I grew up in the NBA of yesteryear. However, the more things change, the more some of them stay the same. I used to listen to the Royals on the "original" Walkman, a small plastic AM radio with the latest technological innovation, a telescoping antennae that I was sure picked up Mars when it was held just so out the window of my bedroom.
I remember clearly the day I heard on WLW radio the news that Oscar Robertson had been traded by the Royals to the Milwaukee Bucks for Charlie Paulk and Flynn Robinson. All these years later I don't have to look up the details of the trade, I remember them clearly. For most Kings fans, we will also remember the day we heard that Demarcus was traded to the Pelicans. I am confident I will recall the details of this trade, just as indelibly etched into my minds eye as the Oscar trade still is. My feelings for both trades was, and still is, slight sadness. As much as the emotions and analysis of both trades are similar is so many respects, they are also diametrically different in every sense.
The game of Oscar Robertson and Jerry Lucas has faded and has been replaced by an entirely different NBA and incredibly different players. Demarcus was everything the Royals, and I believed on draft night over six years ago, was exactly what the Kings had been after all these decades. A dominant low post big man that could play with his back to the basket on defense and power his way to the basket on offense. An unstoppable force. I have to admit, just watching the skill side of Boogie's game has been really enjoyable. Fun. He left me shaking my head at how dominant he might be when he entered the league. In recent years it was clear to me that Demarcus also really understood that the game had evolved. So, he did too. He learned to shoot the 3, he learned to pass to open players this year as his assists climbed with each passing game, so much so that many STR Game Predictors started to choose Demarcus as the high assist man, even when we played teams with great point guards.
Last year, in spite of my admiration for his pure basketball skills, I started approaching the tipping point, toward the new NBA game, one of ball movement, passing, rim-runners, and team-work on offense and defense. In an earlier FanPost, I suggested that Demarcus, as great a "Robertsonian" talent that he is, was not the way forward for the franchise. His demeanor on the court, his running debate with every single NBA referee team in every game over perceived non-calls (and there were a lot to be true) when he was on offense and his belief that he did not foul opposing players on defense so much so that he abandoned the game tactics and strategy that might provide the best revenge--a win--was sucking the air out of the franchise advancing as a team...I'll repeat it, as a team.
I don't dislike Demarcus, I believe in his heart he is a good man, one who legitimately cares about those in his community, about his friends and his family. He has many, many admirable qualities. He is also a phenomenal talent. But, the antics on the court opened my mind to see that I had been wrong all these years. I was wrong in believing that "If only we could get lucky and draft a true All Star center" the championship we all want, the one I believe Demarcus wants, we Kings fans would be hiking through the fields of NBA Valhalla.
I was wrong. The NBA game I knew has faded as much as my own athletic skills over the years. I wrote that it was time for the Kings to Choose the Harder Right Than The Easier Wrong. It was time to consider a change away from the best big man in the game. I still feel that way. And, I still like Demarcus. I still hope he succeeds, just not this year, for obvious draft reasons. I don't find any comfort in the fact that the Kings have finally moved on, that the franchise Chose the Harder Right Than the Easier Wrong. In fact, I have a lot of angst over the whole affair. Just like I did decades ago when I heard the news over my transistor that the Big O had been traded. It would have been easy for the Kings to keep Demarcus, to continue to work toward a franchise with him as the core player, the quintessential big man. The Promethean inertia to just keep trying the same thing year after year is incredibly hard to change. The Kings have taken a very painful step to change course these past several days. You can see how painful it has been in the posts of both those in favor of moving on from Demarcus and those who feel it is a catastrophic blunder of biblical proportions. The truth can be found in both of those camps. I have read almost every post these last four days. I found myself agreeing with the most recent post I had read, regardless of whether they were arguing it was a good move or a bad mood. I was the NBA "Two Face" reading the posts. Split both ways. Still, in the end, I personally believe the franchise did chose the harder right than the easier wrong, but I respect the opinions and read with earnest the posts of those who think I am dead wrong.
