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Kings begin search for next head of basketball operations

The Sacramento Kings have formally begun their search for the next head of basketball operations. The Kings have requested permission to interview the following candidates, sources have told The Athletic: Timberwolves executive vice president Sachin Gupta, Heat assistant general manager Adam Simon, Nuggets GM Calvin Booth, Pelicans GM Trajan Langdon, Rockets assistant GM Monte McNair and former Hawks GM Wes Wilcox.

The Kings haven’t reached the playoffs since 2006, the longest active streak in the NBA and one short of matching the Clippers franchise for most consecutive seasons missing the playoffs. Of course, this wasn’t just about the struggles on the court. Webber’s teammate, Vlade Divac resigned as general manager. Peja Stojakovic, another former teammate, resigned as assistant general manager. So it’s deeper than what most fans might feel about the situation. “They’re going to have to work hard,” Webber said. “It’s been frustrating to watch. I think everyone tried their best and I’m very happy that at least in the interim — Joe Dumars is a great leader and I think he’s consulting the team right now. So for me, as a Kings fan, it makes you feel a little bit better but you feel bad knowing that Vlade gave his all.”

Still, this is personal for Webber, whose No. 4 has been retired by the franchise. He is no ordinary fan. “Of course I played there and I was a big part of it so anything I say will be taken out of context so I don’t want to speak in any way that could,” Webber said. “I feel sorry for Vlade, they have the best fans, the city’s going to be resilient, they are going to make the playoffs, they are going to get in the right direction and I just wish the best for the organization. It’s kind of hard to be professional when you’re asking a question about an organization I care so much about, so I’ll shut up.”

Several sources across the league Tuesday believed there may have been a difference in mindsets among Kings officials and Dumars on the next course of action, with some wondering if the Kings weren’t setting themselves up for yet another power struggle just days after the one that led to Divac’s departure. But Kings sources insist that synergy in this process has been achieved. And despite so many questions about Dumars’ strategy here, with so many rival executives wondering if he was pushing to secure the top front office position rather than help fill it.

“My role as interim Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations is to immediately assume General Manager duties during this transition period and assist Vivek in developing a long-term strategy for the basketball operations department,” Dumars said in a written statement provided to The Bee. “As part of that process, I will support a thorough national search for a permanent General Manager over the coming months. The search will be run by an outside firm and Vivek will have the final decision-making authority.”

Divac’s phone rang on Friday and Kings primary owner Vivek Ranadivé told Divac that he was passing the management authority to former Detroit Pistons GM Joe Dumars. Divac knew his time was up. “It’s a part of life. You have to make tough decisions,” he said. “I didn’t expect it but then I wasn’t surprised either. We didn’t accomplish what we expected this season. That’s the bottom line…That’s my responsibility.” Divac said his immediate plan is to stay in Sacramento. He said he will always support the Kings. “I like this place,” he said. “Down the road who knows? But for some time I’m gonna be here.”

Starting this weekend, the Mavericks are in the NBA playoffs. The Kings are making news for another dismissal. Was this draft pick a major issue between him and Ranadivé? “Yeah,” Divac said. “That was my decision,” he said. “I still believe Marvin has big upside. But I needed more time to prove it. I’m sure Marvin is going to prove everybody wrong. But in this league, you need to produce right now. People don’t have patience but I’m OK with that.”

Divac’s inexperience with the inner workings of the general manager position would be problematic, with agents and opposing team executives complaining about having to deal with the Kings. Divac not adding to the front office was criticized throughout his tenure. Divac was determined to do things his way. The confusion, and what league executives saw as a sign of Divac’s inexperience, resulted in the Kings having a limited number of in-person draft workouts, even when picking in the lottery. Divac had not been an NBA executive and had assistant general manager Mike Bratz as his second in command.

A respected league executive said earlier Friday that Divac sealed his fate with a series of bad decisions over the past five years, pointing specifically to the decision pass on Luke Doncic in the 2018 NBA Draft. “When you pass on generational players, you can’t win in this league,” he said. “You just can’t.” The source predicted Dumars would take on a larger role within the organization, saying “that would help, but they need to get somebody younger in there.”

The Sacramento Kings announced today that Vlade Divac has stepped down as General Manager. In the interim, Joe Dumars has been named Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations and will immediately assume General Manager duties. “This was a difficult decision, but we believe it is the best path ahead as we work to build a winning team that our loyal fans deserve,” said Kings Owner and Chairman Vivek Ranadivé. “We are thankful for Vlade’s leadership, commitment and hard work both on and off the court. He will always be a part of our Kings family.”

Rival executives have highlighted the increased influence of Kings advisor Joe Dumars as a sign of trouble for Divac, as sources say he has become a valued voice for owner Vivek Ranadive after being added to their group in June of 2019. The two were together in Orlando to watch the early Kings’ action from the outside-the-bubble seats, but sources close to the situation insist there is synergy and trust between Divac and Dumars here. That being said, Dumars — who lives in Los Angeles — is expected to have an increased role going forward.

