New Kings general manager Pete D'Alessandro describes himself as a "45-year-old bald dude" who wears glasses and blends into backgrounds. Or maybe he was being too modest? In a two-hour conversation last week, D'Alessandro chatted about his diverse background, spoke candidly about the team, his philosophy and DeMarcus Cousins, and promised to be a visible, engaging presence in the community. Here is the essence of the discussion.
Kings principal owner Vivek Ranadive spent weeks interviewing dozens of candidates to replace Geoff Petrie, and you were somewhat of a late-game surprise. So how did you win the job?
I think I answer questions. I don't think I'm 100 percent right, or proclaim to be 100 percent right, but I'm not afraid to tell you what I think. So if you like what I think, you're probably going to love me. And if you don't like what I think, you're probably going to say, 'This guy knows nothing,' and show me the door. But I'm not arrogant or cocky. I'm very matter-of-fact. I think transparency is very important in this business, and frankly, I don't see a lot of it.
You have an excellent reputation in NBA circles, but most people in Sacramento are unfamiliar with your background. College video coach. Criminal defense attorney. Political campaign manager. Player agent. Front-office executive with the Warriors and Nuggets. Did I leave anything out? Do you wash dishes, too?
Well, let's see. (Laugh) I grew up on Long Island, middle-class family, about 50 minutes from the city. I played baseball, basketball, football and tennis, but I was really small, so when I got to high school, I didn't see it (a basketball career) happening.
You started as a video coordinator at St. John's, where your classmates included Mark Jackson, Robert Werdann and the late Malik Sealy. Those are pretty promising connections. Why pass on a possible coaching career?
When I was going to college, I actually thought maybe I would pursue coaching. I coached my brother's high school summer-league team and really liked it. But after watching agents come in, I began thinking about the business of basketball, about how I could help players, and that started to excite me. And I always believe you should do things you enjoy.
Has your legal/political background been helpful in the NBA?
Well, I can tell you a funny story. When I was in my third year of law school, they didn't have enough attorneys in Florida, so I was provisionally certified as a public defender. I was the guy who had to do first appearances at the jail. They would put you in the pen with everyone and you're stuck there. Seriously, you walk in that room, people are staring at you, and some of these are not good people. And you're in it, you're in it. Nothing in this league can shake me after that.
So how did you transition from practicing law and running Rick Lazio's congressional campaigns to becoming a sports agent?
One day I called coach (Lou) Carnesecca, who is my mentor, and told him what I wanted to do. He said, 'I think you should call (agent) Bill Pollack. I have a lot of respect for him and he does things the right way.' The contact was in D.C., but I didn't care if it was Iowa. I probably would have packed and moved to Iowa. I tell young people today, you can inundate with emails and résumés, but at the end of the day, it's face time that matters. So I moved to D.C. so he (Pollack) could get to know me. I sort of recruited him. I moved down there thinking, on blind faith, that I would get a job with this guy.
Coincidentally, Pollack hired you shortly before he added Jason Williams to his client list in 1998. What was it like representing J-Will?
He was like a little brother to me, he really was. We clicked very early. I just think he was a guy, a kid from West Virginia, who stepped into this thing that blew up too quickly. It was a little intimidating for him. But what a talent. And coming out here, to cowbell kingdom, it was so exciting. The way that team got up and down the court. The way they spread the floor because they had shooters. They had a post presence with C-Webb (Chris Webber), who could do anything. Beyond the fact that I felt connected to it through my client, I loved watching the Kings.
Is the up-tempo game your preference?
Yeah, it's funny. The teams I've been involved with all seemed to have that same style of play in common. I was with Nellie (Don Nelson) at Golden State and George Karl in Denver. I think it's fun for the fans. It's compelling basketball.
So how do you kick-start the Kings?
