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Vlade Divac isn’t taking a victory lap

Vlade is still focused on the work to be done, and that’s good news

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Kimani Okearah

The Sacramento Kings have a winning record after Christmas, something that hasn’t been the case in well over a decade. The unexpected success of the Kings has led many to heap praise on the oft-criticized GM of the Kings, Vlade Divac. And let’s be honest, a lot of that praise is deserved. Just as we blame Vlade for the team’s failures, he also deserves credit for the team’s successes. He hired Dave Joerger. He drafted De’Aaron Fox and Willie Cauley-Stein. He traded for Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic. He convinced Nemanja Bjelica to stay in the NBA and sign with the Kings instead of returning to Europe. This is a team assembled by Vlade Divac. Its successes and failures belong to him.

In February of 2017 famously put a two-year timeline on his team being better, telling Ailene Voison:

That’s my job, and I take responsibility. And I totally understand why some fans would be upset. They supported DeMarcus, and I like DeMarcus a lot. But I believe we are going to be in a better position in two years. I want to hear again from these same people in two years. If I’m right, great. If I’m wrong, I’ll step down. But if I go down, I’m going down my way.

We’re still a few months short of that two year mark, but it’s hard to imagine anything changing fan sentiment in the next two months. Vlade has achieved that goal. The team is better. The team has a new identity, and players that fit the modern NBA. It would be understandable if Vlade spent this season taking a bit of a victory lap and rubbing it in the faces of those who doubted him (myself included), but in a new interview with the Athletic’s Sam Amick, Vlade does nothing of the sort.

Safe to assume it feels good to have it unfold like this?

Of course. I’d be lying if I said no. Obviously, when you believe in something, you expect that thing to happen. And when it’s happening, obviously you have satisfaction.

What about these past few years? All the hits you’ve taken, and you’re a competitor who has pride, so when you have people in town saying this guy doesn’t know what he’s doing and there’s no way in hell he’ll get it going in the right direction, did that bother you?

I’ll be honest with you frankly – just what you said, ‘competitive.’ I’m competitive. I know how to deal with that type of stuff. I just ignore, because those people, I know they want the best for the Kings, but they don’t know the details. They don’t know behind the curtain, they don’t know a lot of different stuff. For me, it was like, ‘OK, just give me time,’ and time came.

Vlade does include a few jokes throughout the interview, including a remark about how he supposedly doesn’t understand the cap but ended up with the Kings having a great cap sheet, but it all feels like it’s in good spirits.

Most importantly, Vlade isn’t talking about this like it’s mission accomplished. He’s not satisfied with the team being better, and still has his eyes on the work ahead.

Is this a playoff team?

Uh… right now, yeah. If you look at the standings, we’re in the playoffs. But are we desperate to do it? No, we’re not. Do we want to be there? Yeah. Are we going to push? Yeah. The players are playing for it. We are supporting it. If I have to do something to help them, yeah I will do it. But not just from desperation and to sacrifice everything that we’ve built.

They made a huge step. I didn’t come here three or four years ago to make the playoffs. I came here to do some unfinished business, to build a championship team.

As someone who has criticized Vlade’s moves a lot over the years, I’m thrilled to see Vlade doing better. We’re still too close to when the Kings signed Zach LaVine to a massive offer sheet for me to say he’s got it all figured out. I’m guessing Vlade himself wouldn’t claim to have it all figured out. But depsite my critiques I’ve always wanted Vlade to succeed. He was one of my favorite players on the Kings, and he’s a genuinely nice person. I don’t know if he can ever reach the level of being considered a great GM, but he’s no longer a laughingstock. Neither are the Kings.

That’s good enough for the moment. The next challenge is taking the Kings from a feel-good story to a legitimate perennial playoff team and eventual contender.