So enough about George Karl and DeMarcus Cousins. As the Kings limp toward the finish line and another appearance in the NBA draft lottery, members of management have issues to resolve before devoting their attention to potential trades, draft picks and free-agent signings.
Will they play together?
Will they trust, learn, grow?
Will they develop into a cohesive unit or expand on the definition of dysfunction?
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Vice president of basketball and franchise operations Vlade Divac. General manager Pete D’Alessandro. Assistant general manager Mike Bratz. Special adviser Chris Mullin, whom high-ranking team executives claim resisted the hiring of Karl and Divac, the beloved former Kings center. Factor the strong-willed, accomplished Karl into the equation, and the mix is potentially toxic, if undeniably talented and intriguing.
Soap operas have beginnings and endings, often with misdirection plays aplenty. The latest Kings episode aired Monday when Divac returned from a two-week trip with the team and moved his belongings into an office. The deep chill he encountered wasn’t caused by the air conditioning. The internal dynamics have been undeniably altered the past several weeks, and though principal owner Vivek Ranadive has copped to several rookie mistakes, he won’t be slipping into the background.
The hiring of Karl and Divac were Ranadive’s decisions, with strong pressure from at least two of the team’s influential investors. As one owner said, this was an obvious do-over. Pressed for time after he purchased the team in May 2013, only four weeks before the NBA draft, Ranadive’s first faux pas was hiring a head coach before a general manager.
Coach Michael Malone, as it became clear, was doomed from the start. The players loved Malone, the bosses hated his offense, and the relationship between Malone and D’Alessandro became so strained the two were no longer speaking at the start of the offseason.
But this is why D’Alessandro and, probably to an even greater extent, Mullin are sweating out these next few weeks: Their solution to firing Malone was promoting assistant Tyrone Corbin, a move that prompted a two-month work stoppage by the players.
Again, enter Ranadive: He insisted on hiring Karl, a future Hall of Fame coach, and empowered him to begin the player auditions. He dictated hiring Divac, despite resistance from D’Alessandro and Mullin, and crafted a position designed to capitalize on Divac’s unique abilities and background in basketball and business here and abroad.
Asked if he had concerns about the cool reception from some of his new colleagues, Divac said, “I’m here. We’ll see.”
D’Alessandro declined to discuss Divac on Monday. In a text Tuesday, he said, “Of course. We are happy to have him.”
Interpret that as you will. But the owners are delighted, the community is ecstatic, and the head coach is on board. Doors tend to open when the engaging Divac approaches. San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who is Serbo-Croatian, participated in Divac’s weeklong retirement ceremonies in Belgrade and gave Divac a power-point tutorial two weeks ago on the building of an organization. He also offered a glowing endorsement to Karl, his longtime friend and colleague.
“I don’t really know Vlade, except to compete against him,” Karl said late Monday, “but after sitting around with him on this last trip, we think a lot alike. I just enjoy winners; I enjoy leaders. And he is a man of substance and character.”
Asked if he was concerned about possible internal discord because of the recent moves, Karl chose his words carefully.
“I think organizations are a little bit like basketball teams,” he said. “They have to play together, work together. Where the responsibilities fall, what the opinions are, behind closed doors we’re allowed to have fights, heated discussions. But Bill Walsh told me when I first started coaching that ‘organizations that aren’t together don’t win.’ I know Pete and Mike Bratz from Denver. I know Mullie. I am getting to know Vlade. I don’t think that’s too many people if we pull together.”
Karl is the coach. Divac’s title places him atop the hierarchy. D’Alessandro is an attorney, a former agent, the detail man, the negotiator. Bratz is a respected talent evaluator. Mullin is a Hall of Famer, a bright, thoughtful man who in the past has been a loud voice in Ranadive’s ear.
But Monday, Mullin’s normal seat to Ranadive’s right was occupied by a 7-foot-1, bearded Serb, who has long been known as a consensus builder, not a power grabber. This is Vlade’s home, and he has every intention of sticking around.
Call The Bee’s Ailene Voisin, (916) 321-1208.