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Confident Incompetence

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The Kings leadership team acts one step ahead, when they are usually three steps behind.

NBA: Preseason-San Antonio Spurs at Sacramento Kings Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

From the moment Vivek Ranadive took over this derelict franchise, he wanted to be different. NBA 3.0 was a mystical concept that would surely bring the Kings back to winning ways. Position-less basketball, ironically something that Luka Doncic would have provided, was the buzzword of the organization for several years. Mutterings of jazz bands and jazz directors and 4-on-5 basketball managed to embarrass the fanbase and alienate the media. Sacramento was going to find a new way to do things.

The determination to execute plans in his own way prompted Vivek to avoid traditional paths like an ex-girlfriend he spotted at the grocery store. He decided to immediately hire his Head Coach, Mike Malone, before his General Manager, Pete D’Alesandro, likely to satisfy his Warriors fetish. An extreme lack of foresight and desperate need for control likely should have been a red flag early on, and that choice to go against the grain eventually blew up in Ranadive’s face. Malone and D’Alesandro soon became fierce enemies, the dislike between the two men eventually erupting into a battle for control, won by D’Alesandro. Malone was dismissed, the team spiraled, and Pete eventually paid for his sins.

Not one to learn quickly from an obvious mistake, Vivek hired George Karl shortly before dismissing his first General Manager, and he did not allow his newest manager, Vlade Divac, to choose his own coach. The Karl-Vlade-Cousins dynamic also failed to come together, and Karl was fired with Boogie being traded just 10 months later.

The constant insistence to take another path, to make contrarian decisions, to discover a new formula, has led to a deep-seated arrogance that has seemed to permeate the entire organization; a haughty “we know better than everyone else” attitude that has yet to be proven, even a single time. The belief that they operate as a Silicon Valley-esque front-runner of technology and player analysis influences every decision, when in reality, the Kings are the Dippin’ Dots of the NBA, a quirky way to execute a concept that never seems to make any headway. They are not a disruptor, but simply a disruption.

Thursday night marked the culmination of that smug, misplaced confidence as the Kings selected Marvin Bagley III with the second overall pick. And while the two concepts of criticizing the decision and bashing our newest player seem to slowly creep towards one another, a fine line separates the two notions, or at least it should. The anger that erupted yesterday was not aimed at a young man who hopefully becomes a superstar, but at an organization that once again chose an out-of-the-box option as opposed to the expected one. Thanks to Brett Huff, we know that not a single reputable draft site or expert had Marvin Bagley III rated over Luka Doncic:

Player Draft Boards

Site/Person Doncic Bagley
Site/Person Doncic Bagley
ESPN 2 3
The Athletic 2 3
Sports Illustrated 2 4
Bleacher Report 1 4
Pelton 1 14
O'Connor 1 6
Chau 1 5
Zwicker 1 4
Average 1.375 5.375

Yes, the experts can be wrong. Majority rule does not equal correct thinking; Donovan Mitchell slid to the 13th spot last year. Yet, the group of individuals running this team have not proven that they are smarter than everyone else. They are not the Spurs or the Celtics or the Warriors, snatching quality players out of the ether. There is no foundation of success for the fan base to rest their faith on. Instead, we are left pondering what aspects of the Kings evaluation process convinced them to buck the vast majority of opinions. These are the same techniques that persuaded Vlade Divac to call Georgios Papagiannis the next Marc Gasol. They resulted in our GM believing that Skal Labissiere had the biggest upside of anyone in the 2016 draft, even though the Kings passed on him twice. Willie Cauley-Stein was going to be the next great defensive player. Not only has the same group failed to properly evaluate talent in the past, but they’ve specifically managed to flub their appraisal of big men. Four first round picks spent on the frontcourt in three years have resulted in exactly zero above-average starters. Fans who are optimistic about Bagley are basing that on the encouraging words spoken by Coach K, and the impressive nature of Bagley’s freshman season, rather than on any sort of confidence in our Front Office to make a savvy decision.

