The Sacramento Kings fired Vance Walberg under a cloud of ‘huh?’ three days ago, and with news starting to trickle out about why the Kings made that decision, I thought it’d be appropriate to talk about some of that stuff. It sure is interesting.
James Ham and Aaron Bruski gave us a little insight into the Kings’ decision to fire Walberg in the latest edition of the Kings Insiders Podcast. In the interest of simplification, Ham essentially reported that Walberg just wasn’t connecting to the players in the ways other assistants like Chad Iske and John Welch were. That is sort of a lame reason to fire an assistant with less than half the season remaining, and that isn’t a knock on Ham’s report, it’s just odd. Walberg has been around the game, and around the NBA for a long time. He’s been on NBA coaching staffs since 2012. Clearly, at least in my opinion, firing Walberg was more about statement making than anything else, as Vlade Divac needed to make sure Karl understood how serious he was about the schematic issues that needed to be addressed. This was not Karl and Divac’s first conversation about changing offensive and defensive strategies. The conversations weren’t working, a move had to be made.
Divac and the Kings are not without fault here, by the way. Firing Karl would have probably been the more appropriate course of action if the head coach repeatedly disobeyed the general managers orders (and that disobedience resulted in a terrible on-court product). Don’t get me wrong; Karl has every right to coach his way. That is the leverage both sides have. Karl can buckle down and do his thing, if it works, it works, if it doesn’t (and it hasn’t) it doesn’t. The general manager shouldn’t meddle if it’s working, just as the coach shouldn’t change if it’s working. When it’s not working, and it’s so obvious that it’s not working, then, well, the front office usually fire’s the coach. Firing one of the assistant coaches isn’t completely unheard of, but it is far from the common way you handle a situation like this.
The details around Walberg’s firing took a turn for the weird this morning, when USA Today’s Sam Amick reported the following.
According to two people with knowledge of the situation, concerns about Walberg’s relationships with the team’s players was a major concern that had everything to do with the move. What’s more, friction with fellow assistant coach Nancy Lieberman only made matters worse. The people spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the private nature of the matter. Karl was incensed by the move, which surely matters little to his Kings bosses who have unofficially decided that he won't be around next season.
Amick echoed Ham’s statement about Walberg’s relationship with the players, but the Nancy Lieberman ‘friction’ note is strange, to say the least. It looks like the only group of people in the organization that are on the same page are the players. They’ve always seemed unified, and chemistry between those guys has never looked like an issue to me. It’s unfair, and unprofessional, frankly, that there is so much dysfunction from the splintered ownership group to the front office, and now the coaching staff. Can any of these guys get it right?
I can’t imagine what kind of issues came between Walberg and Lieberman, but if you want to have a little bit of fun, take look at Lieberman’s cryptic twitter feed, knowing what we know now. Good times.
There is also still, clearly, a leaking issue within the Kings organization. Look, I understand that the Kings’ front office has to get something out there to reporters so it doesn’t look like they fired this guy for no reason, but, man, if you want Karl and his people to stop talking, throwing dirt on his close friend and former colleague isn’t the way you do it. I've criticized Karl for using the media and creating unnecessary drama in the past, it's only fair that the Kings get criticized for it, too. I shouldn't say that with certainty, I suppose. This could be a player leak, because they would know first hand what kind of connection Walberg had with those guys, but we're getting lost in the weeds here. That information probably shouldn't have come out, no matter where it came from, and I can't imagine Karl's camp would be the ones leaking out anti-Walberg stuff, so, this one seems pretty clear.
The Kings are going to take a beating unlike anything we’ve ever seen before once this season ends and Karl is fired. I can only imagine what that camp is going to reveal as soon as they get the opportunity to do so, and having someone inside the walls tell reporters that Walberg cannot connect with his players, and he fought with Nancy Lieberman, is only egging that stuff on. Ugh.
It’s worth noting that in the same Amick column, Mike Malone was quoted as saying that Vivek Ranadive hasn’t talked to him since he was fired until a text message that came in as he was preparing for his return to Sacramento. "Welcome back to Sac", to be specific, and Malone never responded.
Malone has not-so-subtly slammed the Kings organization this week, deservedly so, I might add, but I also think it’s worth pointing out that Malone is currently working with former Kings GM Pete D’Alessandro in Denver. I genuinely like Michael Malone, and I hope this doesn’t come across as a shot at him, or his intelligence, but I repeat, he is working with former Kings GM Pete D’Alessandro in Denver.
The Kings treated Michael Malone like garbage when they fired him. I don’t doubt that, but the ‘Vivek didn’t text me until this week’ stuff, that I’m sure is going to turn into a story, or the general blame Malone puts on the Kings for how, when, and why he was fired, is only fueled by the fact that he’s still working with Pete D’Alessandro. Malone can believe whatever he want’s to believe, but if you don’t think D’Alessandro is in his ear trying to put the blame on Vivek for how things went down, I don’t know what to tell you.
And I know I probably sound like someone who is trying to defend the Kings here, that isn’t what I’m trying to do – I’m just saying that everyone is coming at this from a different source, with a different motive, with different people in their ear, and we should all take everything we hear with a grain of salt. From both sides. This story stopped being comprehensible six months ago. The waters are too muddied. I'd like to move on, but for unexplainable reasons no one is letting that happen. I fully expect to do this entire thing again next month.
By the way, I hate myself for diving back into that stuff. The Kings need to distance themselves from that era, and reboot. Unless the Kings King themselves in the foot again, that should happen this summer.