Storyline: Kings Front Office

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The much-debated Cousins deal was his trade. The directive to audition the younger players for the final weeks of the season came from his lips. The draft selections and/or draft day swaps – same as they were in 2015 and 2016 – will be his decisions. The hiring last week of Luke Bornn as vice-president of analytics and Scott Perry as executive vice president of basketball operations were his calls. “I knew the staff I wanted to put together,” Divac said the other day. “There was always so much (drama) going on ever since I got here, it took up a lot of my time. Finally I have been able to find people who believe in what we are trying to do and who I am very comfortable with. I like our staff very much now, with Scott (Perry), Luke (Bornn), Ken (Catanella), Mike (Bratz), Peja (Stojakovic). We filled some holes.”

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But what most attracted Divac to Bornn was his ability to synthesize data and succinctly present information. Though Divac and head coach Dave Joerger value analytics as a tool in acquiring talent and coaching teams, neither perceives players as widgets nor believes players can be pieced together on assembly lines. “Basketball is not science,” Divac said. “You have talent, you develop your players, you play hard. But you want to get players who complement each other, and analytics helps in that regard. Marc Gasol the other day said stats are killing the game because a lot of stuff that’s important can’t be quantified. Luke is able to identify what’s important and explain things in language we can understand.”

“Basketball is not science,” Divac said. “You have talent, you develop your players, you play hard. But you want to get players who complement each other, and analytics helps in that regard. Marc Gasol the other day said stats are killing the game because a lot of stuff that’s important can’t be quantified. Luke is able to identify what’s important and explain things in language we can understand.” The addition of Perry, 53, is even more significant given his prominent role as Divac’s right-hand man, coupled with his experience in both the NBA and college ranks. Described as diligent, engaging and extremely intelligent, the new vice president thus fills that gaping hole in the front office. That he can schmooze with the best of them is no small attribute. The most successful NBA teams have someone – or sometimes more than one individual – whose relationships with college coaches, international and NBA executives and scouts afford access to practices, counselors, tutors, and, ultimately, to invaluable inside information.

“I like the direction we’re going,” Divac said. “I keep hearing that we have a weak front office, and I’ll take all the criticism. But I don’t think that’s true. Our young guys got better, the chemistry improved, you could see progress. Now we are in position, because of good cap space, our picks and possible trades, to do some things. And we will be active. We don’t just want to build a team to get the eighth seed. We want to be more than that. We want to be the Kings that we were before – contenders for a title. We are working for that.”

According to numerous league insiders, NBA team executives have found it difficult to negotiate with the Kings because of their thin and inexperienced front office. The Kings had also struggled in recent offseasons to schedule visits and workouts from top draft prospects, even while holding a top-10 draft pick. No lottery picks worked out for the Kings last year. Adding the well-respected Perry gives the Kings an executive who knows the league well and can help Divac navigate what will be another important offseason.

Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadive has shown interest in finding a front-office executive to usurp Vlade Divac’s authority and turn the franchise’s general manager into a “figurehead,” league sources told The Vertical. In a contradictory move on the day that league sources say Sacramento received formal permission to meet with former Philadelphia 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie, the Kings quickly issued a public statement saying, “The Kings are not hiring Sam Hinkie and have no plans to bring anyone in over Vlade.”

A person close to Cousins said he was “blown” by the trade for myriad reasons. Losing nearly $30 million because he won’t be able to sign a designated maximum player contract worth more than $200 million was significant but only part of his frustration. Kings general manager Vlade Divac had told Cousins days before the deal that he wouldn’t be traded, only to ship him out for an uninspiring package from the Pelicans. Over the past few years, Cousins had developed a deep distrust of team management, which often told him one thing and did another.
3 months ago via ESPN

The Kings attempted to recruit longtime team executive David Morway, who had previously been with the Milwaukee Bucks and now consults for the Utah Jazz, to serve as Divac’s deputy. Discussions fizzled when Morway couldn’t get iron-clad assurances the organization would pony up sufficient dollars to upgrade its lean infrastructure in areas such as analytics, medical and player development. In April, the Kings ultimately settled on Ken Catanella, who spent the previous five seasons in the Detroit front office and is well-versed in the salary cap and a devotee of analytics. Observers wonder whether Ranadive will defer to Divac and Catanella — and director of scouting Mike Bratz — enough to break up a long string of decisions that didn’t pan out.
3 months ago via ESPN

