There was a moment under Vivek Ranadive’s ownership when the Kings appeared to have a plan.
In May 2013, the Kings knew they had three more seasons in antiquated Sleep Train Arena. The directive was to build a team that could compete for the postseason by the time the arena opened in fall 2016.
By September 2014, though, that long-term vision clearly had changed. That’s when Ranadive boldly declared the 2014-15 season would be about “wins and losses” rather than changing the team’s culture, because the culture had been fixed.
Most in the organization, including the coaching staff, didn’t envision the season going that way. With the bar set high, coach Michael Malone was fired just 24 games into the season after the Kings lost three in a row and eight of 10 to drop to 11-13.
Since Malone’s firing, the Kings have been, as consultant Jed Hughes of Korn Ferry Sports might say, out of alignment.
“The first thing begins with alignment, meaning the owner, head coach, general manager all have to be in line with their vision,” said Hughes, who has led several coaching searches for teams.
This offseason, the Kings have their best chance to find their alignment since Ranadive became principal owner. For the first time under Ranadive, the person in charge of basketball operations is leading the coaching search and not inheriting a coach.
If general manger Vlade Divac truly is in charge and Ranadive allows him to do his job without interference, the Kings could begin making strides toward ending their decadelong playoff drought.
But if ownership, management and the coaching staff are not in sync, fans likely will see more of what they saw from the Kings this season – a disjointed bunch of players mirroring the disjointed situation above them.
“When things aren’t working, there’s usually something wrong with alignment,” Hughes said. “The owner, GM, they’re out of sync. Therefore, the message to the players is inconsistent. And as a result the team underperforms, and they’re not able to attract the right players and so forth.”
Since Divac will hire the coach, the Kings’ brass should be in accord with its message. That didn’t happen this season with Divac and George Karl, who was hired before Divac joined the Kings in an executive role.
And Divac became general manager Pete D’Alessandro’s boss, too, something D’Alessandro didn’t expect after being the team’s top basketball executive.
D’Alessandro left the Kings before last year’s draft, and Divac fired Karl after another disappointing season.
Last week, the Kings hired an assistant general manager, Ken Catanella, another step in creating a unified voice.
“People lead differently,” said Hughes, who aided the Minnesota Timberwolves in their search that led to the hiring of coach Tom Thibodeau. “At the end of the day, the person has to be able to control the locker room. Meaning that when the practice is over, whoever the coach is, there are veteran players on the team taking that message into the locker room and when players are complaining and (whining) or whatever, those veteran players have the coach’s back.”
The Kings’ top players obviously did not have Karl’s back this season. Reports in February of Karl’s imminent firing, followed by Divac’s announcement that Karl wasn’t being fired, added to the discord and belief that management and/or ownership did not support the coach.
For the Kings to change, the message from Divac must be endorsed by Ranadive and implemented by a coach who shares that vision.
If the locker room leaders don’t have a vision to buy in to, the Kings will remain a wayward group. The conflict between Karl and All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins affected the team and angered several players, which is why some were disappointed when Karl was not fired in February.
“You see how in basketball, as opposed to a sport like baseball or football where more people make up a team, one person can have an extremely powerful impact in a locker room and the dynamics of an organization,” Hughes said.
But turning around the Kings begins with Ranadive.
“Each situation is unique and I think with prospects, whether they be GM or head coaches, as they look for opportunities, regardless of the sport, they look for who the owners are,” Hughes said. “They want to understand the stability of the franchise. Will the owners invest into the resources that will go into the organization and does the owner have a record of backing his people in difficult times? Those are all pieces that go into building the framework of building a franchise.”
The Kings’ last three coaches left feeling ownership did not back them. If that happens again, the Kings can plan for a lot more losses than wins.