In case you missed it, Michael Malone’s Denver Nuggets team picked up a Game 7 victory over the Utah Jazz on Tuesday and advanced to the second round of the NBA playoffs.
The moment wasn’t lost on a trio of former Kings teammates who turned to social media to pour salt in one of the many open wounds festering in Sacramento.
Rudy Gay, Isaiah Thomas and DeMarcus Cousins looked like a formidable group for the Kings during the 2013-14 season. If not for a series of injuries, they might have even made a little noise in the standings.
It was Year 1 of Vivek Ranadivé’s ownership. Malone had just been plucked from the Golden State Warriors where he worked as Mark Jackson’s lead assistant. The Kings were his first head coaching job.
Sacramento ran a 28-53 record that season and looked like they were building towards something.
And then it all came to a screeching halt.
During the summer of 2014, Thomas was dealt to the Phoenix Suns for Alex Oriaki and trade exception after ownership was convinced that he wasn’t an NBA starter. He would go on to make back-to-back NBA All-Star games during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons. He finished fifth in MVP balloting during the 2016-17 season and led the Celtics all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Following Thomas’ departure, Malone lasted 24 games into the 2014-15 season, running up an 11-13 record while dealing with a 10-game absence by Cousins due to illness. He ran a 39-67 record during his short stint as the Kings’ head coach and according to Ranadivé at the time, Malone just wasn’t the style of coach he was hoping for.
“We had a Sousa marching band, which was needed when there was chaos, but now we need to shift to a jazz band, where people can be individually showcased and improvised,” Ranadivé said at the time. “What we need is a jazz director. I think that’s the kind of leadership moving forward.”
Malone has said countless times that Kings fans have made him out to be Red Auerbach, the legendary Celtics coach that won nine NBA championships. In reality, he was a young coach that was quick with a joke and had a passion for teaching. He also struggled to connect with general manager Pete D'Alessandro, which played into his undoing.
Denver reached out to Malone during the 2015 offseason and hired him to take over their program. He has had some ups and downs with the Nuggets, but he’s posted a 219-182 record over the last five seasons in Denver and led the franchise to the playoffs in each of the last two years.
Following Malone’s departure, the Kings rolled through coaches Tyrone Corbin, George Karl, Dave Joerger and have now settled in with Luke Walton. Cousins was traded by Sacramento to the New Orleans Pelicans during the 2016-17 season and Gay left the team in the summer of 2017.
It appears that none of the players involved have forgotten about their time in Sacramento and they are pulling for their former coach as he moves onto the next round of the postseason.
There was potential in this group, but it all ended before they ever had a chance to see how good they could be together.