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Royal Roundtable: Initial reactions to the firing of Dave Joerger and Brandon Williams

The coaching carousel turns once again for the Kings.

Kimani Okearah

The past 24 hours have been quite the whirlwind for Kings fans, as Vlade Divac has made the decision to fire controversial front office executive Brandon Williams and Head Coach Dave Joerger. A few of the guys assembled at Sactown Royalty Headquarters to share their thoughts on the situation.

What’s your initial reaction?

Akis: Same shit, different day. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t see this coming because the hints have been there all season, from the Kings refusing to extend Joerger early on when the team was in the playoff hunt to the fight with Brandon Williams early on. And of course, there’s the big ol’ KANGZ factor. I’m actually a little surprised at just how unfazed I am by this huge news, but I guess I’ve just become desensitized over the years.

Bryant: Vlade Divac has been a gambling man since he took over the Sacramento Kings front office. From the DeMarcus Cousins trade, to trusting De’Aaron Fox could shoot, to Marvin Bagley at No. 2 last year—Vlade goes all-in with confidence. And today, by firing the most successful coach the franchise has had since Rick Adelman was instructing Vlade himself, Divac has made his biggest gamble yet. He looked at the success of this 39 win season—the player development, the squad’s chemistry, a real team identity for the first time in a decade—and decided he was the only leadership piece of the season worth keeping.

Dave Joerger might not have been the right coach for this team. We’ll find out. But Vlade better have gotten this bet right, or all the goodwill and success of the last 8 months are going to be forgotten really damn quickly.

Omer: It seems insane. The Kings are finally shedding their dysfunctional reputation. They far exceeded reasonable win projections from last offseason. Dave Joerger’s uptempo style earned rave reviews across the league. Why make such a drastic change now? I can understand firing Joerger if the team started out slow next season, given the fact that they’ll have actual expectations to succeed. But hasn’t Joerger earned a chance to coach the team in the next phase of its development?

Tony: We’ll never know if Dave Joerger was the right coach to take this team to the next level, I just thought he did enough to earn more time. I’m highly frustrated and annoyed with how this went down, from not punishing Brandon Williams after the original Yahoo story leak, to not telling Dave Joerger that he was going to be fired until hours after it was already all over social media, so it’s hard for me to talk about the basketball ramifications of this move while I’m still getting over the Kangz nonsense that went down here.

Tim: Before I dive into my initial thoughts about the decisions, I just want to address how sad our conditioning is as a fan base. If a “normal” organization fired their head coach after a 12 win improvement and the best season in 13 years, their fans would lose their freaking minds. Meanwhile, we panicked for approximately 45 seconds before moving onto the next candidate. There have been so many devastating/potentially devastating announcements made by this franchise over the past dozen years that we just accept them apathetically and continue on about our day.

As far as the actual decision, I was first shocked when I first heard about the possibility this morning, then unsurprised. Whispers of Dave Joerger’s impending demise floated throughout the organization from almost the opening night tip-off, despite the team’s surprising leap this season. Vlade Divac is spending all of the trust he’s built up with one monumental decision, and he clearly believes a higher quality candidate will take the helm next season.

Sanjesh: It was disappointing to start my day reading this and it sucks how everyone found out on social media that Joerger would be fired and he didn’t even have his one-on-one meeting with Vlade just yet. Joerger coached a super young Kings team to a 39 win season after many believed they would be a basement cellar team hitting near 20 wins. Joerger had questionable moves throughout the season but I thank him for being key in the development of the young guys and giving us fans an almost .500 season.

Rob: This team needs an enema!

Rich: My initial thoughts are about the optics of this move. It’s just such a bad look to fire your coach after the best season in over a decade. The fan support was clearly there. Sacramento was just starting to believe again. Now it’s all blown up. Sacramento has struggled to get coaches to take interviews with the team in the past. Plenty of prospects don’t even work out in front of the Kings before the draft. Some free agents won’t meet with the team or will take less money to play elsewhere. This decision won’t help any of that.

