If the Maloofs are remotely interested in sustaining the Kings in Sacramento, tabling the new arena vs. renovated arena conversations at least for a few more days/months/years, they need to issue one sure, swift, franchise-shaking statement.
Kings basketball president Geoff Petrie has to go, and he has to take the entire basketball operations staff with him.
This just isn't working. The pieces still don't fit. Sleep Train Arena once the home of league sellout streaks and colorful, chanting and knowledgeable Kings fans has become a half-empty building in crisis.
We can talk all day about bad trades and the chronic tendency to fill roster spots with players of similar skills and sizes. We can discuss terrible coaching hires all night. We can argue about draft choices many of whom were excellent during the Jason Williams, Peja Stojakovic, Hedo Turkoglu and Gerald Wallace era but that have been far less impressive in recent years.
Back when he knew what he was doing, Petrie, a two-time Executive of the Year, drafted well and traded wisely. He swapped Williams for Mike Bibby, traded Corliss Williamson for Doug Christie, stole Chris Webber from the Washington Wizards for Mitch Richmond and enticed free agent Vlade Divac with an exciting, viable and sweeping vision for the future.
It wasn't always like it is now, remember. Swatches of empty seats. Frustrated fans booing throughout. Players dribbling dents into the floor or jacking up jumpers with impunity. Veterans carping about the younger players. The younger players tagged with two-game suspensions for throwing cheap shot elbows (Thomas Robinson) and chewing out an opposing team's TV analyst for his critical comments (DeMarcus Cousins).
The Robinson-Cousins incidents offer a timely microcosm of a regime in chaos, one that has become rudderless, clueless and, most troubling of all, leaderless.
The fact Petrie refused to publicly address his players' suspensions when approached by local news outlets? That he sat on his stool in the arena's tunnel and remained stone-faced while the ejected Robinson walked past him en route to the locker room? That he stubbornly refuses to acknowledge the increasing importance of the 24/7 news cycle and the explosion in blogs and talk shows?
These are systemic, rotting-at-the-core issues, yet Petrie's approach is to pretend none of this exists. He is an isolationist at a time when the masses want to be included, especially in small-market, one-team towns. Want to be heard. Want to be appreciated. Want some reason to believe that the world isn't ending, that the Kings aren't leaving, and that with something resembling an offense, the team would be entertaining and uplifting, and certainly better than 2-8.
Instead, incrementally and undeniably, both by inertia and repeated mistakes, Petrie has stripped the once-proud franchise of its passion, its identity, its collective soul. And let's face it. Even though the decline has been accelerated by years of exhausting arena uncertainty, the owners aren't going to fire the owners. But something's gotta give.
Under Petrie, the NBA's longest-tenured top basketball executive, the Kings have missed the playoffs for six consecutive seasons; four coaches have been scorched in the process, with Keith Smart's job security suddenly not so secure; the slow start has dampened preseason enthusiasm and furthered the belief that the Maloofs don't care and Smart can't coach, and that Petrie's Princeton pedigree notwithstanding, he is no longer the brains behind a highly successful venture.
(NBA scouts summarized the Kings as a low-IQ roster that lacks a floor leader/facilitator, and has too many small guards and duplicating small forwards, a dearth of perimeter shooters, terrible chemistry and inexplicable offense.)
Assuming the Maloofs actually give two hoots about any of this? That they are seriously talking with potential local investors and evaluating arena renovation plans while fielding nonstop calls from the folks in Seattle, Las Vegas, Kansas City and Anaheim?
Then it's time to throw down their cards. Show us something. Make that critical bold move. Start vetting Petrie's successor. There are plenty of dynamic young candidates who grasp the importance of public relations and marketing, who excel at salary cap management and roster manipulation, and who might make themselves available for the top basketball spot.
Maloof acquaintance Kevin Pritchard (and his buddy Larry Bird?) immediately comes to mind. Others are Chad Buchanan (director of college scouting for the Portland Trail Blazers) and Mike Zarren (assistant general manager for the Boston Celtics).
Additionally, there are more than a few longtime executive types who might be intrigued on a short-term basis. So what exactly is Don Nelson doing these days? And Phil Jackson now that he isn't returning to coach the Lakers? And Steve Kerr?
It was a great run while it lasted, and Petrie ran a great operation for a while. But it's over. Sleep Train Arena is not the Pentagon. It's time to rid the building of its paranoia and negativity, to change the culture and, yes, weave the Kings back into the fabric of the community.