The Sacramento Kings recently hired Brandon Williams as assistant general manager. Williams, who joins the Kings after spending four seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers as vice president of basketball administration, will be responsible for a variety of things in Sacramento, including roster composition, player evaluation and development, contractual negotiations, free agency procurement and more.
Prior to his time with the 76ers, Williams worked in the league office for nine seasons, serving the roles of director of NBA player development and associate vice president of basketball operations. While with the 76ers, he also was the general manager of the NBA G-League’s Delaware 87ers.
Williams took some time to speak with Sactown Royalty about his new role with the Kings. Among other things, he discussed the future recruiting efforts of the franchise, which he wants to help build by establishing a “platinum touch” that illustrates how the Kings and Sacramento can be a place for future players to call home over the long-term.
Here are excerpts from the interview.
When you interviewed with Vlade Divac and the rest of the organization, what were you looking for as the candidate for the position to make sure it was a good match?
I just wanted to be around a group of people who were unafraid to dream and think big … Sitting down with the power group here in Sacramento, it was very clear that they weren’t listening to odds or probability, but you know, we’ll defy it by rebuilding, putting ourselves in a position to be competitive and with hard work, coming together, with a little luck, we’re a champion – and that’s what we’re after. So, I was really encouraged to hear that from them.
Vlade is a unique personality, he is sort of known for having the ability to bring people together. He was the glue of that successful team in the early 2000s. How do you think that that translates as a GM and did you see that in him right off the bat?
Any time something like this starts coming together, I do my work to research and talk to folks who I trust in my network. And I think to a person, they all said that he was a fantastic human being and the kind of person you would like to work with ...
It’s very clear what his direction, what his vision is for this team. He experienced it here as a player and fell short. Had a fantastic team, a fantastic run, but fell short of what their goal was, but what he felt was a chemistry and camaraderie, guys pulling for each other, sacrificing for each other and that’s very much what it takes from top to bottom – ownership, management, coaches, players, extended staff ...
He laid out for me, in very short order, with us spending time over dinners and meetings, what it is he is hoping to build and he needed people who thought positively, also. Like, this is something we can do. So, it didn’t take long, it was a fire lit pretty quickly.
You have many roles and with your communication skills and background, will you be managing a variety of personnel within the Kings franchise as one of your main responsibilities?
Yeah, I think from a big-picture perspective, I plug into Vlade and I just consider myself a deputy to carry out a lot of his direction. And at some places, when you are the deputy, you will work in a lot of the blind spots. It’s hard to be in every place at once traveling with the team, an injured player is back, or out on the road, scouting, or day-to-day operations, and management with our business team, and working with our fan base, and marketing partners and so forth. There’s a lot of ground to cover for him. So, I think being a high-level set of eyes and ears that can give direction.
One of your long-term goals is building up the Kings recruiting efforts and having the right foundation in place to effectively recruit free agents. Can you expand a little bit on that?
We’ve got great ideas, we’ve got great passions, but so do a lot of other teams. In the end, a player and his agent have to come together and choose us. The draft is a totally different thing, it’s just luck of the draw, where we end up and making sure that we get the right guy, but he has no choice, or very little choice in the matter. When you start talking about free agents and veterans, we need those players to choose us. I think it’s going to happen one building block at a time.
If we’re real about it, the Sacramento history kind of predates a lot of these young guys. They were not old enough to really experience and understand the day that Vlade had here. It will be our job to continue to pepper them with memory, and video and things so that they get inspired and let them know that there’s a true, rich history here.
But it’s also going to be in the way that we treat every player that comes in. There’s going to be a player development focus. Players care about getting better because the better they get the more they can compete, and the longer they can last in this league. We want our guys knowing that we care about them, and for their families, which is a huge part of recruiting. The more you get to know young prospects out on the circuit and meet their parents – how much they were involved in the process, going to college visits, visiting multiple games and being hosted.