What is done, however, is done. There is no going back to last week, last month, last year. We have all learned too harshly this lesson in the area of romance. Almost always, old girlfriends and old boyfriends are not coming back. God bless those where it has successfully worked out otherwise.
What then, is the path forward? How can the Kings, the franchise, it's owners, it's minority owners, it's CEO, it's GM, we fans, Choose the Harder Right Than the Easier Wrong, Part Deux?
Demarcus and, hopefully Omri (God I feel horrible that he is in another uniform), will come back together to Sacramento next year on a different team. The Kings should do the right thing. Develop the best videotape money can buy of both players achievements on and off the floor. They both worked in the community, highlight their playing skills as well as their contributions to Sacramento. Chose the Harder Right Vivek and Vlade even when it hurts. The fans, even those of us that felt it was time to move on, can surely celebrate Omri and Demarcus the men. I have my own many faults. Were I in Sacto for their return, I would give both a standing ovation as long as I could clap. I'd try very hard to be Scarlet O'Hara and worry about Demarcus's faults "tomorrow." The celebration of their Sacramento careers should be the center pole in the tent that game. Then, of course, beat the Pelicans. Choose the Harder Right and give them their due, even if you secretly disagree. Celebrating their return is really the easiest aspect of choosing the harder right than the easier wrong.
What of the Franchise? What of its leadership? What is their Harder Right?
1. Hire three new scouts, at a minimum,--West Coast, Central and East Coast. Use the NBA Scouting Service to be sure, but for God's sake give Bratz, Cantenella, and Vlade the "front office tools" to breath life into picking the top quality player assets they believe they can deliver to Coach Joeger in the draft. Assets are assets. They are not all players. Of course it's a players league, but if the Kings want to succeed long term you need to breath life into the scouting organization. To give credit where credit is due here, Adamsite is correct in his recent post re: Marge Schott. She scorned scouts as too costly and it showed in the decade after they last won the World Series. The Kings really need to do this...almost as much as the "Omri and Demarcus Night." Choose the Harder Right. And Godspeed in poaching a scout from the San Antonio Spurs organization. I would personally argue for a Euro scout as a fourth. One that lives in Europe, relieve Vlade and Peja of this duty to do what they do stateside.
2. Walk the walk on the character issue, from the top of the organization to the bottom. I have too many faults to catalogue in less than a book so I am not going to point a sharp stick lest I catch it in my own eye. However, I like to think character is not one of my faults. So, I am not going to do anymore than to suggest Vlade and Vivek walk the walk. Every day from this day forward. Greg Wissinger is right about this. If you don't have trust, honor, you have nothing at the end of the day.
I am not naive. I know that GM's misdirect (lie?), at draft time and at trade deadline. You want to be a franchise that can at least get an audience from the great players, the great free agents? Then Choose the Harder Right Rather Than the Easier Wrong. Be true to your word no matter what the reason, meddlesome owner or no meddlesome owner. Maybe, God forbid, mend some fences by saying, maybe, you were wrong Vlade, even when you feel you were cornered into a decision by your boss and your best player's agents. As several STR commenters have said, at least learn how to soften the words you use and become a pro at GM Speak.
3. Do a 6-Sigma analysis of your organization. Top to bottom. CEO down to the locker room attendants. Those of us lucky, and equally unfortunate, enough to have worked for corporations knows there is a lot of silliness in these analyses. But, a few gems always emerge. I believe the Kings may find that they need to do much, much, better at teaching basketball skills and developing players and developing top notch front office employees and majority and minority owners as well as public relations and communications skills. Choose the Harder Right to listen to how you have screwed up the last three years as a business, as a sport franchise, as a talent picker. Listen to your mistakes and fix them.
4. Hire Hakeem Olajuwon. Bring him to Sacto or send ALL of your big men to Sugar Land Texas four or five times during the offseason on the franchise's nickel, use that damn corporate jet Vivek, and have the best there ever was, with all due respect to many dozens of other great, great big men, work with each one of them. Hire a Shooting Guard Developmental Coach, a Big Man Developmental Coach, a Skills Developmental Coach, and a Pilates/Yoga Coach. Help the players you have be the absolute best they can be. Gary Temple should be your role model. Someone who made the most with what he was given, who is still working hard, still getting better, still learning how to beat his opponent on each and every play of every single game.
