Kings principal owner Vivek Ranadive, who was in Los Angeles Lakers terriory this weekend for the annual NBA All-Star festivities, rarely grants lengthy interviews since designating general manager Vlade Divac as his top basketball official and voice of the franchise. But, almost five years into his reign, he still has plenty of opinions.
In an exclusive conversation with The Bee at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, Ranadive offered his thoughts on a variety of topics, among them last summer’s draft haul, the disappointment of Georgios Papagiannis, his assessment of Divac and the front office, and how long he expects the Kings’ playoff drought to last.
Q: Since you’re off to Staples Center shortly for the All-Star Game, let’s start with the Kings’ bid that will be submitted Friday to host the 2022 or 2023 showcase. As you heard from Commissioner Adam Silver, the league is still concerned about the number of hotel rooms available within close proximity to downtown. Based on your NBA intel, what are the chances of landing the game in the near future?
A: Adam really wants it to happen for us, and the guarantee I am making to him has never been done before. I said to him ‘We’re going to get you from anywhere to anywhere in less than 30 minutes.’ We will make it happen (hotel accommodations). It’s going to be celebration of basketball, going to be global. I see it as Sacramento’s coming-out party. People are going to want to be there.”
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Q: Any chance the Kings will reach the playoffs by 2022 or 2023? If the Minnesota Timberwolves make an appearance this year, which it appears they will, the Kings will own the league’s longest (current) postseason drought (12 years).
A: Well, we’re on a really good path. We have stability, we have really good leadership and I think the process Vlade laid out, we’re executing on that. I expect to see us making a bigger push next year and continuing on every year after that. The thing we don’t want to do is take short-term measures that hurt us in the long run. We want to do this right.”
Q: It’s been a year since the DeMarcus Cousins trade. In retrospect, what are your thoughts?
A: That was my hardest decision so far, because DeMarcus was an All-Star, he had been here a long time and the fans haven’t had a winning team for so long. I really felt for the fans. But our front office had a plan – and it’s not a secret. We’re a small market. You build through the draft. This meant that we were entering a total rebuilding (phase). And I think it was the right thing for us, and I think it was great for Boogie, too, because he got to play with Anthony Davis. Unfortunately, he got hurt and I feel very badly for him. But I absolutely support (Divac’s) vision. The worst thing is to be stuck in the middle.”
Q: Building through the draft means making prudent selections, of course, and your Kings have whiffed on a few occasions, namely, taking Papagiannis with the 13th overall pick two summers ago. It certainly isn’t ideal when a team waives even a late lottery pick before the end of his second season.
A: Again, look, I didn’t know who Papa was. But when Vlade explained what the thinking was, that they were not in love with anybody after No. 7 that year, and he had followed this (Bogdan) Bogdanovic kid for a long time … He felt that if he got the rights to that kid, that it was worth whatever the No. 8 could have been. That was not a great draft, as you recall. And we got also a second-round pick and Skal (Labissiere). And, listen, this is not a guaranteed business. There is always some luck involved in the draft.
Q: So how do you assess Vlade’s performance? He has been criticized for some of his moves, including the trade with Philadelphia that cost your club its first-round pick in 2019, Papagiannis, as well as his decision to spend considerable sums last summer on aging veterans Zach Randolph ($24 million, two years) and Vince Carter ($8 million, one year). Some also believe he should have gotten more for Cousins. That said, he also has received props within the industry for drafting Willie Cauley-Stein, acquiring Bogdanovic and creating salary-cap flexibility. There is no consensus on Labissiere yet and while the early reviews are favorable, it’s too early to evaluate 2017 picks (De’Aaron) Fox, Justin Jackson, Harry Giles and Frank Mason.
A: So, when Vlade came into the job, he was coming in as more of a culture guy, Sacramento basketball royalty. I felt it would be great to have somebody Sacramentans love and respect. At the time Pete (D’Alessandro) was there, but then he left just before the draft (2015) and Vlade had to scramble. But I had full confidence that Vlade would surround himself with smart, talented people, and I think he has done that with Brandon (Williams) and Ken (Catanella), and the staff he put together. Now we have a vision, and we’re executing it.
Q: What about the development of the young players? Fast enough for you?
A: I’m very excited with what I am seeing. You saw Bogi won MVP of the Rising Stars the other night, and Chris Webber was pushing for co-MVP’s with Buddy Hield. They were both really good. And we all love Fox. That part has been seamless.
Q: One thing that has struck me these past two years is the size of your basketball operations department. After being a small and insular mom and pop shop under former GM Geoff Petrie, you currently have one of the largest development staffs in the league. At any given practice, there might be one coach for every player. Who made the decision to expand so extensively? And is it helping?
A: I always challenge people who work for me get the best of everything, whether it’s a building, a hotel or a team. So Vlade talked to a lot of people he trusts (insert Gregg Popovich here) and we went from there. It’s very different with so many young players. We got the latest technology and we are heavy on analytics with Luke (Bornn). But there is a good feeling that everyone is in this together.
Q: Cameras are positioned all over the practice facility and I have been told that everything that transpires inside the gym – everything – is recorded. It’s a little eerie – like Big Brother is watching. Can you explain the purpose?
A: So basically, we get to see the data on every single player, every single shot they took, how many they made, how their shot can be adjusted. Luke and his team look at the data and share it with Dave (Joerger) and the coaching staff. We can tell you that Buddy comes into the gym in the middle of the night and how many shots he takes. We know how many he made and missed. It all shows up. It’s pretty amazing.
Q: This has been a feel-good weekend for the Kings. How did it feel to be congratulated by several of your peers after the Rising Stars Challenge the other night instead of ducking for cover following your early decisions to fire Michael Malone, hire the coach before the GM, empower Divac – similar to you, very inexperienced when he took the job – for such a prominent role?
A: I was slapped around pretty good (laugh), but that’s OK. That comes with it. It’s a privilege to own a team, and also it’s a privilege when fans slap me around because that means they have so much passion. One reason I like my crew (front office) is that they’re willing to make tough decisions and take criticism. They are willing to call balls and strikes. Papa didn’t work out, so we move forward. But this weekend has been very different. It’s a nice change. No stress! I got to enjoy the kids and look forward to going back to Sacramento and continuing to build on what we’ve started.