Los Angeles — In the tight-knit coaching fraternity in the NBA, coaches usually protect one another publicly, so it wasn't much of a surprise to hear Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy defend one of his brethren, Mike Malone, who was fired late Sunday night as coach of the Sacramento Kings.
Malone, the son of Pistons assistant coach Brendan Malone, was given walking papers just 24 games into the season with the Kings (11-13). But they started out 9-6 behind All-Star play from DeMarcus Cousins, who's missed the last nine games with viral meningitis.
The Kings are 2-7 without Cousins, who's working his way back. But apparently, Kings owner Vivek Ranadive didn't like what he saw from Malone, in the second year of his contract.
Van Gundy didn't like the move "especially because they were playing really well and then their best player went down," he said. "It just makes you wonder if that wasn't something that was decided before the season ever started, because it couldn't have been based on this year."
"They've played very good basketball and then their best player, who was playing at an all-star level easily, goes down and they struggled a little bit. Very, very strange."
Malone was hired before the Kings hired a general manager, Pete D'Allesandro, and before the Kings made a play for Josh Smith.
Van Gundy, who has final say on all basketball matters, turned down the deal this past June. According to Yahoo! Sports, Ranadive wanted Smith and Malone was opposed to acquiring him.
Van Gundy was asked if he could sense any discord from the Kings in their talks, although he has never publicly acknowledged the trade discussions ever got serious from the Pistons' end.
"I never really talked to them, so, no, I didn't get anything there," Van Gundy said. "We obviously follow them more than other teams and I knew how well they were playing early in the year. And I think they're still playing really well, they're just missing a big piece of what they do. It's unexplainable to me."
Ranadive is an NBA novice, having just purchased the team in May 2013, and his snap move certainly resonates with the Pistons, who fired Maurice Cheeks 50 games into his first season as head coach after he had won four of his last six games.
It was the first domino that ended up with Van Gundy arriving in Detroit as both coach and president of basketball operations seven months ago. With owners having a quick trigger on coaches around the league, leading to as much turnover in the NBA as there is in any of the professional sports leagues, Van Gundy wasn't shy about wanting to protect himself from having a similar situation happen to him again.
"There's certainly been a lot of that," Van Gundy said. "And again that's one of the things I said, when I was looking to get back in, I would do it somewhere where I was convinced everyone was on the same page. Talking to a lot of guys there's not a lot of those situations."