One visit to the Sacramento Kings' locker room this season revealed their wrong direction.
The walls were decorated with slogans, odes to clichés like "commitment" and "focus" and "heart." Nice ideas, all, but better served — and heeded — for high school and collegiate teams.
This is the NBA, and I doubt a sullen warrior like Mike Bibby gained inspiration by staring at a wall message. When it's Game 63 and your joints feel like tapioca, you need a personal push, not an old-school bromide.
Eric Musselman lasted only one miserable 33-49 season because he coached on a Web site not often visited by his team. He was earnest but miscast to pull together difficult personalities like Bibby, Ron Artest, Brad Miller and Kenny Thomas.
Musselman launched his season with a DUI arrest, and reports of player discontent sprouted during the season's first month. Simply, few people in the organization liked him. The Kings set records for horrific body language, the residue of allowing 103points per game (seventh-worst in the NBA). Worse, they struggled in close games and muted the league's loudest arena by going 20-21 at home.
Want to play the blame game? Here goes: Don't point the finger at Musselman. He never should have been hired. The Maloof brothers deserve the goat horns. They gaffed by chasing away Rick Adelman, who only guided the Kings into the playoffs for eight consecutive seasons.
It was under Adelman, while basketball president Geoff Petrie handled personnel, when the Kings rose from a non-entity to NBA prominence. The Kings had a bona fide I.D. in the league under Adelman and assistant coach Pete Carril. They ran the floor, passed to open teammates and could be counted on to entertain their fans.
They lost their I.D. under Musselman but, again, what did the owners expect? Just because they thought Adelman was aloof wasn't a reason with merit. There are successful coaches and owners who don't get along. How the Maloofs decided to jettison a proven coach like Adelman, and replace him with an overeager neophyte like Musselman, ranks as a fundamentally flawed decision, the kind that sets back organizations for years, even decades.
Credit the Kings' front office at least for acting quickly with Musselman and looking ahead. But they know they can't whiff again with their next hire. The Kings labored through 15 consecutive losing seasons (1984-98) before Adelman arrived. They plunge back into the hoops Dark Ages if they bungle another coaching choice.
Other issues complicate matters. Petrie, in tandem with the next coach, must decide if the troubled Artest belongs in the Kings' future. For all his baggage, Artest will respond to a coach armed with a good plan and a strong personality. Whether that scenario takes shape in Sacramento is another story for another day.
The Kings interviewed only three coaching candidates last year. Expect Petrie to run a string of coaches through his office.
I think he will go out-of-the-box and open eyes throughout the NBA. The Kings, humbled by a bad season, also are running in place regarding a new arena in Sacramento. Finding the right man to correct the Adelman mistake is a must.
They need a combination of renewed credibility and fresh energy, which is why they need Rudy Tomjanovich as the head coach and Scott Brooks, Musselman's top assistant better known locally as the former East Union High star, as his assistant.
It's uncertain whether Tomjanovich, 58, is willing or physically capable of doing the job. He resigned in 2004 after 41 games as coach of the Lakers because of health concerns. If he's able, however, the Kings should pursue him.
What's promising about Tomjanovich is his pedigree — a star as a player who then coached the Houston Rockets to back-to-back NBA titles in 1994 and '95. His intense but hands-off style — the antithesis of the painfully hands-on Musselman — would help the Kings through their current transitional stage.
Brooks performed admirably for Tomjanovich as the Rockets' backup point guard in 1994. Further, Brooks leans more toward Tomjanovich as a "players' coach." The Kings suddenly dove for loose balls and showed an extra bounce in their step during Brooks' tenure as interim coach while Musselman served his DUI suspension.
A staff anchored by Tomjanovich and Brooks would send a positive message to the players and be a hit with the fans. And I just bet the first thing to go will be those slogans on the walls.