The Kings just pushed out a press release confirming that Jason Levien has resigned his position as general counsel and assistant general manager. Levien had been on the job 18 months. "Working for the Kings has been a rewarding experience, and I appreciate the opportunities it has provided me," Levien states in the release. "I wish the Kings all the best, and I want to thank the Maloof family."
You'll notice no mention of Geoff Petrie there, and no comment on how Levien's basketball ops position will be filled. The Kings have two separate PR operations, one for the business side and one for the basketball side. The business PR team sends out releases and coordinates media on items like ticket promotions and sales. The basketball side handles press on trades, player access and the like. This press release on Levien's resignation came from the business side.
When the team first hired Levien in late 2008, I pointed out what the former agent was giving up. There was no way he'd give up his lucrative agenting operation unless a) he wanted to run an NBA team, and b) he thought he'd be put in a position to run a team in a fairly short period of time. The Kings opportunity, on its face, offered that short window. Petrie seemed to be winding down his career, and no clear successor existed. When things were at their worst -- in the 2008-09 season -- why wouldn't Petrie want to get out? His health wasn't the best, the team looked hopeless, the Maloofs were slashing costs any way they could, the arena issue was as dark as ever.
The word was that by the end of the 2010-11 season, Levien would be prepared to take over as GM, and Petrie would be ready to retire or step into an advisory role.
That sped up in 2009, following the worst season in franchise history. Petrie had previously said his goal in the rebuild had been to avoid falling into oblivion. The Kings lost 65 games in 2008-09. Straight up oblivion. It really looked as if 2009-10 would be it for Petrie in Sacramento, that he would either escape or that the Maloofs would go back on their word and not give him an extension, instead turning the franchise over to Levien.
Then the 2009 draft happened.
Before the 2009 draft, you never heard about "splits" in the Kings organization, not the basketball side under Petrie. This is among the most stoney franchises in pro sports. Trades come out of nowhere. Draft picks are mysterious until the last minute. Free agent signings appear like tornados.
But in the run-up to the 2009 draft, you had Chad Ford reporting on a split in the Kings' camp over ... Ricky Rubio. And it wasn't just Ford hearing it. When Rubio finally worked out for the obviously skeptical front office, the appearance was immediately spun in the media. The only folks present for the workout were Kings employees and Rubio's camp. Ford suggested some in the Kings organization feared Rubio because he might not bring instant results, and because most of the front office (including the scouts) were in the final year of their contract.
Note that I say "most of the front office." Levien had just been hired six months prior on a multi-year contract.
Other reporters echoed Ford's chatter, including then Bee writer Sam Amick and DraftExpress' Jonathan Givony.
Clearly, Petrie was a member of the anti-Rubio crew. How do we know that? Because the Kings didn't draft Rubio! And the front office never publicly said much nice about Ricky, with Jerry Reynolds famously likening La Pistola to Luke Ridnour on The Rise Guys one morning.
What else do we know about Petrie's stance on Rubio? We know he doesn't much like Rubio's agent Dan Fegan. Amick reported that back in February, upon Kevin Martin's trade to Houston. (You may also remember the whole flapdoodle revolving around that -- a line saying that Fegan represented Rubio was yanked from his print story, and Amick took to his blog to make sure it was included in the narrative. This is an important bit.) Fegan, of course, landed Martin as a client in December 2009. Amick reported that Petrie didn't like that. (It's important to note Petrie is far from the only GM who doesn't like Fegan.)
One more note on Fegan, before we turn back to Sacramento. Stu Lash had worked for Levien at Levien Sports Representation. When Levien got out of the game, Lash ended up working for Fegan. Lash now represents Kyrylo Fesenko, a former client of Levien's.
Rewind/fast forward to November 2009. Tyreke Evans is great. Paul Westphal has the team humming. Things are looking up in Sacramento. Petrie, still in the final year of his contract, signs a three-year extension. But it's not your normal extension. Petrie takes a massive paycut, from almost $5 million to about $1 million a year. Oh, and also, by the way, his son Mike, a scout, gets promoted to assistant GM out of nowhere. That's the same position as Levien. Wayne Cooper gets "general manager" added to his title, clearly taking a step above Levien.
It's incredibly easy to see what happened, in retrospect: Petrie smacked down Levien, possibly over sore feelings related to the Fegan/Rubio situation and the public reports of a front office split Ford and others published, possibly in a clandestine power struggle. Petrie gave up cold, hard cash to establish a succession plan he favored, and to re-establish the dominance of he and his allies in basketball operations.
Four months later, one month after the Martin trade, there's a return volley of sorts: In the press release announcing the departure of team president John Thomas, Levien is named senior vice president. Of what? It doesn't say. If it was of basketball operations, where Levien had exclusively worked to that point, then Levien had leaped Mike Petrie and Cooper. But the release was vague, and surely no raise was involved. (The Kings were still cutting costs. Heck, they still are cutting costs today. Besides, it's not like Levien, who negotiated Martin's $55 million extension and Deng's $71 million contract, is hard up for money.)
That's late March. In mid-June, Ailene Voisin reports Levien hadn't been seen at the practice facility in "several weeks." The Kings just so happened to conduct every one of the team's draft workouts within that several weeks. It'd be odd for an assistant GM to not be present at draft workouts, and not see his name pop up scouting any outside events. Levien did attend draft workouts in 2009, and even scouted on the road some.
Two weeks later, Marc Stein of ESPN reports Levien is done. Joe Maloof confirms the news to Amick for FanHouse. A day later, the deed is done.
Connect the dots. Reports surface of tension with the Kings organization. Fegan's client was passed up by Petrie. Petrie got a contract extension, and promoted his son and right-hand man to positions even with or above Levien. Levien's old client, Martin, signed with Fegan, who Petrie dislikes. Martin got traded, and Fegan and Petrie had what counts for a semi-public spat through the media. Levien gets promoted while Petrie is out of town. Levien stops being seen in Sacramento, or in any locations where he'd be scouting for the Kings. Petrie demures on a question about Levien's absence. Levien resigns.
Petrie is a brilliant talent evaluator and one of the most respected team-builders in the league. Levien is an incredibly smart businessman, negotiator and talent scout. The Kings had them both ... but it just couldn't last. There's no space in Petrie's front office for a Levien. That's both regrettable and understandable. Either way, the Kings are worse off for this resolution.