What I would like to do is bring a platinum-type touch to the way that we approach everybody that comes into contact with our organization so the message is out there: Not only do you go there and play fun basketball, you play for people who really care, and you feel welcome, you feel at home. It’s a place where you’ll hang your hat. We don’t want to be a seven-month organization, we want people to live here … we want them to feel like this is home for me, our families, everyone is comfortable, we love the lifestyle, we love the way people treat us here – that’s going to be our calling card that makes us not just competitive this year, or the next couple of years, but builds our brand for the future.
The Kings brought in veterans like Zach Randolph and Vince Carter to be mentors to this young team. What is the right balance in terms of youth v. experience on a team like the Kings that is going through a rebuild?
The right balance is probably yet to be struck, or won't be struck until you are sort of a perpetual winner ... We’ve got the benefit of having a couple of guys who still have the ability to play, but also, I think have a mind to mentor. You can get veterans – whether it’s four, five or two – there’s no magic number of veterans. It’s the contributions that that group of people is able to make. We just happen to have a veteran at every position, which is really good. I think you can roll them out together at times to steady the ship.
I can already envision it – we’re going to have some old head v. young head type of pickup games in the preseason, and I’m sure the young bucks are going to want to line up against those guys: ‘Hey, I’ve been playing 2K with you for a lot of years, so I’m ready to do this, or I can tell my friends.’ And that’s going to be good, it’s going to be good culture, chemistry-building stuff. But because we’ve got the right guys, whatever happens, that five games in a row that the vets win, and the guys are frustrated like we were supposed to beat these guys. The vets have the ability to wrap their arms around them and then say, ‘Look, here are some of the things you didn’t do.’ … All of those little lessons are going to contribute to winning down the road. Coaches say that stuff, but it’s very impactful when it comes from a player and set of players that they really respect.
You spent four seasons with the 76ers. What would you consider your biggest accomplishment there and your biggest learning experience?
Even in the middle of a lot of losing, and what a lot of people focused on, the losing, we were able to manage a culture that kept players motivated and coming to work. A lot of these things that I’m talking about are things that I’ve experienced. It is real. Players do not get better in a vacuum. They don’t just become great players just because a team wins 50 games. There has got to be a real investment of time in every one of these young guys ...
Specific things, going back to the early days, we had to make a really difficult call to trade the rookie of the year, a former rookie of the year early in his career. But studying what we thought the trajectory was and the style of play we wanted to play, we thought that there might be better opportunity down the road and took advantage of something that we thought would help us in two to three years. And that’s a level of patience that most don’t have and it’s not something you can easily repeat, but that was kind of like a landmark case for us where we would be identified as either nutty, or smart, or bold, or just having an ironclad stomach. But as recently as this draft, we saw how that materialized.
So, it’s not that you come to a new organization and say, ‘Here’s the script, play by play.’ There’s a mode of operating and thinking and it starts first with a level of confidence in the people you are with because if there’s a suggestion, while it might not be the right way to go, it can’t be viewed as uneducated, no basis – you have got to have some confidence in the people who are bringing things to the table so that you can get to the right end … It’s the 100 ideas that got to that one that we executed.
Is there a player that has played on the Kings over the years who you really enjoyed watching their actual game?
I really did love Vlade’s Kings. I loved that team. I played against Jason Williams in college. He was a little younger, but I remember him from Marshall, Billy Donovan was the coach … how impressed I was because he could have 10 turnovers in a game and none of it phased him. He was playing the game and constantly working on his game at the same time – like I’m going to hit this around the back from half court to my shooter who is running. The first one that goes out of bounds almost tears off somebody’s computer screen. By like the third one it’s on the money, on a rope, guy hits a three and it’s a great play. Well, you are two turnovers in and we are up six points, but it was a fearlessness, an ability to keep working on his craft and be fun at the same time … he kind of got me into the Kings because I became friends with a couple of his friends, we all played against each other. And then that team transitioned into not just fun and exciting, but fun with quality … That team, the way they passed, shared, they pulled for each other, they supported each other, they had fun, there were so many moments when you saw them wrapping their arms around each other coming off the floor. It’s an image that I’m sure Kings fans remember, I remember … we want to get back there.