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Kings Impress With New Moves (Almost)

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Let’s start off being very clear: I am impressed with the Sacramento Kings.

Let’s also say something else that needs to be said: Family should always be honest with family. 

Because that’s what we are, aren’t we? One big, unhappy, frustrated, anxious and hopeful Kings family. From ownership, fans, most local media (some retain professionalism in their craft, unlike me), players, we are all one big family that all have the same goal: To win basketball games and be proud of our team. 

The criticisms of the past in regards to rushing things, making snap decisions etc,  were not issues we saw here. By all accounts the process in hiring the new general manager was organized and professional. The new hire, Monte McNair, comes with a tremendous pedigree and is well recommended.

Monte McNair — New GM of the Sacramento Kings (Patankar Photography)

Although Sachin Gupta was favored by many, let’s be honest as well: a month ago, neither myself nor anyone reading this knew who Gupta or McNair were, and as fans we tend to stan for the ones we decide to stan for. It’s just the nature of being a fan.

So again, I want to be clear: today is a potentially great day for the franchise. The Kings (like most NBA teams) are bleeding money left and right, and certainly could’ve kept Vlade Divac and gone into next season with the status quo. But our ownership, obsessed with winning as we are, decided to pay out the remainder of his contract and go get a new GM with money they don’t really have (or could be argued shouldn’t be spending). That’s a good thing. An impressive thing. Something that should make fans feel like despite all the failures and shortcomings, this franchise wants to win, even if as of yet they don’t know how.

The truth of the matter is, this could be a great day, or another in a long line of days that will be looked back upon as merely extending the most failing franchise in the NBA. We could absolutely be sitting here 2/3/4 years from now while the team searches for yet another GM, starts from scratch, and asks fans to do that which they’ve done for so long…..be patient.

Yuck.

No way of knowing, so let’s all get the hell out of the way and let the man do his job, and give him the freedom and support to do so.

Which of course brings me to the (almost) part of the headline.

While I was happy reading the press release the team sent out announcing the new hire, I was equally as disturbed at the other release in my inbox, sent out simultaneously: Joe Dumars named Chief Strategy Officer.

Huh?

Since we are being clear throughout this article, let me be clear again, perfectly CRYSTAL clear: I have no issue with Dumars, I’ve never met the man, but I respect his resume. Yes he drafted Darko, yes he got caught by the NBA leaking information to reporters, but who among us, right? He was by all accounts a man of respect, someone who won championships with the Pistons as both a player and a general manager. He was the architect of perhaps biggest the outlier team in modern NBA history, a team that beat the star studded Lakers without a true superstar. He deserves the credit he’s earned.

And as the release documented, Dumars has also garnered respect in the business world, and has a good reputation among players and agents around the league.

So what’s your problem Dave? Can’t you be positive for ONCE IN YOUR LIFE???

Yes. As I said, I am like 90% positive and 10% frustrated about all of this.

The problem is with the cooking. Too many cooks. Its always been an issue, and it needs to be called out.

(Photo Credit: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

The owner of the team, Vivek Ranadive, is fascinated with athletes. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, we all are. I make my living talking about athletes for 3 hours a day. And if I owned a basketball team, I’d think its rad to talk to and be around jocks I grew up watching. Seriously, there’s nothing wrong with it.

But there’s a long and documented history of our owner and his athlete “advisors”, and it’s not a good one.

Roger Craig. Chris Mullin. Shaquille O’Neal (ok, not an advisor but a minority owner, in which no ex-Kings have ownership. GROSS). Vlade Divac. And now, Joe Dumars.

Chris Mullin angled to be the new head coach after Michael Malone was fired. Who knows what was “advised” before the termination?

Vlade Divac was an “advisor” to Vivek and later took over for Pete D’Alessandro as GM. According to former coach George Karl, it was Karl himself who told Pete about Vlade’s hiring.

