When the Sacramento Kings traded DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans, Kings General Manager Vlade Divac insisted that he alone made the decision. He denied any involvement from ownership. Vlade told reporters “I'm responsible for making decisions in the basketball operations, and I did it." But this narrative quickly falls apart, to the surprise of nobody.
In an extensive article on the infighting of the Buss family, ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne reveals details of the trade negotiations between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Kings.
Divac, who sources say believed he had a very narrow window to trade Cousins before ownership changed its mind, wanted to act quickly and knew he had ownership approval for trades involving the Pelicans' Buddy Hield and the Lakers' Brandon Ingram.
By the time the Lakers got involved, Divac and Pelicans general manager Dell Demps, both in New Orleans for the All-Star Game, had met four or five times in person to discuss a deal, sources told ESPN's Marc Stein. He was negotiating over the phone with Jim Buss and Kupchak -- despite the fact that Johnson was in New Orleans that weekend for ESPN.
Jeanie Buss had previously instructed Kupchak and her brother that she was to be consulted if they discussed trades involving any of the Lakers' three recent lottery picks. The only word she got of the Lakers discussions with the Kings --which involved two of those three lottery picks -- came after Jim Buss called Jesse Buss and pressed him for a recommendation on an offer he said would quickly expire. Jesse Buss tried to text Jeanie Buss, but the deadline was fast approaching. Not long after, before Jeanie Buss or Johnson even knew about the Lakers' attempts, the Kings finalized the deal with the Pelicans.
We could wonder what might have been if the Kings could have exercised patience. Would the Lakers have included Brandon Ingram and a package of draft picks? We’ll never know, because Vlade Divac didn’t have the luxury of patience.
Forcing the GM to negotiate in haste because he has no idea how long it will be before you again declare DeMarcus untradeable is a surefire path to failure. Ownership only approving trades if specific players are being acquired? Another recipe for failure.
There is no point having a GM, assistant GMs, scouts, and the rest of the support staff if the acceptable return for a trade is being dictated by the owner who clearly has no understanding of how to run a successful NBA team.
In the aftermath of the trade, the Kings are in a good position for a rebuild. They’ll likely have two top-10 picks in a loaded draft, own their own pick next year, and have an assortment of promising young players. But it’s difficult to get excited about the organization’s ability to execute a rebuild as long as Vivek remains overly involved.