There were only two ways to play this when the New York Knicks contacted Kings general manager Vlade Divac and asked permission to speak with Scott Perry about their general manager vacancy.
Divac could decline the request, remind the Knicks that Perry only three months ago committed to a multiyear contract as Kings vice president of basketball operations, and insist that he is too valuable to lose.
The alternative was to show Perry the door, wish him the best, thank him for his contributions – which were considerable – and promise to stay in touch.
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Divac took the easy way out, which happens to be the right thing to do. The NBA is a cutthroat industry, but it is also a brotherhood. Back scratchers remain hidden in every executive’s desk. It is simply bad business to deprive someone of Perry’s character and reputation the opportunity to run his own franchise, to accept a GM job that he should have been offered years ago.
And don’t think Divac and the Kings didn’t benefit immensely from Perry’s presence, abbreviated though it was. Before even discussing Perry’s influence in the NBA draft and recent free agent signings, there is clear and convincing evidence that Divac is an increasingly quick study. Two years ago Divac would have sent Perry off with a pat on the back. On Thursday, the third-year general manager called the Knicks and demanded compensation.
You want my vice president? My most trusted executive? That will cost you a 2019 second-round pick and cash considerations.
Thanks in part to Perry’s influence, the Kings are no longer in the business of getting fleeced. Among his many contributions, Perry stressed the importance of amassing assets, maintaining salary cap flexibility and, while in the midst of a rebuild, adding selective veterans both to mentor young players and introduce the nuances of the game.
Perry’s prints are all over the Zach Randolph, Vince Carter and George Hill signings. Similarly, his was a loud voice in the war room before and during the draft, and, according to several Kings officials, he was a strong advocate of De’Aaron Fox, the Kentucky point guard who was selected fifth overall.
“This is a great opportunity for Scott professionally,” Divac said, “and it gets him back east, closer to his daughter. I was not going to stop him. The only thing I feel bad about is that we had everything in place in our front office. Our front office is strong. Now I have to find someone who can come in and do the things Scott did for us.”
Still regarded among the league’s most dysfunctional franchises when Perry arrived in April, his presence had an almost immediate favorable effect. For the first time in several years, the Kings gained meetings and workouts with most of the top draft prospects, among them Fox, Justin Jackson and Harry Giles, all taken by Sacramento.
Perry was the conduit to AAU and college coaches, and he opened doors once locked when the Kings approached.
Earlier in the week at the Las Vegas summer league, several longtime NBA observers who were sharply critical of Divac’s inexperience and his ill-advised trades with Philadelphia in 2015 praised the last two Kings drafts and recent offseason moves, and attributed the developments to a stable, competent front office.
Ironically, Perry, 52, leaves for an organization that is regarded as the most dysfunctional in the league. Knicks owner James Dolan plays guitar in a band, yet remains tone deaf in the Madison Square Garden workplace. After firing Phil Jackson recently, he failed to reach agreement with respected former Cleveland Cavaliers general manager David Griffin, primarily because he refused to allow Griffin to assemble his own front office staff. Dolan tabled Carmelo Anthony trade talks until he hired a GM, promoted Steve Mills to team president Thursday, then lured Perry from Sacramento.
With Perry’s abrupt departure, Divac’s immediate focus is finding a quality replacement.
“I’m going to take my time and get the right person, like I did with Scott,” the Kings GM said. “I have a few people in mind, but I am going to look around for a while. I know what we want, what we need. We have a good thing. We’re in a good place. We need to find the right person.”
The search is on.