With a little chaos, a lot of drama and a war of words swirling around them, the Kings leaned in, embraced the craziness and went about their business with a sense of purpose, a few choice words and another important victory Monday night.
The story started to unfold earlier in the day when general manager Vlade Divac held a pointed conference call that raised the specter of strained relationships throughout the organization’s hierarchy, from the coaching staff to the front office to the ownership group.
It ended with small forward Iman Shumpert approaching the visitor’s locker room in search of Portland Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic after the Kings claimed a 115-107 victory in a contentious affair at Golden 1 Center.
Shumpert took exception after Nurkic leveled him with a moving screen that went undetected by officials early in the first quarter. Shumpert came up cussing at Nurkic and briefly got in his face before play continued. Shumpert was later given a technical foul after he said something to Nurkic early in the second half.
When the game ended, Shumpert wanted to say something else to Nurkic.
“Some stuff happened out there that we needed to have a conversation about,” Shumpert said. “... Two men need to have a conversation. That’s it.”
That conversation never occurred, but Nurkic fired back when reporters asked him about Shumpert.
“I’m not worried about it,” Nurkic said. “He’s going into retirement soon.”
Shumpert was prevented from entering the Blazers’ locker room by NBA security staff and Rick Riley, a member of Portland’s security team. Shumpert and Riley exchanged words and hard looks throughout the second half, apparently beginning when Portland coach Terry Stotts was assessed a technical foul in the third period.
Riley, who was seated directly behind Portland’s coaching staff, stood up to confront Shumpert as he approached the Blazers’ bench. Moments later, Shumpert pointed at Riley after he made a 3-pointer during a 9-0 run that gave the Kings a 72-59 lead.
“He was a little too passionate, so you become part of the game,” Shumpert said. “... I’ll take whatever energy you can give me. I was having a tough time shooting the ball and he talked to me enough (that) I made the next 3 and that’s what we needed. ... After that, we rolled.”
Buddy Hield had 19 points and seven rebounds for the Kings (23-21), who have won three in a row and four of five to get within a half-game of eighth place in the Western Conference.
Bogdan Bogdanovic scored 18 points to lead a second unit that outscored Portland’s bench 58-34. Marvin Bagley III had 13 points and 11 rebounds. Harry Giles III had 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting.
Damian Lillard scored 35 points for the Blazers (26-19), but Lillard and C.J. McCollum combined to make just 13 of 41 field-goal attempts. Nurkic was held to six points and 11 rebounds after posting 24 points, 23 rebounds, seven assists, five steals and five blocked shots in a 113-108 overtime victory over the Kings on New Year’s Day.
Bagley said Shumpert’s intensity was inspiring.
“I love it,” Bagley said. “He brings that every game. He brings it in practice the same way. He just wants to win. Everybody wants to win, and I like when I see stuff like that because that means he cares. That means we all care about winning. That means we’ll fight for each other.”
With so much drama playing out on the court, there was little attention given to a new report from the Athletic’s Sam Amick until the game was over. The story revealed new dimensions in the rift between coach Dave Joerger’s staff and the organization’s front office and also revealed dissension between Divac and members of the ownership group.
Over the past two months, a series of reports have surfaced from national NBA writers citing anonymous sources. The first story said Joerger’s job could be in jeopardy due to his handling of some of the team’s young players. The second said Joerger asked assistant general manager Brandon Williams to leave the team’s shoot-around because he believed Williams was a primary source in the previous story and that Williams had been looking to replace him since last season.
There was a bit of positive news Sunday when league sources told The Bee and the Athletic the team was working to extend the contracts of Joerger’s assistant coaches through the 2019-20 season. The extension would align the contracts of Divac, Joerger and the rest of the coaching staff and signal the organization’s intention to keep this group in place for at least one more season.
The good news was promptly undermined by new revelations Monday when the Athletic reported some of the team’s assistant coaches were upset because Divac had the contractual paperwork sent to them through Williams. The story also reported “rumblings of discontent from the same group of minority owners who just three years ago explored ways to wrestle control away from lead owner and chairman, Vivek Ranadive,” and implied Divac believes they are responsible for some of the leaks.
Fed up with the internal conflict and power struggles playing out as his team tries to make the playoffs for the first time since 2005-06, Divac held a conference call with Ranadive and 13 members of the team’s executive board. Late Monday night, as he made his way through the hallways toward an elevator deep inside the arena after another important victory, Divac was asked about the conference call.
“I just told them about my plan,” Divac told The Bee.
When told the Athletic reported that he instructed minority owners to stop meddling and leaking stories, Divac nodded.
“Yeah,” he said. “That’s my plan.”