Divac and Walton are both in the first year of four-year contracts. Firing them now would mean paying them for three more years — and paying their replacements — something the organization would have been reluctant to do even before the coronavirus pandemic caused tens of millions of dollars in revenue losses. The Kings have underachieved this season, but ownership will want to see what Walton, their 10th coach in the past 14 seasons, can do with a healthy roster before changing course yet again. Divac will get at least one more season as well, although his ultimate fate might have been sealed when he passed on Doncic in the 2018 NBA Draft.

Kings keeping Luke Walton, Vlade Divac?

All that improvement, it appears, lowered the temperature on the hot seats of both Walton and general manager Vlade Divac. As we reported on Feb. 12, owner Vivek Ranadive had made his frustrations known with both the front office and coaching staff during the Kings’ 15-29 start. Questions arose about whether he might be compelled to make changes in the offseason, but sources say Divac and Walton appear very likely to remain (their contracts run through the 2022-23 season).

Kings keeping Divac, Walton for next season

According to Sam Amick of The Athletic, the pairing of head coach Luke Walton and Vlade Divac is likely to continue into the 2020-21 season, at a minimum. “Owner Vivek Ranadive had made his frustrations known with both the front office and coaching staff during the Kings’ 15-29 start,” Amick writes. “Questions arose about whether he might be compelled to make changes in the offseason, but sources say Divac and Walton appear very likely to remain (their contracts run through the 2022-23 season).”

Kings owner Vivek Ranadive not happy with front office, coaching

Frustration has been mounting among Kings owner Vivek Ranadive and others within the ownership group over the franchise’s front office and coaching, multiple sources tell The Athletic. Sources say Ranadive has shared his frustration with both front office and coaching decisions in a variety of unfiltered ways, including private conversations with business associates and in text messages during a season-long group chat with Divac, coach Luke Walton, assistant general manager Peja Stojakovic and Chief Operating Officer Matina Kolokotronis. The complaints, sources say, have been focused on the team’s underachievement and the part they all played in it.

Throughout the Kings’ pre-draft process in 2018, the Kings scouted Doncic heavily, including a dinner with the young prodigy led by Ranadive that also included Vivek’s son, Aneel, and Divac; the gathering was shared on Aneel’s social media. There was ownership support for the drafting of Doncic at No. 2 overall, but Divac, along with then-assistant general manager Brandon Williams and Stojakovic had concerns about his upside compared to Bagley’s, sources said. As The Athletic reported last month, the belief that Doncic’s ball-dominance would limit Fox’s ability to grow and that they were better suited pairing him with a talented big like Bagley were driving forces behind the decision.

Luke Walton safe

Know this much about this Kings’ landscape: Barring a drastic change in current conditions, it appears extremely unlikely that any of the principals are getting fired anytime soon – not Walton, nor general manager Vlade Divac. Both men are on the same contractual track, with Divac having been given an extension through the 2022-23 season in April. And both of them, it seems, are in agreement that the answers must be found by staring into that unflattering image in the mirror.

According to a source with knowledge of the situation, the Kings are set to announce on Friday that Dumars will be a special advisor to Divac. He’ll bring the kind of front office experience that few can boast, with Dumars having resided over the Detroit Pistons from 2000 to 2014 and orchestrated a title (2004) and six consecutive Eastern Conference Finals appearances along the way. Most recently, Dumars was serving as president of the basketball division for the Independent Sports and Entertainment agency that has more than 300 clients from the NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball. But now, as he re-signs there and plans on continuing to reside in Los Angeles while taking on this challenge remotely, it’s back to the team side for the 56-year-old who Sports Illustrated deemed one of the best sports executives of the decade in 2010.

The Kings and Walton were clearly moving forward with their working relationship on Tuesday. According to sources, Walton and Kings general manager Vlade Divac met with former Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek in Sacramento about the possibility of him being the team’s lead assistant coach. There was one other known interview for a lower level coaching position that took place on Tuesday as well, with Divac and Walton also taking part. Those interviews had been scheduled before the allegations surfaced.

“Our new coach has to bring, first of all, the style that we had last year,” Divac said. “This is the Kings’ style. We’ve got to play that way.” Divac also indicated he would want a new coach on board quickly as the team moves into a critical offseason with approximately $38 million to spend in free agency. “I want my coach to be right next to me and we can talk about the team and what’s out there for us to make our team better,” Divac said. “I want my coach on the same page.”

Could Joerger and Williams coexist? Would there be lingering resentment between Joerger and Bagley? What message would it send to the locker room if Joerger was fired while Williams, suspected of committing the most fireable offense, remained in the front office? Divac refused to choose sides. Instead, he decided both men had to go. “I just felt that, moving forward, we needed to make some changes, and this was a big one,” Divac said. “I’m very confident we did the right thing.”

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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