Chris Mullin’s decision to resign as Kings special adviser for the head-coaching position at St. John’s is about as gracious and expeditious an exit as anyone associated with the franchise could have hoped.
The problem wasn’t that the Kings had too many cooks in their kitchen. The issue was that the coaches and front-office executives had sharply conflicting tastes. One wanted sushi, another wanted pasta. Someone craved steak, someone else salivated for salmon.
And while the oven caught fire with the Dec. 14 dismissal of coach Michael Malone, the Kings’ ongoing version of March Madness at least hints at the potential for clarity. Change can be necessary and good. Though too late to save the season, the culprits appear to be cleaning up their mess and inching toward less turbulent times; a more harmonious basketball hierarchy is taking shape.
George Karl is empowered as coach. Vlade Divac, the vice-president of basketball and franchise operations, has reclaimed and expanded his role as the glue – the bonding element – of the organization. Mike Bratz, another former King and a Nuggets personnel executive during Karl’s tenure in Denver, works the backrooms and lingers in the background, quietly running point on talent evaluation. Dean Oliver, a stats guru, oversees analytics.
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General manager Pete D’Alessandro? The man principal owner Vivek Ranadive calls “Petey”? He’s the wild card, the executive whose future is most uncertain for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the departure of his longtime friend and closest Kings ally. Mullin, who lived in the East Bay, routinely spent nights in D’Alessandro’s guest house in East Sac.
There’s also the fact that he resisted the pursuit of Karl, opposed the return of Divac, and endorsed the promotion of assistant Tyrone Corbin only after Mullin declined the job because of the awkward timing.
While Mullin, 51, repeatedly refuted reports that he had issues with Karl, it was also widely believed within the organization that he hoped to emerge as Ranadive’s choice to coach the Kings after an extensive offseason search, bolstered by a multi-year contract and the opportunity to assemble his own staff.
The take-our-time, deliberative approach lost all traction when the Kings lost 21 of 28 games under Corbin and appeared to retaliate for Malone’s ouster with weeks of lethargic, uninspired performances. With season ticket-renewals approaching and disgruntled fans increasingly vocal about the direction of the franchise, Ranadive overruled his two most influential voices and insisted on hiring the experienced Karl. A few weeks later he bestowed upon Divac the title of vice president in an obvious power shift.
D’Alessandro’s willingness or ability to forge a relationship with Divac ultimately will determine whether the GM follows Mullin out the door or maintains an enduring and influential role. An attorney and former agent, D’Alessandro is regarded as a tough, skilled negotiator who has restored some sanity to the Kings’ salary cap situation.
Contacted Monday, he declined to comment about Mullin or his own situation.
In a prepared statement, Ranadive congratulated Mullin and declared his return to St. John’s “a natural fit for someone so deeply engrained in the basketball culture there. Mullie has been a great mentor to me. I have no doubt that the Red Storm will experience great success under his leadership.”
Perhaps the biggest shock isn’t that Mullin agreed to coach, but that he agreed to relocate after almost three decades on the West Coast. The Brooklyn-born, New York City school-boy legend is also a basketball institution in the Bay Area. As a member of the Warriors for 13 of his 16 NBA seasons, he developed into one of the most versatile players of his time, earning a spot on the original 1992 Dream Team and an induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
But he has never coached a game in high school, college or the pros, and he will be overseeing a program that has neither the cachet of his playing days nor much of a roster for his inaugural season. Instead, he was successfully wooed by family ties, powerful boosters and the pleas of his college coach, Lou Carnesecca. And apparently, by what some of his friends have described as a long, simmering desire to coach.
Wishing him nothing but victories and lots of great pasta.
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