5. If you don't already have them, get the best "healthy athlete" equipment your money can buy, the oxygen chambers, liquid nitrogen cryotherapy vessels and buoyancy tanks that will fit somewhere in that gem of a sports arena the City of Sacramento owns. Use them. Keep your players healthy and let them spread the word among the Players Association what a first class medical and training operation the Kings have.
6. Then, and most importantly, there is Vivek. What is the Harder Right? How does the franchise avoid the Easier Wrong with an owner? Vivek, for gods sake listen to what comes out of the 6-Sigma. As much as I didn't care for Richard Nixon, I almost admired him for one singular act of courage, despite all of his faults. He abandoned his Secret Service one very late night, snuck out of the White House and walked over to Lafayette Park and met face to face with the people daily protesting for his removal. It was the middle of the night.
Vivek, get your ass out in the public by yourself. Not with the press. The fans. Meet with some of the STR commenters at a burger place, have a beer and steel yourself to be told you are really holding back the development of the team, your franchise and your players. If you Choose the Harder Right you may be surprised by what you learn, the solutions that will be offered by Joe and Jane Fan. Be an owner. "Meet, Present and Report" on the well being, or lack thereof, of the corporation. That's your job. No more. No less. Be a CEO. Run the economic side of the business. Get your ass to work developing downtown Sacramento. Be a hero to the community. Be a hero to the Kings fans by getting out of the basketball operations way.
You simply have to stay in the ownership fairway and out of the day to day operations. You've proven that you're a rookie at running an NBA franchise's two most important duties--A) Evaluating player talent; and, B) Knowing when to move the assets you do have for the greatest possible return.
Lastly, give some heartfelt thought to what Vlade has or has not achieved--but don't do it by yourself. Quietly get some advice from the NBA Office, use some of the great experience Adam Silver has at his disposal in the methods of the best run NBA franchises. Visit with some of the other successful NBA franchise owners. Maybe do something really original, fly to San Antonio with your GM, Scouts, Assistant GM, Peja and talk with their management and coaching team. Take your entire front office to meet with David Stern. He WANTS you to succeed as much as your local fans do. He will be frank and earnest. Listen. He will point you in the right direction of Choosing the Harder Right Rather Than the Easier Wrong of continuing the way you have been doing things since you bought the controlling interest in the team. Be a student, what you have been doing isn't working.
But, speaking only for myself right now, give Vlade the two years he said he needed in his presser on Monday to build the team he wanted to build. There is fertile ground, Vivek, for you to plough in how to do your job better. Surprisingly doing nothing may be the best thing you can do going forward. Run the corporation. Keep your hands and mind off the operations, the scouting and the drafting. You had your chance. You didn't do well. Choose the Harder Right, admit it to yourself and step aside. Godspeed.
6. See number 2 above. Choose the Harder Right in terms of salary cap flexibility. Reach out to his agent and unilaterally offer to extend Gary Temple's contract for one year, and, do the right thing and give him a raise. Pay him to be the Locker Room Ambassador of How to Play in the NBA as your ever younger players need a role model. Don't screw it up. Choose the Harder Right. You will earn back every dollar you spend on Gary one hundred-fold in player maturity and character when they follow his lead.
7. Vlade, Choose the Harder Right for the fans. Overpay for a quality free agent starting point guard if one is available this offseason. A true, experienced point guard. If you get lucky and get a low draft slot, jettison this idea, draft a player and play the rookie. Don't screw it up.
8. Vlade and Coach Joerger, Choose the Harder Right. If there is space on the roster, bring back Quincy Acy. If you don't have the roster spot, bring him back as a valued coach. QA and Gary Temple can show the way when the night is long and dark when young players may lose focus on what is important.
I know many may disagree, that's ok, this is just my two cents as I returned from a run thinking about the Big O and Demarcus. I hope the Kings play hard Thursday. That's the first step to winning consistently.
Sorry for the length and the typos.