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This news broke at about midnight Monday morning central time and came as a complete surprise on the surface. However, just hours later reports started rolling out that the tension between Malone and the Kings had been building for months. It seems like due to a difference in philosophies Kings ownership was looking for a reason to fire him and Malone gave it to them by losing eight of the last ten games, including defeats at the hands of the lowly Los Angeles Lakers and Detroit Pistons. DeMarcus Cousins, the catalyst behind the team’s strong start, was out for the majority of that stretch due to an illness, which goes to show just how badly the Kings wanted Malone out. Every team is going to struggle when their best player goes out, but this was inevitable apparently. Malone was hired before Pete D’Alessandro was tapped as the GM. Typically, GMs like to hire their own coach, so from that standpoint Malone was kind of doomed from the start, especially since his style differs from D’Alessandro’s preference.
As Wojnarowski reported, Karl is one of the most likely candidates to replace Malone. He has ties to D’Alessandro dating back to their time together in Denver. He also jumps out as a really great fit for this team based on their youth and his experience. There probably isn’t a better coach on the market to get this team to take the quick step forward that ownership covets. A couple seasons removed from being unceremoniously dismissed by Denver despite being named the Coach of the Year in his last season and still having the desire to coach, Karl may be willing to take over in-season. The Kings fit his two criteria: being on the West Coast and on the verge of being competitive. He does not want to take over a rebuilding team at this stage of his career.
The other names that have been mentioned along with Karl’s is former Golden State Warriors head coach Mark Jackson and former Los Angeles Clippers head man Vinny Del Negro. Jackson has ties to Kings chairman Chris Mullin, while Del Negro has experience coaching playoff teams after stints in Chicago and Los Angeles. However, given his track record for being a little confrontational and discipline-oriented, it’s hard to imagine Kings ownership signing off on him. He has a lot of similar qualities of Malone’s that earned him a quick pink slip after just over 100 games on the job.
Malone’s firing may not be just, but that’s life as a coach in the NBA. He’s going to get paid the rest of the money that was guaranteed to him on his contract and will likely get another shot at some point. However, the Kings are eager to make a splash and felt like they could find better. If they end up with Karl in his place once it’s all said and done, it’ll be hard to argue with the decision, no matter the reason.
The Hornets are not necessarily negotiating from a point of leverage here as Stephenson has been awfully disappointing so far and their season is quickly slipping away from them. The Nets and Pacers are likely going to be patient and wait things out until the deadline because they have no reason to accept an unfavorable offer. Stephenson could be a major difference maker for them, but he’s not for Charlotte right now. In fact, in time they could view moving him as addition by subtraction, which would make it easy for the Nets or Pacers to pry him away at a price that they set.
Set to earn $9 million next season with a team option for the 2016-17 season, Stephenson’s contract is actually quite attractive in spite of his struggles. It seems only fitting for him to return to Indiana since the break up hasn’t been beneficial for them either. The Nets cannot be ruled out, though. Clearly, draft picks aren’t overly important to them, evident by the fact that they’ve traded away so many of their own. And, they are probably one of the many teams quietly planning to make a run at Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant. They can have Stephenson’s deal off of the books by the time he hits free agency in 2016, so if they can unload a contract or two they don’t want on Charlotte in exchange for him, they’ll likely bite without the pick.
With Jordan out of his way, only Karl Malone (36,928) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387) have more career points than Bryant. The big question is, will he be able to catch them? At 32,310 currently, he has a long way to go.
However, he is on pace to score right around 2,000 points this season, meaning he could pass the mailman next season if he continues to average right around 25 points a game. Given how he’s played so far this season after the most serious injuries of his career, anything is possible.
After that, though, it gets a little bit murkier for Bryant. He has been non-committal about playing past his current contract and has always made it clear that he’s not motivated by becoming the game’s all-time leading scorer. Still, it’s hard to imagine that if the accomplishment was within grasp and he was healthy enough to play that he would be able to peacefully walk away from the game without making one last final push for it.
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