Sources close to the Kings’ nerve center say chief operating officer Matina Kolokotronis was the catalyst behind Divac’s hire. “She’s the only person in the organization that Vivek really trusts,” says a longtime league executive. “She’s the connective tissue of the organization. Her institutional knowledge is second to none, and she’s politically wired in Sacramento. She knows where every body is buried.” Now in her 20th season with the Kings, Kolokotronis is the team’s one-woman ode to continuity. She has done it all, including negotiating player contracts, housing international players in her guest house, running the team’s foundation and working the back channels of Sacramento’s civic power structure. Her critics see her as a consigliere who is far too involved in basketball matters.
3 months ago via ESPN

Sources say that Kolokotronis saw Divac’s predecessors in management, Pete D’Alessandro and Chris Mullin, as driven by self-interest and prone to cracking on Ranadive on background to the media. League sources say that after the NBA’s vice president of basketball operations Kiki Vandeweghe declined an offer from the team following general manager D’Alessandro’s departure in June 2015, the Kings turned to Divac in the name of finding someone who would be loyal to Ranadive at a moment when the franchise’s favorability ratings needed a boost.

Ranadive – who initiated the spat early last week by claiming, among other things, that none of the coaches or the general manager wanted to remain with the franchise he purchased from the Maloofs in May 2013 – contacted The Bee late Friday and offered what sounded like a combination act of contrition and concession speech. “I wanted to sincerely apologize to Geoff Petrie and his team,” the owner began, speaking softly. “I meant no disrespect. I have the utmost respect for what they have done for the franchise and what they have accomplished. I fully understand that it’s a huge privilege to own a basketball team, and as chairman of the ownership, the buck stops with me. I accept responsibility for everything. All the mistakes are my mistakes.”

Petrie and his front office staffers stayed around during the chaotic, time-compressed ownership transition to scout players and help incoming coach Michael Malone work out prospects before the June 27 NBA draft. “When it comes to some of the representations about myself and Keith Smart, and the management group that was there at the time,” Petrie vented to Deadspin, “it was basically, totally untrue. I brought everybody together at different occasions and said, ‘Look, we’re going to be professional here. We’re going to continue to work like we would every other year, and ultimately we will assist any new people that may come in here and try and make them comfortable and get situated.’ ”

Q: What do you make of the reports that Wallace interviewed for a front office job with Sacramento? A: I’m not sure what to make of them. Wallace has flatly denied the reports. Other Grizzlies sources have said they’re not true. But it wasn’t some rinky-dink outfit reporting this. It was USA Today and ESPN. I also talked to a source on the Sacramento side, who not only said Wallace interviewed for a job, he entered into contract negotiations and would have taken the gig except the Kings decided to go another way. Logic would tell you it makes no sense for Wallace to take a lesser job with the Kings, but logic would also tell you that ESPN and USA Today don’t just make things up.

Divac said his greatest basketball experience was playing for the Kings from 1998 to 2004, a time that offered refuge from his war-torn Serbian homeland. That was real-life stress. Not that this season hasn’t been taxing. “Stressful?” Divac said. “Look, it’s a time where you want to build something. Stress? Come on. This is basketball. It’s sports; it’s fun. You want to create that environment. Are we having fun? No, not yet. My goal is to create a team that will have fun and play hard for the best fans in the league. They deserve better.”

Divac said he has learned his role as GM on the fly, beyond player evaluation and crunching salary data. “I know what I know, and I don’t know what I don’t know,” Divac said with a laugh. “It’s been a great experience. It’s a wonderful place to work. I feel confident in this position. We are moving forward. It’s not what we wanted in terms of results. This team, with the talent we put together last summer, should’ve been in the playoffs. We obviously didn’t do that. After the season, we’ll find what was the problem and fix it.”
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