Storyline: Kings Front Office

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Here’s the issue. The Kings brought in Hill, Zach Randolph and Vince Carter during the offseason and still have Garrett Temple on the roster. These are respected vets who can play. These are vets brought in to help a young team, and according to sources, were brought in with the promise of a team aiming to be playoff competitive. But that promise was made to them by Scott Perry, who since left Sacramento and now makes personnel decisions for the New York Knicks. So the direction of the franchise has shifted since Perry left. An organization that brought in veterans aiming to win now is aiming to lose. Not surprisingly, Hill isn’t happy, according to multiple sources And the other veterans can’t be too happy, either. So the Kings have a mess on their hands. I’ve always liked Hill’s game, but when he signed in Sacramento, I questioned the prudence of the Kings bringing him on board when they just drafted De’Aaron Fox, the quicksilver point guard from Kentucky.

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The Sacramento Kings today hired Galen Duncan as Vice President of the Kings Academy and Professional Development, according to General Manager Vlade Divac. In his role with Sacramento, Duncan is responsible for implementation of the Kings Academy program, a developmental, player-centric curriculum aligning multi-faceted organizational philosophies and ideals to help athletes mature into well-rounded professionals. Under Duncan’s oversight, Kings Academy will augment on-court progress with access to practical material and experiences that help balance on-court priorities and personal responsibilities with opportunities to become impactful contributors in the community.

Brandon Williams, who has two children – Bailey, 13, and Remington, 5 – certainly liked what Divac was selling. He ranks No. 2 in the Kings hierarchy and controls day-to-day operations of a club he says “is farther along then the Sixers when I arrived. There are more pieces here.” In contrast to the 76ers, where he oversaw the G-League development affiliate, he will be used more extensively in contract negotiations, trades and the often-contentious discussions with agents.

During the ensuing nine years in the league office – and with strong backing from former Commissioner David Stern and his successor, Adam Silver – his career arc continued to ascend, with one promotion after another. “I had the benefit of working directly with Brandon,” Silver wrote in an email, “and know firsthand why his basketball acumen, experience and management skills are well regarded around the league. He’ll be a terrific addition to the Kings organization.” Among his many tasks with the league, Williams helped craft the “Respect the Game” policy that imposed a dress code and was instrumental in creation of the Replay Center in Secaucus, N.J. Somewhere in there, he also found time to get married, have a baby and graduate from Rutgers law school in 3 1/2 years.

The two-time FIBA Basketball World Cup winner has called on players worldwide to support FIBA’s new competition calendar, describing it as ‘win-win for players, fans, national federations, leagues and clubs.’ “Representing your country is the ultimate honor and I know that many of you feel the same way. The new calendar means that, for the first time, they (players) will have one free summer in every four-year cycle, reducing the pressure and providing the time needed to rest and recover from an already arduous schedule. It is really important that the new global calendar will also create opportunities and help develop new talent by enabling younger players from more countries to play international basketball.”

The stunning departure of Chris Granger, who resigned as Kings’ president Monday to pursue other challenges, is a major loss to both the franchise and the community. If the Golden 1 Center is his crowning achievement – and it is – the former executive has been a soothing, stabilizing presence since he was first dispatched by former NBA Commissioner David Stern to oversee the Kings’ marketing and ticket sales divisions decimated during the Maloofs’ repeated attempts to relocate the franchise.

Eminently approachable and polite, Granger mingled with patrons, fielded complaints, checked on all the details – everything from the length of the lines at restrooms and concession stands to the positioning of the bike racks outside the main entrance. “I’m really sad Chris is leaving,” Ranadive said Monday afternoon from his cell phone, “but when I recruited him, I also knew it wasn’t going to be forever. He built the arena. He stayed a year (afterward). I told him, ‘I’d like to keep you, but I also understand you don’t want to be selling sponsorships your whole life.’ He’s a big time guy.”

That was the deal-maker, the Divac proclamation. The Kings were unwilling to invest an estimated $200 million in a Cousins extension and no longer content to half-step the rebuilding process. They were all in. The owners, the front office executives, the picks and the shovels. “In some respects, I was relieved,” Divac said. “When I got here (February 2015), and then Pete (D’Alessandro) left just before the draft, I wanted to study everything and not make quick decisions I would regret. I put myself into working with George (Karl), DeMarcus. But when I realized it wasn’t going to work, I thought, ‘Go young and start over.’

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.’ ”
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