Kings general manager Vlade Divac passed on a recent family excursion to the Himalayas partly because he is using the time to contact candidates to succeed Scott Perry, the respected assistant GM who recently left for a promotion with the New York Knicks.
While it would have been fun to peruse selfies of the 7-foot-1 former Kings center as he trekked up mountains, remaining in Sacramento was probably the wiser decision. Vlade loves to play fast, but he is not known for his speed – on the court or in the front office.
His list of potential coaching candidates stretched well into double digits before Dave Joerger was hired, and he spent several months before adding salary cap and analytics expert Ken Catanella to his staff. Though he continues to fill other positions, among them adding former Country Day and Stanford player Robbie Lemons to basketball personnel, he is proceeding cautiously regarding Perry’s successor.
Divac already has met with former Orlando Magic GM Otis Smith and has had conversations with Ronnie Lester, a former longtime Lakers personnel executive who receives high praise from Lakers legend Jerry West. Lester was among several team employees who were cut loose after West left the organization more than a decade ago because of Phil Jackson’s increasing power and his relationship with Jeanie Buss.
“I want to make sure I get the right person,” Divac said. “I plan to speak with a number of people. It took me a while to find Scott, but you can see that he helped us.”
Unlike previous drafts, where the Kings’ reputation as a dysfunctional franchise discouraged prospects from pre-draft workouts, they had no trouble this year attracting players. According to the assessment of several agents, the process was organized, orderly and professional.
In other words, though he was only here a few months, Perry will be missed. Six months into his new gig, he might also miss the Kings. Say what you will about principal owner Vivek Randadive’s regime, which was turbulent for the better part of 3 1/2 seasons, but Knicks owner James Dolan is in another league. His team is a mess. His image is dreadful. And his takedown of Jackson, the most successful coach in NBA history before he morphed into the Knicks’ latest front office casualty, is the stuff of, well, legends.
While Divac works the phone, conducts his business, ponders the Kings future, here are five tidbits, thoughts, musing, observations, with the dead days of August approaching:
Was the offseason a hit, or what?
Divac and the Kings (which included Perry through most of the Las Vegas summer league) earned high marks with the signing of Bogdan Boganovic, addition of veterans George Hill, Zach Randolph and Vince Carter, and a draft haul of De’Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson, Harry Giles and Frank Mason III.
Prudently, the Kings did not spend foolishly on long-term free agent contracts. Carter has a one-year deal ($8 million), Randolph is guaranteed for two seasons ($24 million), and the third year of Hill’s $57 million agreement is only partially guaranteed.
“Our idea going into free agency was to add a veteran at each position (wings, ballhandlers, bigs) to help the kids develop and mature,” Divac said. “These next two years are all about improving every day. At that point we will have excellent (salary cap) flexibility and a good idea what we have, what we need.”
Are we tired of LaVar Ball yet?
Of course. LaVar Ball, Lonzo’s scene-stealing father, is in Las Vegas, coaching his youngest son, LaMelo, on his AAU team, and staying in his lane. Attracting sellout crowds. Commanding the room. Talking trash. Before his Big Ballers took the court Wednesday, the elder Ball boasted to ESPN that he was “the best coach ever. That’s how I describe myself. The best coach ever. Because I said so. They’re gonna have to get a bigger venue. ... When the Big Baller Brand come to town, better get something big.”
Meanwhile, Lonzo’s new Lakers teammate, Julius Randle, who like Fox played for the Wildcats, is carefully stutter-stepping around the imminent Ball-Fox duel.
“I guess that rivalry is going to live forever,” Randle said Saturday when asked about the Nos. 2 and 5 picks, respectively. “Obviously De’Aaron is a great player. I loved him through the whole season and the whole draft process. (But) my point guard is Lonzo. I’m excited to play with him, excited to build chemistry with him through the season. De’Aaron is going to have a great career. He’s going to be an excellent player.”
Jimmer Fredette, who was drafted by the Kings at No. 10 in 2011, re-signed with the Shanghai Sharks of the Chinese Basketball Association for a second season, and for obvious reasons: His NBA career simply isn’t happening.
The former BYU standout recently signed a two-year, $1.8 million contract after failing to entice any NBA clubs into offering guaranteed money. (The annual league minimum is $1.7 million).
Since his rookie contract expired with the Kings, he has tried and failed to stick with the Chicago Bulls and New Orleans Pelicans, who brought him up briefly from their G League affiliate in Westchester. For those who argue that Jimmer will be underpaid after scoring 73 points for the Sharks once last season and luring sellout crowds to their 5,000-seat arena, keep in mind that Yao Ming is the team’s majority owner. And Yao always had a good feel for the game and the NBA market.
Finally, a sad-but-compelling story
Lamar Odom’s account of his near-death experience at a southern Nevada brothel in The Players’ Tribune is a must read. In the lengthy piece on the website featuring stories by athletes, the former Laker chronicles his ongoing struggles with drug addiction, details his failed marriage to Khloe Kardashian and reveals the devastating impact of his mother’s death from colon cancer when he was only 12.
Odom, who is sober now, said he suffered 12 strokes and two heart attacks after ingesting cocaine in the near-fatal incident outside Las Vegas in 2015.
“When I was in that hospital bed,” he writes, “I kept thinking about all the people in my life who aren’t here anymore. Mostly, I thought about my mother. My dad wasn’t really around when I was a kid. He had his own problems with addiction. But my mother was my best friend in the world. She was just so caring. I don’t think anybody can prepare you for losing your mother at 12 years old. I don’t care how strong you think you are.”
Odom, who began using cocaine when he was 24, says he learned to “submit to everything” during rehab and credits his children’s presence with keeping him straight.
“I shook hands with death,” he continues. “But it ain’t time for that yet. I still got my kids. I’m still here.”