twice, the NBA’s regular season Most Valuable Player once, made an All-Star selection 16 times and won the NBA’s scoring title twice in his career.

Ironically, Bryant was drafted 13th overall by the Charlotte Hornets in 1996 and was part of a pre-arranged draft-day trade with the Lakers.

The Lakers are 8-16 so far on the season, Jordan’s Hornets are 6-17 on the season.

The Dance With Lance:  Today marks the first day that the majority of players signed this summer become trade eligible. The NBA, via the Collective Bargaining Agreement, blocks teams from trading players they obtained in free agency for 90 days or December 15, whichever is later.

This becomes meaningful for teams that signed guys who no longer fit or for teams that are looking to make changes and need more roster parts included to make a deal work under the cap.

The Charlotte Hornets are said to have explored trades involving free agent signee Lance Stephenson and have kicked the tires on a number of options. The Hornets are finding, much as Stephenson’s representation did this summer, that the market for him isn’t exactly steaming with interest.

Add in the season he is having and what’s being viewed as a desperation sale by the Hornets and few teams are expressing real interest or offering serios value.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports is reporting that the Hornets have reached out to Brooklyn and Indiana about a possible deal, but are finding that Stephenson by himself won’t return much, in fact the Pacers are believed to be asking for a first round draft pick in exchange for taking back Stephenson.

The Nets become an interesting destination, mainly because there is a sense in Brooklyn that the Nets want to part ways with center Brook Lopez, who is struggling to find a groove that works for head Coach Lionel Hollins.

The Hornets had eyes for Lopez when he was a free agent in 2012, however Lopez has the option to become an unrestricted free agent this summer and that’s something both the Nets and inquiring teams have to weigh in making trying to make a deal.

Lopez has a player option on his deal this summer worth $16.7 million, which he likely trades in for a chance at looking in more long-term security.

Wojnarowski also mentions that the Hornets and Nets have discussed the potential of a larger deal that could include Nets swing man Joe Johnson.

Johnson is owed $23.1 million this season and has a final year next season worth $24.89 million left on his deal. His contract becomes problematic in trade simply because his current $23.1 million accounts for 36 percent of Charlotte’s $64.094 million payroll.

NBA trade rules restrict the variance between swapped salaries fairly significantly once the outgoing salaries pass the $19.6 million mark, meaning teams have to get the combined salaries within 125 percent plus $100,000.

Said differently, for Brooklyn to move Johnson and Lopez, who combined make $38.89 million the Hornets would have to move off roughly $31 million in their own salary, which could only be achieved by trading multiple players – arguably six depending on how things get structured – which the Nets could not absorb without culling their own roster.

The Hornets posture seems to indicate they want Lance off the roster, the problem is moving off $9 million in salary this year and a fully guaranteed $9 million next year is tough to do, especially when the players is shooting 38.9 percent from the field, 16.7 percent from the three-point line and 65.3 percent from the foul line and is being portrayed as a toxic influence in the locker room.

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Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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