Storyline: Kings Front Office

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Two years ago, Divac made a deal with New Orleans Pelicans general manager Dell Demps, putting his job and his reputation on the line with a trade that sent DeMarcus Cousins to the Pelicans and brought Hield to Sacramento. Well, Demps was fired on Friday while people in Charlotte were praising Divac. “Vlade has believed in these guys, especially Fox and Buddy, telling me a long time ago they were going to change the trajectory of the team,” Webber said. “The great part about it as a Sacramento fan is, I know Vlade, he doesn’t just work for the organization, but he is a fan of the city. He wants it to be great, not only on the court but in the community as well. “And, yeah, he’s going to (turn) it around. He already has. He said, ‘Give me two years.’ He’s done that. Just wait till we give him a little bit more time.”

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I hear you. But this season, I just wonder if it changes things. Are you still going to shop for a first-rounder? Is that a priority? Vlade Divac: No. Even that day when I made the deal with Philly for this (season’s) pick that’s coming (that they don’t have), my thought process (was), ‘Ok, if I’m not winning in three years, we shouldn’t deserve to have that pick, and I did everything to accomplish and bring players that can help DeMarcus. So I had to do crazy stuff. But I knew, if that doesn’t work I’m going to shift to Plan B, and Plan B worked. So now, I don’t need those picks. I have so many young guys that we have to develop. Of course I would love to have (more picks).

But with the latest developments it wouldn’t be a shock if Joerger has his eyes on another gig. He’d certainly be viewed sympathetically if the Kings continue to play well amid what is now perceived as a divided front office. Divac would love for all of this to pass and hope winning can be a cure. One of his greatest strengths as a player was his ability to be a unifier and after not making that happen with Karl, he has a chance to forge some harmony this season.

According to sources, Joerger on Thursday asked that Williams not be present for the team’s shoot-around in advance of the Kings’ home game against the Clippers. Williams, who had returned from an extended stretch of travel on Wednesday that had helped avoid these sorts of conflicts, subsequently left the shoot-around with Divac as a result of Joerger’s request. Joerger, the sources say, believes that Williams was the source of the story and is upset with the organization for not levying any discipline against Williams.

What makes the Kings’ situation more complex is that the front office hasn’t been respected like others in recent years, with some blaming Vlade Divac, others blaming Vivek Ranadive or the influence of chief operating officer Matina Kolokotronis on multiple areas in the organization. From people I’ve talked to around the league, the only consistency has been that it’s been a mess dealing with Sacramento in the past and structure and stability were needed.

That connection has been very important for the Serbian team as two important players are bound by the Kings at the moment – Bogdan Bogdanovic and Nemanja Bjelica. Djordjevic noted that Divac understands the situation as he also experienced the same problems during his career and has provided real help: “Huge! Divac is exceptionally positive towards us, he understands our obligations. There are a few more details to be taken care of regarding Bogdanovic but as far as Bjelica goes it’s done. Bogdanovic underwent a surgery at the end of the season, so we have to keep an eye, but Vlade is a man who remembers the problems he had while playing with NBA teams and he is exceptionally willing to help. We’ve been in touch for the past three or four nights talking about it. I’m so glad both of them are on his team because it will help them in their further careers”, Djordjevic told the Serbian press, per Basketballsphere.

Sitting courtside at the Thomas & Mack Center before the Kings’ Las Vegas Summer League game against the Suns, Divac told the Tribune that LaVine, 23, has star potential that justified the lucrative offer and that he wasn’t concerned about a torn ACL that limited LaVine to 47 games with the Timberwolves in 2016-17 and 24 with the Bulls last season. “Zach is a very talented kid,” Divac said. “He works hard. I see him as one of the future elite shooting guards in this league. Before the injury, he showed a lot of progression. Now I believe he’s back where he was.”

Divac, who had a front-row seat to watch his No. 2 pick, Marvin Bagley III, take on Suns No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton, felt the high-flying LaVine would have been a natural fit with his roster. “We are trying to build a team that is exciting and up-tempo,” Divac said. “We have one of the fastest point guards in the league (in De’Aaron Fox). We are young, but we are making progress. From last year, we are definitely a better team. We need more pieces, of course, but we are going to be smart. We are not going to rush into something that we don’t feel comfortable with. We are going to stay put and try to help those guys develop.”

“We love it, we like to support and try to find a way we can help,” said Kings general manager Vlade Divac. Divac also referenced center Willie Cauley-Stein, an artist who has designed hats for the Kings and has a clothing line. “We support that kind of stuff,” Divac said. “Obviously we like them to know (basketball) is the priority but everything else, the talents they have, they can explore. Even the Kings Academy, we set that up for those things, so they can learn stuff during their career.”

The Reno Bighorns have operated as a Sacramento minor league affiliate since their inception in 2008. They have been operated by the Kings since they purchased the club in 2016. “Our NBA G League team has been an incredible asset to help prepare players for NBA action and bringing the team closer to Sacramento will allow us to continue to build on that success and increase efficiency to this valuable development tool,” said Kings General Manager Vlade Divac. “Kings fans in Stockton will now have an opportunity to see the next-generation of NBA players each week.”

Now, Temple, who is also a VP of the NBA Player’s Association, has a new platform. He was among those who pushed Ranadive to speak after the first protest. That night, along with Doug Christie and Vince Carter, he met with community activist Barry Accuis, the leader of the protest, after the game. In a hallway, they spoke for 45 minutes, discussing tangible next steps. Then, on Sunday, Temple helped spearhead the T-shirts, and worked on the PSA. He is well aware that, had he never made an NBA roster, his opinions wouldn’t carry this kind of weight. “It’s not right, but it’s life,” he says. “It’s just the way things are. That’s one of the things I talk to kids about. Not to think their words don’t mean anything right now, because they do. But if they aren’t being listened to or the things they want to see changed aren’t changing, then use that as motivation to continue to pursue whatever you’re passionate about so you can get a to a level where people have to listen. A lawyer, a doctor, an athlete obviously. The bigger the platform, the more people listen. That’s just the way the world works.”

Now though, sitting in a plush chair in the owner’s room, four flat screens shimmering behind him, he is hesitant to take credit, or to say anything of substance on the record. Over the course of 35 minutes, he takes great pains to praise “his folks” and “his team”, which include Kolokotronis and VP of Communications Joelle Terry, both of whom sit in on the interview and chime in at various points, speaking for Ranadive or declaring comments on or off the record. Pushed on what comes next, Ranadive says they are discussing ideas, but nothing specific is set. Asked if he sees this as an opportunity to speak out more forcefully, perhaps in the manner of Kerr and Popovich, Terry interjects to make a distinction. “They have a lot more interaction with the media,” she says.

Perhaps it is a learned caution (Ranadive has a history of putting his foot in his mouth). Regardless, he sticks to platitudes. “We just want to do the right thing Chris,” he says when I ask about concrete actions. “So many people have helped me along the way and so many people have stood up for me and given me opportunity and given me the benefit of the doubt, so there’s kind of a feeling that if you’re in a position to help and support somebody else, that’s right and fair and just.”

Jason Jones: Yes, Vlade Divac’s job as general manager is safe, especially since he’s signed through 2020. Granted, these things change daily, but there’s no reason to believe Divac has anything to worry about. It wouldn’t make sense to start another rebuild and change directions after less than a year. How long that holds true depends a lot on next season and if the organization would allow Divac to go into his final year without a deal beyond 2019-20.

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.

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.
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February 22, 2019 | 9:34 pm EST Update