Perhaps his brief, failed regime was doomed before it even started, when Eric Musselman was popped for a DUI before the start of the regular season. The Sacramento Kings coach had to drag himself into a press conference, deliver a humiliating public apology and ultimately suffer the indignity of a two-game league suspension.
Musselman was the choice of team owners Gavin and Joe Maloof to replace the coach they wanted out, Rick Adelman. They wanted a fresh, young voice and a disciplinarian, and they disposed of Adelman after the greatest era in franchise history, a run of eight straight playoff seasons. Against the wishes of general manager Geoff Petrie, they made the move, and now, after a 33-49 season and a locker room and franchise rife with dissension, the firing of Musselman on Friday confirmed it as a failed move.
Just before the All-Star break, the Maloofs were already second-guessing their decision to hire Musselman.
"We're a little disappointed with what's going on," Joe Maloof told Yahoo! Sports in mid-February. "We don't like to lose. It's new to us. Our fans don't like it. We're disappointed but that doesn't mean we can't turn it around. Nobody works harder than Eric. I think he means well. We haven't found our rhythm yet. Something's not right. We haven't found our style. We have no identity.
"Are we a passing team? Are we a running team? Are we a half-court team? In his defense, this is his first season and he's had to put in a totally new system."
The Maloofs were filming a television show, according to a spokesman on Friday, and were unavailable to talk. Nevertheless, they're in the lottery for the first time in nine seasons.
Perhaps Musselman never had a chance with Ron Artest's spiraling personal life and with a locker room that descended into disrepair centered on the acrimonious relationship between stars Artest and Mike Bibby.
And no, it wasn't Musselman's fault that forward Shareef Abdur-Rahim labored on the court with those troubled knees, or that center Brad Miller missed 19 games. Outside of Kevin Martin scoring 20 points a game out of nowhere, perhaps earning himself the NBA's Most Improved Player award, there was little redeeming value in a lost season for the Kings.
This team never responded to Musselman's tough, confrontational style, and it never learned to play with the passion and precision that he had been hired to bring. After the Warriors fired him after two seasons in 2004, Musselman, who leaves the Kings with a $5 million buyout, has run out of chances as an NBA head coach.
Now, it's on Petrie to make the hard choices for Sacramento. After trying hard to move Bibby at the trading deadline, do they re-start talks for him this summer? What kind of market, if any, is there for the troubled Artest? For a franchise that had found such stability, contending for several seasons for the Western Conference championship, the Kings have slipped back into a past life of disarray. Petrie and the Maloofs built these Kings once, and now, they're left to try again.
- Eric Musselman
- Joe Maloof
- Geoff Petrie
- Rick Adelman