Kings fire Musselman after one season

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The Sacramento Kings fired coach Eric Musselman on Friday after just one tumultuous season.

The Kings went 33-49 and missed the playoffs amid infighting and unimpressive play. The club, which reached the postseason eight consecutive times before coach Rick Adelman was fired last summer, wasted no time removing Musselman but intends to take plenty of time to choose his replacement.

"We've got to sit down and look at the process and how we did it," Geoff Petrie, the Kings' president of basketball operations, said of last summer's coaching search.

"There was some concern -- not that we were out of the playoffs, but the way we were out of it. We just couldn't get the level of consistency that would allow us to [make the postseason]," he said.

The firing is a disastrous end to an experiment by Sacramento owners Joe and Gavin Maloof, who dropped Adelman last summer against Petrie's apparent wishes. The Maloofs eventually chose Musselman, a longtime NBA assistant coach who presided over two decent seasons with the Golden State Warriors from 2002-04.

But Musselman was a disappointment from Oct. 20, when he was arrested on a drunken-driving charge after Sacramento's first preseason game. Musselman later pleaded no contest to the charge and served a two-game suspension in February.

The Kings, who won two Pacific Division titles and reached the 2002 Western Conference finals under Adelman, struggled after an 8-5 start under Musselman. They eventually collapsed into a season-ending 5-17 skid despite returning largely the same roster that scared the San Antonio Spurs in a first-round series last season.

Petrie thought he had assembled a team capable of challenging for a playoff spot even while the club retools its roster, but the Kings fell out of contention during a 1-8 skid in March that included losses to Charlotte, Atlanta and Minnesota.

Sacramento finished the season with a 117-106 home loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night to cap a 20-21 record at Arco Arena. The Kings have sold out 354 consecutive home games, but those raucous crowds had little to cheer.

After years of dazzling the NBA with Adelman's uptempo offense, the Maloofs wanted to see an improved defensive team in the mold of San Antonio or Detroit. Though Musselman had a background in defensive coaching and an inexhaustible supply of motivational material, the Kings never took to his approach while yielding 103.1 points per game -- seventh-worst in the league -- even with vaunted defensive stopper Ron Artest in the lineup.

And the Kings' problems weren't confined to the court, where guard Kevin Martin's breakout season was perhaps the only major improvement. The unpleasant locker room was filled with infighting, and veterans Artest, Mike Bibby and Brad Miller all failed to take charge.

"They sense they all could have done more themselves and more as a group," Petrie said of his end-of-season interviews with the players.

The season was among the most discouraging in the history of a franchise that knows all about miserable basketball, including 15 consecutive losing seasons from 1984-98.

The club moved from Kansas City to Sacramento in 1985 and reached the playoffs twice with losing records before Adelman, Chris Webber, Vlade Divac and Peja Stojakovic transformed the team in 1999 -- also the same year the Maloofs bought the team.

But most of the key players on those teams aged and departed over the last three seasons, leaving Petrie to rebuild around Bibby and Artest, who added to his volatile reputation with another bizarre year. Animal control officers and police were called to his suburban home at different times during the winter, and he occasionally criticized teammates and disrupted practices.

After weeks of rumors surrounding Musselman's departure, the Kings made the move after Musselman met Friday with Petrie, who acknowledged he was already "leaning that direction." The Maloofs must pay Musselman about $5 million for the remaining two seasons of his contract.

"When the speculation about anybody's job security gets as heavy and personal as it has in the last few days, it's unfair to let that kind of thing drag on," Petrie said, citing widespread predictions of Musselman's demise in the Sacramento media.

Attempts to reach Musselman weren't immediately successful. Joe Maloof also didn't return a phone call seeking comment.

The Kings don't intend to start a coaching search until Petrie returns from an upcoming scouting trip to Europe, though Petrie intends to have a coach in place before the draft.

Musselman's assistants, including Scott Brooks, are still under contract to the Kings. Brooks could be among the candidates -- but the Kings seem more likely to go after an established NBA coach after attempting to tame a difficult locker room with a relative neophyte.

Longtime Spurs assistant P.J. Carlesimo interviewed for the job last summer, and the Maloofs have long spoken highly of Larry Brown, now an executive vice president with the Philadelphia 76ers.

And the day just got worse for the Kings: They also lost tiebreakers with Charlotte and New York, who also finished 33-49, to drop from eighth to 10th in the overall draft order.