Over the last few months, the jokes have subsided and the Kings no longer are the NBA’s picture of dysfunction.
The franchise took another step toward stability by signing general manager Vlade Divac to an extension and picking up coach Dave Joerger’s option to secure both of them on contract through the 2019-20 season, the team announced Wednesday.
That keeps the two most visible leaders in the franchise together for three more seasons, which is something the Kings haven’t been able to say since the days of Geoff Petrie and Rick Adelman more than 10 years ago.
The Kings have been dogged by instability in recent years amid coaching changes and front office shakeups. That led to free agents and draft picks giving a collective side-eye to the organization.
Now Divac – after an offseason that was widely praised, and with a coach hired on his watch – believes the Kings have the pieces to move the franchise toward becoming a winner.
“When I came here, it was all talk about stability,” Divac said. “And I think the last couple years we’ve brought that stability here and we know where we are. Now we have a picture of where we’re going to be in the next couple years and we’re going to work hard and get there. I think we’re in a perfect situation for that.”
When Divac, one of the more popular players in franchise history, returned as an executive in 2015, he inherited players who harbored distrust of the front office and ownership following the firing of popular coach Michael Malone. The front office was understaffed and the support staff was lacking. George Karl was the third coach that season and fifth since 2012.
The team had an All-Star in DeMarcus Cousins, but it failed to provide an environment to nurture his talents and help him develop. Karl was fired after the 2015-16 season and Cousins was traded in February. The remaining key players acquired before Divac – Rudy Gay and Darren Collison – both left as free agents this summer.
All remaining players and coaches have been brought in during Divac’s tenure. The front office has been bolstered and the opinion of the Kings around the league is changing for the better.
“It’s night and day from Day One when I came in here,” Divac said. “I’m thankful to Dave and his coaching staff. They’ve been incredible and it makes my job easier to focus on what we have to do. We are partners in this process and the journey just started. I’m looking forward to what we’re going to be in a few years.”
When the Kings traded Cousins, it ended the team’s chances of making the playoffs and put it in full rebuilding mode, a setback to any progress Joerger made prior to the trade on the court.
The Kings finished 32-50 last season. Joerger did not have a losing season during his three in Memphis, going 147-99 and making the playoffs each time.
Committing to a young team requires a vision for the future and patience – areas the franchise has struggled with in recent seasons, underlined by quick decisions to fire Malone and later hire Karl. Joerger now has the security of knowing he can work toward the future and has Divac’s support.
“This helps look at the broad strokes, which we’ve done anyways,” Joerger said. “But this really cements the stability and the partnership going forward for the longer term.”
That means developing five rookies, including guard De’Aaron Fox, the fifth overall pick in June’s draft. The Kings have 10 players who have played less than three seasons in the NBA, so struggles are expected.
At the completion of his contract after four seasons, Joerger would be the longest-tenured coach since Adelman (1998-2006). Paul Westphal currently holds that distinction (2010-12); he was fired early into his third season.
“We have a defined vision of where we want to be,” Joerger said. “There’s a vision out there and a path that we’re all on, and I think all of our community knows in the direction that we’re going, to create something year in and year out that has a chance to win 50 games, and you never know what happens in the playoffs at that point.”