It's just too hard to defend Geoff Petrie these days. It just is. These are his Kings. This is his team. And there they sit, in the throes of another identity crisis, squeezing toward the cellar with the rest of the Western Conference crumbs.
Whatever happened to progress? To assembling a roster that resembles a team? To acquiring players with diverse personalities and complementary skills? To being more creative than most NBA types?
What happened to Geoff Petrie?
We miss him. It's been too long.
Not so long ago OK, about a decade ago the Kings basketball president was twice voted the league's Executive of the Year. He retooled the roster for the Kings' first playoff appearance under former owner Jim Thomas, then transformed a regional franchise into an international icon with a series of clever moves that both preceded and followed the 1998-99 lockout-shortened season.
Entering the latest post-lockout season, and after five visits to the NBA draft lottery, a mini-transformation was expected by fans, who have endured seasons of dreadful basketball; area business leaders, who bought into the we-are-improving sales pitch and committed to sponsorships; owners Joe and Gavin Maloof, who decided to stick around; and NBA Commissioner David Stern, who sent an entire marketing team to Sacramento to kick-start ticket sales, ostensibly while the civic and political leaders unearthed funding sources for a new arena.
The latter development could still happen, but it's a shame Kevin Johnson can't be Clark Kent/Superman and change into a Kings uniform for the evening shift. The mayor remains the best point guard in the region, which is unfair to those few Kings who don't really want to dribble their way through life.
That thud you hear is the sound of the dribbling Kings accompanied by their front office laying the biggest collective egg in California. It's the only time the Kings have gotten together on anything this season.
It's the Disease of Me. Be careful out there at Power Balance Pavilion. It's contagious. Don't dare get close enough to contain a shooter.
Where's the plan? The picture isn't changing, which suggests there is something fundamentally and institutionally wrong with the approach. The dynamic within basketball operations is as stagnant as the offense, and the darts are flying fast and furious, with Petrie emerging as a popular target within his own industry.
Much of the stuff is readily dismissible. But there has been enough chatter about the Kings to warrant attention. Embittered former Kings basketball employees speak of a paranoid, oppressive culture at their former job site. General managers complain about Petrie's reclusive nature. More than one team executive frustrated by attempts to engage Petrie in trade talks has taken the back-channel route to the Maloofs.
Is it unreasonable to draw conclusions about Petrie's future? It wasn't too soon, after two seasons and seven games, to fire Paul Westphal, who enjoyed a terrific relationship with Petrie while alienating and failing to develop most of his players.
Next up is Keith Smart, confronting a grim reality: He lacks the gravitas of a Larry Brown or a Jerry Sloan, and his roster consists of round parts and square holes. As one league executive told me Monday, echoing a common perception, "The Kings have assets, but too many players do the same things."
After taking years to shed the bloated contracts of Kenny Thomas, Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Mikki Moore, among others, Petrie made at least three more questionable offseason moves: acquiring Travis Outlaw (four years, $12 million); re-signing restricted free agent Marcus Thornton (four years, $31 million) before the guard tested the market; and, after a hard push from Westphal, orchestrating a trade to re-acquire John Salmons (three years, $24 million).
Salmons. Thornton. Tyreke Evans. One ball, no chance.
With the league's lowest payroll and enviable salary cap space, coupled with the inordinate number of star players sustaining injuries in the compressed 66-game season, Petrie will have an opportunity, before the March 15 trade deadline, to reshape his roster again, perhaps for a final time.
While the NBA's longest-tenured top executive did not return a call, he monitors everything. He senses the mood here and elsewhere.
Does he have anything left?
Does he still have game?
We should find out soon.