He looked tired – it’s been that sort of season – but Vlade Divac still had bounce in his step as he crossed the Kings’ practice facility Wednesday morning.
Divac took a seat for a brief media exchange and turned on his usual good cheer.
Better days are ahead, the beloved former Kings captain said, speaking now as the team’s general manager. Divac pledged to continue his quest to bring Kings fans a winner, something that hasn’t happened in 10 years, which is also the last time the team qualified for the playoffs.
Divac earlier in the day signed a multiyear contract extension to remain as general manager, a sign of stability for a franchise that desperately needs it. Divac was initially named to this role in August after rejoining the Kings as vice president of basketball and franchise operations in March 2015 on a one-year deal.
Divac said he took his role as a Kings player personally a generation ago, and now he owns it even more.
“It’s very important to me,” Divac said of his role, one that has included nearly firing coach George Karl and suspending All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins for berating Karl.
“We’re trying to create a stable organization,” Divac continued. “We can’t do everything overnight. But step by step, we’re moving in the right direction, and I’m OK with that. It’s all in my hands. We have (eight) games left to play, and we want to finish the season strong. Then we’ll sit down and make some decisions.”
The biggest of those decisions will be whether to trade Cousins and retain Karl as coach. Whom to bring in for front-office assistance is another big question.
The Kings parted with GM Pete D’Alessandro in June and have not added anyone with significant experience to the front office to replace him. Mike Bratz was promoted to assistant GM and Peja Stojakovic was brought on as director of player personnel and development but is new in an NBA executive role.
Divac has spoken to Milwaukee assistant GM David Morway, who has served as a GM in Indiana.
“It’s like creating a team – you have to create a front office,” Divac said. “I’m open to discussing (front-office help) with talented people around the league. Yes, I’ve talked to some people.”
On whether or not to deal Cousins, Divac said: “That’s the question for after the season. We have to sit down with not just DeMarcus, but every single player and make the right decisions.”
On Karl’s future, Divac said: “Same thing. He’s our coach. He did the best job he could this year. We’ll talk after the season.”
Divac was asked if this has been his most trying season. He paused for a moment and said no.
Divac said his greatest basketball experience was playing for the Kings from 1998 to 2004, a time that offered refuge from his war-torn Serbian homeland. That was real-life stress. Not that this season hasn’t been taxing.
“Stressful?” Divac said. “Look, it’s a time where you want to build something. Stress? Come on. This is basketball. It’s sports; it’s fun. You want to create that environment. Are we having fun? No, not yet. My goal is to create a team that will have fun and play hard for the best fans in the league. They deserve better.”
And pressure to build a contender in a hurry as the Kings depart Sleep Train Arena and head to sparkling new Golden 1 Center next season?
“Look, I’ve had pressure since I was born,” Divac said. “I want to win. We want to win. Today or tomorrow, it’s about winning.”
Divac said he has learned his role as GM on the fly, beyond player evaluation and crunching salary data.
“I know what I know, and I don’t know what I don’t know,” Divac said with a laugh. “It’s been a great experience. It’s a wonderful place to work. I feel confident in this position. We are moving forward. It’s not what we wanted in terms of results. This team, with the talent we put together last summer, should’ve been in the playoffs. We obviously didn’t do that. After the season, we’ll find what was the problem and fix it.”