This weekend brought a sadly familiar refrain for Sacramento Kings fans. In the midst of a surprising start to the season Kings fans were treated to the sudden shock of a report that their head coach could be fired. The Kings did this once before with Michael Malone, firing the coach due to an internal power struggle in the front office. Now it was being suggested that the front office was unhappy with Dave Joerger’s minutes distributions and the discord could lead to Joerger’s firing. The Kings were quick to put out statements directly as well as through various media outlets showing a strong support for Joerger. But that doesn’t mean the situation is resolved.
Enter Sam Amick.
Writing for The Athletic, the great Sam Amick performed a full dissection of the underlying issues at the core of the Kings ongoing dysfunction through the years. Internal politics are still at play and as ugly as ever. I’ll include some highlights here, but I suggest reading the whole article if you’re an Athletic subscriber (if you aren’t a subscriber, I recommend it).
According to sources, Joerger has believed since last season that Kings assistant general manager Brandon Williams was on the lookout for a new coach to replace him.
You may be wondering if that matters. After all, Williams is just the assistant GM. But it matters. Amick continues:
Williams, who was hired in July 2017 after spending the previous four years with the Philadelphia 76ers as a vice president of basketball administration and general manager of the NBA G-League’s Delaware 87ers, handles most of the day-to-day operations and has seen his power increase over the course of his stay. Divac has final say on player personnel matters, in other words, but Williams has been given all sorts of leeway to make his mark.
He was the driving force behind the training staff overhaul that pushed out longtime trainer Pete Youngman after 25 years in late August (the moves were chronicled in an 1,808-word press release).
Amick goes on to also explain that Williams was a major proponent of drafting Marvin Bagley III, whereas Nemanja Bjelica was a move driven by Divac. You may recall that the central argument in the Yahoo story was that Joerger was playing Bjelica over Bagley, and that was what had the front office upset. Amick doesn’t directly call out Williams as the source for Yahoo’s story, but he paints a pretty clear pattern that makes it easy to connect the dots.
But the dysfunction doesn’t end there.
Amick also points to another figure who plays heavily into the front office politics of the Kings — Kings COO Matina Kolokotronis. Kolokotronis has been involved in the Kings front office for 22 years.
Through those early highs working with then-president of basketball operations Geoff Petrie and the Maloofs to all these years of lows, no other high-ranking Kings official has had a longer part in this basketball play.
Her voice is heard on decisions big and small — never more so than the move to bring the popular Divac back to the organization as vice president of basketball and franchise operations before former general manager Pete D’Alessandro headed for the exits (more specifically, Denver) three months later. Divac’s arrival sparked D’Alessandro’s departure during a period of great discomfort, and he would later take over the front office.
By all accounts, Kolokotronis’ level of influence on both the business and basketball sides is at an all-time high. The same can’t be said for internal morale.
Vivek Ranadivé proclaims himself to be a man who doesn’t make the same mistake twice. We know that’s not entirely true, as he’s hired coaches before GMs several times, but we know it’s the type of person Vivek at least imagines himself to be and wants to be. With that in mind, Vivek needs to ensure the Kings don’t make the same mistake again.
Firing Malone in December of 2014 sent a promising team into a tailspin. It irreparably damaged the team’s relationships with DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay. The Kings started that season 11-13 under Malone and finished the season at 29-53. The team was a miserable 7-21 under Tyrone Corbin, despite Vivek’s beliefs that Corbin could lead the Kings to more win (and the playoffs!) than Malone would have.
#Kings Ranadive Says he expects Kings to reach playoffs with more wins under Corbin then they would have had under Malone.— stevelarge (@largesteven) December 17, 2014
The Kings sit on the precipice of respectability. The team is at .500 just days before Thanksgiving, the young players are developing, and the team has an identifiable philosophy. The Kings are fun and might even be sorta good. The organization can’t afford to throw that away.
Based on their immediate responses, it seems like Vivek and Vlade might realize this at least. What’s important now is that they also recognize that this can all come crashing down even if Joerger finishes the season as head coach. Undermine the coach through the media, create playing time controversies, pit players against each other, a million little things can ruin team chemistry. Kings fans have seen them all.
If Vlade is in charge, he needs to be in charge. If Williams is stepping out of line, he needs to be brought in line or reassigned to a mysterious advisor role and never seen around the front office again.
Matina Kolokotronis has been involved with basketball operations for the entirety of our current playoff drought. She’s the only high-level basketball ops person to be present for both the Maloof-era ineptitude and the Vivek-era ineptitude. Perhaps this isn’t a person whose power should be, in Amick’s words, at an all-time high.
The time for back-office politics ruining the Kings is over. The on-court product is beginning to improve. Now the front office performance needs to match it.