Do you see a pattern here? Too many cooks. Too many advisors.

Small markets can win. That’s not an excuse. 

San Antonio. Utah. Milwaukee. Indiana. Oklahoma City.

They all have stability. And none of them have “Chief Strategy Officers” that used to be general managers.

And don’t throw Jerry West at me, that’s Jerry flipping West. 

These are critical moments for this franchise. The reputation around the league is already shaky, and as The Athletic’s Sam Amick noted on my show this morning: “There were (GM) candidates that, when they heard Joe Dumars was involved in the process, said ‘no thank you’…….”

Adding Strategy Officers that also have been the heads of front offices does not do anything but reinforce the narrative. That’s fine in GM circles (we have ours), but we still have to worry about players, both current and free agents. That matters. 

Remember, we have yet to make the playoffs in 7 years under this regime. There’s a reason for that, when over HALF the teams in the league make the playoffs every season.

It’s not just bad luck: it’s The Process. 

Don’t mistake me- surrounding yourself with smart people and getting input before making the final decision is a hallmark of good leadership. And having an in-check ego that allows you to truly value the input counts a long way as well.

Also, there’s no way this wasn’t broached with Monte McNair prior to his hiring, and he obviously signed off on it.

But you wonder if, in the act of being hired to an extremely rare job opening (NBA GM), one wouldn’t whisper to himself “Don’t worry, I can handle it”.  The history of meddling from ownership wasn’t just a  made up fairy tale, it was earned.

You may also wonder why an owner who has no more basketball experience than you or me is signing off on basketball decisions, and that’s totally fair. However it’s the reality of the sports world, and far from unique. You see it all the time, from Jeannie Buss to Jerry Jones to Jed York. That’s not an issue, they write the checks.

But another advisor? Think about it this way- you’re hired to paint a house. You’re assured that other than agreeing on a color, you’re free to paint the house however you wish. You’re feeling good, you agree to the job. But at the same exact time, the owner hires Fred from Fred’s Housepainting to “advise” on not only painting houses, but other things.

So now you’re only answering to the homeowner as promised, but there’s another housepainter in his ear. It doesn’t guarantee meddling, but it certainly adds another layer to the relationship. Checks and balances you might say…..except if you need checks and balances you shouldn’t hire the person in the first place.

Point being, Vivek HAS an advisor on basketball operations: his name is MONTE MCNAIR AND YOU JUST HIRED HIM.

That’s your advisor. The ONLY way this is going to work is if he is left alone. No second guessing. No popping in to go over analytics. No “what if we tried this” or “hey I saw what Miami was doing here could that work”…….

I say this with all love and respect, for if we are a family, Vivek is the patriarch: WRITE THE CHECKS.

(Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

Check in every once in a while to say hi, keep doing the amazing things you’re doing on the social front, keep making our city proud. Sure, if we need to go over the cap or make a big money move, you’re damn right that’s your business. Big trade in the works, trading a fan favorite? Absolutely.

But other than that, your job should basically consist of writing checks and sitting next to Drake and Kelsey Grammer and whomever else you wish at center court and cheering like the rest of us.

I have no doubt in my mind Vivek Ranadive wants to win as badly as we do. Truly I believe that. We all have the same goal, we might just differ on how to get there at times. But all the pressure is on him now.

Make no mistake, if 3-4 years from now we are back in a GM search and that playoff-less run is now 17-18 years? The blowback will be unlike anything we’ve seen since, well, since right before the team was bought. It will be ugly, it will be loud, and there will be action items involved, that’s a fact.

(AP Photo/Sacramento Bee, Jose Luis Villegas)

So we are all in this together. Pressure is on, and no one wants this to work out more than me and the rest of the tortured-yet-passionate fanbase.

So as a fellow member of the family, I’m simply saying that the room should be as clear as possible. We’ve had enough complications and palace intrigue.

Let’s win some damn ballgames, and have that J Street parade.