The level of misplaced pride that has infected this organization has also displayed itself in the mildly pathetic demand that draftees want to be here, whatever that means. That description was used in the Willie Cauly-Stein press conference, the De’Aaron Fox introduction, and the post-Bagley interview as well. Vlade Divac will not give the time of day to anyone who would rather not work out for the Kings, an unnecessary and embarrassing standard for a rebuilding franchise. Might it be a sign of intelligence that a young, talented individual would want to avoid this team? Not only does this stance make the Kings look weak when they are attempting to look strong, but it also gives agents an easy out for staying out of Divac’s grasp: refuse a workout and medicals and you’re in the clear. No other lottery team subscribes to these beliefs, as one only has to look to the Memphis Grizzlies. Jaren Jackson Jr. declined a work out and didn’t share his medicals, yet they still drafted him. Their reasoning was sound – he was the best player on the board.

The arrogance that led to the Bagley pick can be accepted if this management group is anywhere close to correct, and their propensity toward getting their feelings hurt if a player doesn’t want to come here is rather pathetic, but not necessarily offensive. The transgression that irritates the most is the egotistical nonsense that spews forth after every decision, both large and small. A certain amount of hyperbole is to be expected on draft night, but the Kings hand must have slipped when they turned on the spout of bullshit Thursday evening, growing from an appropriate few drops to a flood of insulting proportions. Someone in the Front Office confused loyalty with gullibility.

The first foray came in the facts that were “leaked” to Carmichael Dave. It’s not upsetting that he posted the information; it’s actually a wonderful thing that he did, because it shows either the lack of intelligence within the Front Office, or the lack of respect certain members of leadership have for an intelligent fanbase:

We know this is false. The Kings had Michael Porter Jr. atop their board for a large part of the season. Multiple, highly trusted reporters have shared the fact that he was their number one option until his unimpressive medicals were released. We know that Luka Doncic was a highly debated part of the conversation, and that the team very much considered picking him. Marvin Bagley wasn’t the number one option the entire year. He wasn’t the number one option two weeks ago.

Either the Kings are foolish enough to believe that Bagley was a better prospect than Ayton, or they think the fanbase is foolish enough to swallow that tale. It’s not a great look either way. The Front Office also wasn’t waiting on Phoenix to make a decision. Everyone knew who the Suns were picking weeks ago. It wasn’t a smokescreen. It was indecision.

The lack of necessity for these exaggerations is the most baffling part about them. Vlade Divac has no need to come out and say that he liked Porter Jr. better at one point, or that he would have taken Ayton number one if possible, but there is also no obligation to say the opposite: simply speak to the facts. They liked Marvin Bagley III a ton. They liked him more than Luka Doncic or Jaren Jackson Jr. or Trae Young. They believe the best path to winning is to have him on the team. Even if a person disagrees with these notions, there isn’t really a strong argument to be had. The decision has been made and it isn’t changing. Frustration and anger bubbles to the surface when unneeded descriptions are thrown about the room. Don’t call this core a super team; they won 27 games last year. No one cares that they debated between Porter Jr. and Bagley. In fact, it’s encouraging that they did their homework. It’s of zero consequence if Bagley was at the top of their board for 12 months or 12 minutes: he ended up being their guy. It’s easy to simply promote his strengths and focus on his future, while avoiding a complete rewrite of the past that no longer matters.

The men and women leading our beloved franchise act as if they deserve limitless amounts of confidence from the masses. Every free agent signing is discussed as the missing piece, each draft pick is the next savior of the franchise, and their questionable decisions are labeled as obvious choices. What they fail to realize is that the benefit of the doubt is an earned trust, not an assumption of position, and after a half-decade of failure, the belief in this group has eroded to dust. They have not shown themselves to be the leaders of the new NBA; they have been the laughingstock. A meddling owner, a dictatorial, hidden executive, an unqualified General Manager, and an old-school Head Coach have coalesced into a merry band of souls who manage to shoot themselves in the foot every time they take one step forward, but slide two steps back.

Of course, there is a possibility that the Front Office made the right call. Marvin Bagley III might be an All-Star and Luka Doncic could be the next Darko, and as Kings fans, we hope that is the case. The decision-makers being correct is much more important than a fan or a blogger or a media member looking smart; however, this current group has shown no ability to follow their own instincts to success. Time and again they take the path less traveled, and time and again they find themselves right back where they started: 28 wins and another lost season. They are confident incompetence personified.