After five years at the helm, Vlade Divac’s crusade to revitalize the Sacramento Kings has officially ended.
It was announced today that the Kings legend would be stepping down as General Manager effective immediately. Joe Dumars, who was named Special Advisor to the GM back in June 2019 will assume the title of Interim Kings Executive VP of Basketball Operations moving forward.
“It has been an honor and a privilege to serve as the General Manager for the Kings. I want to thank Vivek for the opportunity & recognize all of the incredible colleagues who I had the great pleasure of working with during my tenure", said Divac in a released statement by the team. "Sacramento and the Kings will always hold a special place in my heart, and I wish them all the best moving forward.”
Divac, a member of the basketball Hall of Fame, an NBA All-Star, and Euro basketball legend endured a challenging tenure as the leader of the Kings’ front office right from the start. While he was politely applauded as a world basketball leader, he was never accepted by the NBA GM fraternity. Mocked for his front office inexperience, thick accent, and often misunderstood dry sense of humor, the NBA insiders considered him an outsider and the team was just further seen as a third-rate franchise. Despite his total and complete loyalty to the team, city, and its fans, he was ultimately destined to fail in Sacramento.
Vlade was initially hired by Kings governor Vivek Ranadive back on April 8, 2015 to replace the then disgraced general manager Pete D’Alessandro, who over a series of bad trades, poor coaching hires, and awkward fan interactions was run out of town less than two years after he replaced long-time GM Geoff Petrie.
Divac’s first duty was to find a way to get the team’s highly talented, but volatile star DeMarcus Cousins, an equally ego-driven head coach George Karl, and a handful of moderately talented, but disinterested players to form some semblance of an NBA team. Not an easy task for any GM.
By the end of the 2015-16 season, Vlade had fired Karl, and less than a year later, he traded Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans for Buddy Hield and draft picks. It was obvious that the Kings could not improve with what they had and needed to blow it all up and start over.
This was when Divac was finally able to put his fingerprints on his franchise and started to implement his vision of what makes a successful team. Quality players with quality character. Disruptive or selfish egos had no place in Sacramento. If you did not want to come to Sac for a pre-Draft workout, the Kings would not waste their pick on you (Emmanuel Mudiay).
Over the years Sacramento continued their youth movement, acquiring more picks and young talent through trades and erasing any semblance of the team Divac was handed back in 2015. He was able to collect a promising war chest that ultimately produced De’Aaron Fox, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Harrison Barnes, Richaun Holmes, Harry Giles, and Hield.
There were definitely some unfortunate draft selections and trades over those five years, but it was one pick in particular that ultimately sealed his fate. In 2018, through the urges of then assistant GM Brandon Williams, the Sacramento Kings selected the super-athletic Marvin Bagley over the highly touted Luka Doncic in the NBA draft with the second overall pick. From the moment the selection was announced, the national media mocked Divac's apparent ignorance, and Kings fans and local media bemoaned the pick. Two years later as Doncic has continued to rise to the top of NBA stardom while Bagley has been grounded by injuries, fans continued to call for Vlade’s head for that one fateful decision. To this day, Divac stands behind his choice, even if it ultimately buried him.
As the 2019-20 season wrapped up for the Kings and a 14th-straight playoff absence staring the team in the face, Ranadive and the myriad of impatient minority owners felt that five years was long enough. Divac was asked to step back from his position of ultimate authority and relinquish the decision-making reins to Dumars moving forward. He would still be part of the front office, but nothing more than in name.
Vlade Divac, a proud man, would never accept such a demotion and decided it was better to completely step away from the Kings organization rather than be cast into the abyss of the Golden One Center where he would have no role. He will be paid the remaining three years on his contract, so do not cry for him Sacramento. But I am sure he would gladly trade all that money for three more years to try and make his ultimate vision work.
“This was a difficult decision, but we believe it is the best path ahead as we work to build a winning team that our loyal fans deserve. We are thankful for Vlade’s leadership, commitment & hard work both on and off the court", said Vivek Ranadive. "He will always be a part of our Kings family.”
Ranadive went on to praise Joe Dumars efforts with the Kings so far and what he hopes is a smooth transition of power and a positive step forward for the team.
"Joe has become a trusted & valued advisor since joining the team last year, & I am grateful to have him take on this role at an important time for the franchise.”
Initial reports indicate that the permanent GM job is Dumars’ if he wants it, but it is uncertain if that will happen as he was very clear with the team last year that he was only interested in an advisory role based out of his Southern California home. If he chooses to look outside the organization for the next general manager, it likely will not happen until next season.
Head coach Luke Walton has been assured by the team that his job is safe for the 2020-21 season. He is signed through 2022-23 and it would make no sense for the team to start a coaching search before a permanent GM can be put in place first. He is also a highly touted coaching talent and could still be the right man for the job moving forward.
Assistant GMs Peja Stoijakovic and Ken Catanella’s futures are not yet known, but Catanella did work under Dumars during their time together with the Detroit Pistons and is a respected salary cap guru around the league.
However, it is expected that no further major front office shake ups will occur until the conclusion of the 2020 draft and free-agency season with Dumars having the final say on all fronts. The Kings have a lot of major decisions to make and it is unclear at this point which way the franchise will go now.
So, there you have it. Vlade Divac came back to Sacramento in 2015 to try and save his beloved Kings. He was probably the only man who loved the team enough to step into that firestorm and believe he could tame the flames. But ultimately, he too got burned. Running the Sacramento Kings is probably the hardest job in the NBA, aside from the New York Knicks, and whoever takes the reins next needs to accept that position with their eyes wide open.
It is different in Sacramento.