I feel very strongly about this. In an ideal world, I would have a team that is the fastest team that ever ran in this league. But in the NBA, it's about opportunity. If you have a player that does not fit a style whatever the best opportunity is for you, you have to pounce on that. Multiple styles can work. Find the best talent and build your style of play. Look at San Antonio. They could grind it out or run. Talent first, then let your coach handle it. It's going to be incremental, but in this league, you've seen situations where things happen quickly. Immediately, we need to be more exciting. That's clear. And having a coach like Michael Malone sets the tone for that.
What are the strengths and weaknesses on the current roster?
Well, I see one really big, unbelievable talent in DeMarcus right off the top. You can't help but see that. I have always been in awe of his game. Players like that are hard to come by. And I see a crazy athlete in Tyreke (Evans). I would call him an athletic beast who can play the one (point guard), two (shooting guard) or three (small forward), and that's very rare. What I don't see, frankly, is a lot of sharing the ball. And the best teams, at every position, pass well.
Is improving the passing the No. 1 priority?
Playmakers and shooters. You see a lot of scoring at the rim and at the three-point line. That's a common thread these days. Shooting is big, and shooting at every position. I remember watching the Kings early last year thinking, 'That team is not going to make the playoffs, but there's a lot of talent.' So what's the magic formula? It's figuring out the right blend.
Do you plan any other additions to your staff? You added George McCloud as a scout and lured Mike Bratz from the Nuggets to become your assistant general manager. Did you realize he played on the original 1985-86 Sacramento Kings team?
(Laugh). Mike is the best I've seen, I'll put it that way, at assessing talent. He's excellent.
Considering the Nuggets are coming off a franchise-record 57-win season, how surprised were you by the organizational shakeup? Masai (Ujiri, general manager) left for Toronto. Karl was fired. You replace Petrie and bring Bratz to Sacramento.
Shocked, because I thought what we had there with Josh (Kroenke, Nuggets president), myself and Masai, was a special connection. I just thought it fit really well. But this is life, right? When you have success this is life.
It was assumed that you would have replaced Ujiri if you chose to stay in Denver. Why leave a contender for a franchise that remains in rebuilding mode?
You know, who doesn't like to get a call? We're all human beings. It was flattering. It took awhile to get permission (from the Nuggets) because George (Karl) had just left and we were working on some things. I even told my wife (Leah), 'They're pretty far down the line. They must have someone.' So I just thought, I want to be a fly in the ointment. I want to make them think. And if nothing comes of it, I've met another one of 30 owners, and maybe I have a new friend. And if you want to hire me, this is who I am. Then when I met with Vivek, Mark Mastrov and Raj (Bhathal), I was even more excited. To have this group together that was really aggressive and tech-minded, it made me think it would be a very exciting thing to do.
What are your thoughts on the small-market vs. large-market debate?
I don't know that there are limitations in terms of how much success small markets can have, because you see San Antonio, and even Miami is not a large market, though it's true they have large-market players. The question is: How do you get there? What is the model? What path do you follow? Some people get really bad, and other teams find diamonds in the rough. There's a lot of talent out there that gets discovered when it gets to the right coach and the right situation. So, yes, I believe it's easier in a big market, but I think our league has worked hard to create a collective bargaining system that balances things out. We're starting to see it get where it needs to go.
You realize, of course, that there is no "blending in" when it comes to running the Kings in Sacramento. Are you prepared for the intense scrutiny and almost constant attention?
So, I've been here a lot, because when I was with Golden State, my wife did government relations for Alameda Health Consortium. She would come here quite a bit. But this last week, it's been incredible. I had to run out and buy some clothes. I'm a 45-year-old bald dude with glasses. I'm not 6-foot-9. I'm a regular guy. And people at the (Arden Fair) mall are coming up to me and going, 'Pete, we're so glad you're here!' So you ask me about the market? That's passion. That's passion I've never seen before."
Call The Bee's Ailene Voisin (916) 321-1208 and follow her on Twitter @ailene_voisin.