Vlade Divac has been the recipient of some surface-level sensible criticism over how he’s constructed, or tried to construct, his front office since taking over Kings basketball operations this summer. Pete D’Alessandro, Chris Mullin, and Dean Oliver are out. Peja Stojakovic has an offer to join the front office. Predrag Drobnjak has an offer to join the front office. Vlade has had conversations with Bobby Jackson about joining the front office. Vlade has had conversations with Ryan West about joining the front office. Vlade has even bounced ideas off Geoff Petrie this summer. The best part of the slowly growing wave of backlash against his ‘hiring my friends’ approach is that none of these guys are actually on the Kings payroll yet, but this is how the internet works in 2015.
I don’t think any of this would be newsworthy if Vivek Ranadive hadn’t gone on his miniature ‘cronyism’ rant back in May. Divac deciding to surround himself with people he can trust places him in a category with nearly every organizational leader on the planet. This is a thing because the Kings have been a horribly run franchise for nearly a decade, and public perception of everything Kings basketball is what is it because of that fact. Everything the Kings do is considered wrong until proven otherwise, and I’m mostly OK with that. Do I get frustrated with the sometimes-lazy national narrative? Absolutely, but when I cool down and sit back, I try to remind myself that the team did this to themselves. This doesn’t absolve shoddy reporting, of course, but it does make the narrative easier to stomach. This is what the Kings have been, legitimately, for so long, that people don’t know how react when they could be doing something right. I think they’ve done a lot of things right this offseason, but that line of thinking won’t be validated until they start winning, and that’s fair. I’m getting a little off topic here, but I think that needed to be said - back to Ranadive’s ‘cronyism’ comments.
Via Ailene Voisin, Sacramento Bee
We just want to hire the best people. When I bought the team, I didn’t know anybody, and what I have discovered is that the NBA culture tends to be more of a ‘crony’ culture than Silicon Valley. ‘This is my guy. Hire this guy.’ I want loyal people, and Vlade is loyal.
Ranadive sort of led Sacramento to believe that the Kings organization would be run based on meritocracy moving forward. That notion should have been swept away the minute Vlade Divac took over basketball operations, because under no circumstances was Divac the most qualified person for that position, just like Drobnjak cannot be the most qualified scout available, etc.
I’m also not sure that the spirit of what Ranadive had to say about cronyism really applied to ‘hiring your buddies’ in the first place. At the time of these comments, Ranadive was just walking away from working in a toxic organization that, truth be told, he helped create. He had members of his own team fighting with each other over play style; he had executives conspiring behind his back to fire coaches, etc. It was terrible. It was cronyism at its worst. To compare that to what Vlade Divac is doing feels cheap, and simply referring to those guys as ‘his friends’ feels even cheaper. They may not have front office experience, but they are basketball lifers. He isn’t hiring his second cousins twice removed to scout Real Madrid.
To be perfectly honest, I don’t see a huge difference in D’Alessandro hiring his ‘guys’, Oliver, Bratz, Karl, etc. and Vlade Divac hiring his guys. You could actually argue that D’Alessandro’s crew had the merit and the relationship, while most of the guys Divac wants to bring in have limited front office and scouting experience. I don't think D'Alessandro or Divac was wrong in their approach.
Here’s the kicker, and it may not be the most analytically pleasing, but, Vlade Divac gets my benefit of the doubt.
Vlade Divac is different. If this was anyone else, and I mean anyone else, I would have more concern. Divac knows Stojakovic better than we do. Divac knows Jackson better than we do. Divac knows Drobnjak better than we do. And unlike so many other front office executives, or VP’s, or GM’s, I trust Divac’s character.
I’m not going to tell you Drobnjak is going to be a good scout, I’m not going to tell you Stojakovic will be a good front office executive, but I am going to tell you that Vlade Divac has a truly uncanny understanding of what it takes to make a team work.
That benefit of the doubt is why I’m not remotely concerned with Divac bringing in a lot of his old friends, because despite what some people want you to think, that isn’t all he’s doing. He has Mike Bratz here. He has a hall of fame level coach to bounce roster ideas off of. He just hired Roland Beech to run the organizations analytics department, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a few other more experienced front office executives are added before the seasons starts.