Greg: It’s possible this moves the team in the right direction, but it sure would be nice to try out consistency at some point. You know, just to see if it works?

Brad: You know, at first I thought that the Kings were once again ruining my life and making life a pointless collection of meaningless terror, but then I realized that they were always doing this.

Did Vlade Divac make the right decisions?

Akis: Gut feeling is yes with Brandon Williams and no with Joerger, because Joerger in my mind earned an extension for the work he did this season. But Vlade has earned at least a little bit of the benefit of the doubt and if he was at all hesitant about Joerger being the long term guy, I can see why he did this. All we see is what’s on the court, and we don’t get to see what’s going on behind the scenes or the relationships with players. The performance after the All-Star break was also a bit worrying and left a sour taste in my mouth. This team didn’t seem to be playing with the same intensity as they had been earlier in the season, and Joerger was often slow to make adjustments (which to be honest has been a thing with him his entire career). He wasn’t a perfect coach, and might not have been the right guy long term. But man oh man is this next hire going to have to be that guy that takes us to the next level or else this move is going to look really bad. This team now has real expectations, and we can’t afford any steps backwards. Only time will tell.

Omer: It’s impossible to say right now. On the one hand, Joerger has a track record of success and just coached the team to its best season in a decade. On the other, we don’t know what was happening behind the scenes and in the locker room, the team underachieved since the All-Star break, and Joerger’s high-post offense may not be the best fit for franchise cornerstones De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley. If (and this is a huge if) the Kings nail the offseason hire by bringing in someone who would play uptempo while improving the team’s offense in the halfcourt with a more pick-and-roll heavy style, it could keep the team’s upward progress going. The team is more attractive now as a coaching destination than it’s ever been, but do you trust the front office to make the right hire?

Tony: It depends entirely on who they replace Dave Joerger with. There might be better coaching candidates out there, but will they come to Sacramento? That remains to be seen. Joerger wasn’t perfect, so the door is open for Vlade to come out of this looking good, but the next coach has to be the right coach, and my confidence in the Kings to make the right hire isn’t where I’d like it to be.

Tim: Firing Brandon Williams was the correct decision. His attempted ouster of Dave Joerger earlier in the season wasn’t his first attempt to gain power through nefarious ways and executives of his type are replaceable. I’m glad that Vlade Divac didn’t choose Williams over Joerger.

Firing Dave Joerger is a questionable decision at best. The Kings recorded their highest winning percentage, their best net rating, and their best league-wide finish since the playoff drought began 13 years ago. Beyond that, the players will now be forced to learn a new offensive and defensive game plan this summer, not the worst thing in the world by any means, but a factor that many have yet to consider at this point.

There’s a chance that this all works out, but Vlade Divac is choosing to thread an incredibly thin needle. The probability that we look back on this decision as similar to the Mike Malone firing is much higher than the possibility of finding a Jackson to Kerr type upgrade. We’ll see where this coaching search takes us.

Sanjesh: Only time will tell and also who replaces Joerger. Like Tim said, booting Williams was the right move, although I would’ve preferred him to have been fired when drama kept coming up in the regular season. Another thing to note, this Kings team has a more attractable squad then when Joerger initially took over, so more talented coaches hopefully will be intrigued. The Chris Clark parting was mutual, so nothing to be said there. I’m just going to trust Vlade has a better plan than Joerger, unless this all doesn’t make sense.

Rob: The decision seems capricious to me. If this was a foregone conclusion, so be it. But once again the handling has been pure Kangz. Given my level of faith in the organization, I fear that things could get worse before they get better. Be it Karl/Cousins or Williams/Joerger, this organization still seems to be learning (or not learning) on the fly. And with some actual young prospects on the roster, the clock is actually ticking now.

Rich: Only time can tell. As bad as it looks and feels today, there is a real possibility the Kings continue to improve. Dave Joerger is a good coach, but it’s not impossible that the next coach could be better. The concern, of course, is that the next coach is far worse. This is a risk that I would not have taken. However, when it comes to being the “right decision,” I’ll have to give Vlade an incomplete grade until we see the replacements.

