Kings general manager Vlade Divac received a contract extension Thursday morning and immediately executed a series of strongman moves, firing coach Dave Joerger and assistant general manager Brandon Williams hours after the team concluded its best season in more than a decade.
Reports of a new four-year deal for Divac were quickly followed by upheaval early Thursday as word spread that Divac would fire Joerger and Williams, who feuded in an embarrassing spat early in the season. A league source, speaking on condition of anonymity before the moves were made official, told The Sacramento Bee that Divac would have the power to determine the fates of both men, and Divac took sole responsibility after firing them hours later.
“It was my decision,” he said.
Divac explained during an afternoon news conference he made the moves to take the team to the “next level,” saying the Kings had a good season that could have been better. The team generated excitement among fans and garnered notoriety around the NBA with a talented, young roster and new up-tempo style.
The Kings were 30-27 at the All-Star break, but they finished 39-43 after losing 16 of their last 25. They finished ninth in the Western Conference, the last team eliminated from playoff contention. The Kings posted their highest win total since their last playoff appearance in 2005-06 but failed to reach the playoffs for the 13th consecutive season, the NBA’s longest postseason drought.
Divac said he started considering a coaching change after the All-Star break. Divac said he’s confident he can find a quality coach to replace Joerger.
“I think we are in a great position here,” he said. “The season just (ended) yesterday, and we are very confident we are a good destination now.”
The Kings will begin an immediate search for a new coach to lead a promising young team that defied expectations to get into playoff contention. Potential candidates could include Los Angeles Lakers coach Luke Walton, if he becomes available, Philadelphia 76ers assistant Monty Williams and San Antonio Spurs assistant Ettore Messina. Divac said he wants a coach capable of cultivating the team’s run-and-gun system, saying, “This is the Kings’ style,” and, “We’ve got to play that way.”
“After evaluating the season, I determined that we need to move in a different direction in order to take us to the next level,” Divac said. “On behalf of the entire Kings organization, I want to thank Dave for his contributions to our team and I wish him all the best.”
Warren LeGarie, the agent who represents Joerger, told The Bee his client was surprised and disappointed to learn he had been fired. Joerger posted a 98-148 record in three seasons with the Kings, but he was mentioned as a Coach of the Year candidate early in the season for his role in the team’s dramatic turnaround.
“Obviously, it’s a great disappointment,” LeGarie said. “Dave thought, in light of the youth of the team and other challenges, he did a good job, certainly one that other people have recognized around the league, and, more importantly, exceeded expectations.
“I’d be surprised if we’re in the minority of being surprised. It was something that did catch him off guard. Clearly, Dave has to try to digest this and understand what made them do this. At this point, they certainly have the right. Nobody questions that. We just felt it was something they probably should have considered a little bit longer.”
Joerger and his staff successfully implemented the up-tempo style and produced positive results in player development, but there was turmoil early in the season when Joerger and Williams clashed over the handling of prized rookie Marvin Bagley III and other young players.
The relationship between Joerger and Williams became a focal point in November and December after a Yahoo! Sports report suggested the coach’s job could be in jeopardy due to his allocation of minutes for Bagley, fellow rookie Harry Giles III and others. Williams was widely believed to be a primary source for the Yahoo! Sports story.
Two weeks later, there was more controversy when Joerger asked Williams to leave the team’s shoot-around hours before a nationally televised game. A subsequent report in The Athletic revealed Joerger believed Williams had been trying to replace him.
“I said back in December, they’ve got to do their job and they did their job,” Divac said. “For me to move away from them, I’m hoping to improve the team not just on the basketball court, but basketball operations. I felt like those things have to be done to move forward. I didn’t like what happened back in December.”
Divac said Williams will not be replaced.
In January, the organization offered Joerger’s assistant coaches one-year extensions to align their contracts with his, but The Bee learned some assistants have not accepted those deals. Divac said a decision regarding the futures of assistants such as Elston Turner, Bryan Gates and Jason March will be made in the days ahead.
The Kings also fired Chris Clark, the team’s director of media relations. Clark, a Sacramento native and Jesuit High School graduate, was with the organization since 2000 in a variety of roles, fielding press inquiries and organizing media appearances, among other duties. Clark said he parted with the team “amicably” and is “looking forward to new endeavors.”
Those moves happened quickly after the team reached a new agreement with Divac, recommitting to a relationship that began when the international basketball legend first donned the team’s uniform 20 years ago.
“Vlade has been vital to what we are building here and I am so pleased to announce his extension,” Kings owner Vivek Ranadive said in a written statement. “Throughout his entire career, Vlade is someone who has always made those around him better, both on and off the court. I look forward to our bright future ahead as we work to make Sacramento Proud.”
Divac has dramatically reshaped the roster since trading All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans in 2017. He drafted De’Aaron Fox, Bagley and Giles while acquiring Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes and Bogdan Bogdanovic through trades.
Last weekend, Divac was named to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame’s Class of 2019. He will be inducted later this year.
Divac played for Sacramento’s best teams around the turn of the century. He signed with the Kings in 1999 and was a part of six playoff squads, including the team that reached the Western Conference finals in 2002.
The organization has put its trust in Divac in some of its biggest moments over the years, and now it’s entrusting him with the responsibility of making the Kings a championship contender.
“I know it was tough two or three years ago, but I had a vision,” Divac said. “Same thing now. I just need time and we will be where we need to be.”