Greg: Hard to say. If it was me, I would have given Joerger an extension. I think you fire a coach when it’s clear they’ve lost the team and are no longer helping them improve. Perhaps that’s already started happening and we just haven’t hear it yet? I don’t know if it’s the right move, but with the information we currently have I think it’s a mistake.

Brad: We will see. If it’s a new coach we will see come the regular season, if we hire an objectively worse coach like—say Luke Walton—we know that he did not.

Of the rumored candidates, who would you select as the next coach of the Sacramento Kings?

Akis: It’s obviously still early, but I haven’t really hated any of the names thrown out there. I’ve always been intrigued by Ettore Messina, even back before he was a Popovich assistant, and now that he’s had that tutelage he’s even more intriguing. Luke Walton would be fine I guess. I suspect he’d have more luck with this Kings team than he did with a mismatched Lakers squad. The Kings job will definitely be more coveted than it was the last time we had an opening, so there shouldn’t be any shortage of good candidates.

Kevin: Ettore Messina, Monty Williams, and a Lithuanian guy I googled last night.

Omer: Messina would be my top choice, having earned a stellar reputation in Europe and getting that Popovich tutelage last few years as an assistant. Popovich is known for tailoring his team’s offense to his roster’s strengths, but European coaches are known to be inflexible, so it will be interesting to see what Messina’s personality as a coach looks like. Walton would be fine given the Lakers’ growth under his watch pre-Lebron, but he doesn’t excite me. Williams is a popular choice, but while he’s a solid player’s coach I’m not sure about whether he’s tactically good enough.

Tony: I don’t hate the early list of candidates floating around out there. You can make a solid argument for any one of Ettore Messina, Luke Walton, or Monty Williams. I would prefer Messina simply because he has the best resume, but Walton or Williams could work, too. When you start hearing names like Mark Jackson or Mike Brown... that’s when you should start to worry.

Tim: Ty Corbin! I kid. Give me Ettore Messina and give him to me now. Sam Amick tweeted that Messina would want the job, and the Kings should hire him immediately if that’s true. He won four championships in the Euroleague, posted a record of 279-98 in that time, and he’s considered to be one of the European coaches of all time. Since 2014, Messina has been with the Spurs, and he’s earned the trust of Greg Popovich to take over the team when Pop has missed the occasional game.

Bonus list of names I don’t want to hear associated with the Kings: Mark Jackson, Mike Brown, Vinny Del Negro, Jason Kidd

Sanjesh: With Amick saying Messina covets the job, he’s my favored candidate and also has an impressive resume under his belt. Monty Williams is another name floating around and I’ve read he has chemistry with Divac, so I wouldn’t totally be against it if everyone in the front office is on the same page. Luke Walton is one I’m split on. It wasn’t his fault the Lakers were constantly dealing with injuries and that team was 20-14 and in the top of the West before things went south. But like what’s been said, there’s much better names going around this time around than what we’ve seen in the past.

Rob: Enrico Pallazo would be a nice choice - cat can really sing and umps a mean game. But if I had my choice of San Antonio coaches, I’d lean to Ime Udoka over Messina. Heck, I’d probably rank them Udoka, Becky Hammon, and then Messina.

Rich: I actually like Luke Walton as a coach quite a bit. He was in a really tough spot this season with the Lakers. Lots of injuries and a crazy roster. But he’s technically still employed. I don’t know too much about Messina, but it’s hard to go wrong with Pop’s guys. His reputation certainly appears sterling and with reports that he actually wants the job, I say we give it to him.

Greg: I’d go with Messina or Walton. I know folks have soured on Walton this year, but I still think he can be a very good coach. Not every coach is great in their first gig, and I think there are signs he could be a very good coach. I wouldn’t have to work hard to talk myself into Messina being the guy, though. We’ve been pining for him since Tom Ziller ran StR.

Brad: Is Brad Miller available?