Ailene Voisin

Opinion: Future of Kings now fully in Vlade Divac’s hands

Kings principal owner Vivek Ranadive talks about the new arena with Kentucky center Willie Cauley-Stein. Mike Bratz, center, was named the Kings’ interim GM on Thursday.
Kings principal owner Vivek Ranadive talks about the new arena with Kentucky center Willie Cauley-Stein. Mike Bratz, center, was named the Kings’ interim GM on Thursday.

Few members of the Kings’ front office were stunned or even bothered by general manager Pete D’Alessandro’s departure Wednesday to the Denver Nuggets. Though the timing was terrible, with the NBA draft two weeks away, his exit was anticipated for reasons that range from petty to grandiose, including the usual assortment of rookie mistakes.

D’Alessandro was hired after former head coach Michael Malone, which is always a bad idea. He pressured principal owner Vivek Ranadive to prematurely fire Malone – with whom his relations were severely strained – and blamed the firing on the owner, another bad idea. And when the boss wanted his top basketball executive to make the call on draft night last summer, the general manager whiffed, relying instead on input from his close friend and special adviser Chris Mullin.

George Karl?

That was Ranadive’s move.

Vlade Divac?

That was Ranadive’s move, too, though a year before Divac was hired as vice president of basketball and franchise operations, Ranadive tried to bring the Kings’ icon back as a goodwill ambassador/basketball adviser, only to meet stiff resistance from D’Alessandro and Mullin. There was more. There were suspicions, conspiracy theories, closed-door sessions, the persistent belief that D’Alessandro and Mullin were plotting a summer of 2015 palace coup with Mullin taking over as coach and D’Alessandro rewarded with a long-term deal.

What a mess. What muck. But after two turbulent seasons, the Kings finally can stop airing their dirty laundry and start sleeping in clean sheets. With Mullin and D’Alessandro gone, call it a mulligan.

The situation now begs for transparency, for maturity, for shrewd, intelligent basketball decisions.

In other words, Divac can either flourish or flop without constantly looking over his shoulder. The keys to the kingdom hang exclusively over his door. He trusts the owner; the owner trusts him. He trusts the coach; the coach trusts him.

While Lakers assistant scouting director Ryan West and Golden State assistant general manager Travis Schlenk have been cited as D’Alessandro’s possible successors, Divac on Thursday named assistant general manager Mike Bratz as his interim GM, perhaps for the short term but quite possibly longer.

“I didn’t know Mike before I came back,” Divac said while returning from a scouting trip to Europe, “but I always heard great things about him, and working with him these last few months, I like the way he thinks. I am confident he can sit next to me and we can work together. So right now it’s me, Mike and coach (Karl). We’re sticking together. The biggest thing I noticed about the Kings the last 5-10 years was the lack of stability. The organization was too impatient. It has to be step by step.”

The plan is to play fast without rushing – a difficult task considering the timing of the draft, trade possibilities and looming free agency. Though D’Alessandro was seemingly ill-suited as the organization’s basketball front man, elements of his unique and increasingly coveted skill set could be missed, at least temporarily. Similar to Jason Levien, who clashed with Geoff Petrie during his brief tenure with the Kings, D’Alessandro is an attorney and former agent with a wealth of experience in analytics and team/player negotiations. Given the financial and legal complexities of today’s NBA, finding a quality replacement – and/or addition to the staff – is imperative.

“Do we need someone who focuses on the salary cap, collective bargaining, negotiations, trades? Absolutely we do,” Divac said. “We live in a society where legal matters factor into everything. But two plus two is still four. Right now our focus has to be on drafting wisely, finding good talent, and putting together a team that has good chemistry. We will find someone with that expertise soon enough.”

Interestingly, Bratz’s background and personnel influence seem to give Divac pause.

D’Alessandro, who brought Bratz with him from Denver, describes him as an excellent talent evaluator and credits him with putting together the complicated trade that sent Carmelo Anthony from the Nuggets to the New York Knicks for a wealth of young talent. The Nuggets received a healthy Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, plus Russian center Timofey Mozgov – a Karl favorite, by the way – who’s now starting in the NBA Finals for the Cleveland Cavaliers. They also got a 2014 first-round draft choice, a second-rounder in ’12 and ’13, and $3 million in cash.

And Bratz impressed Ranadive last summer by persistently endorsing point guard Elfrid Payton over Nik Stauskas for the Kings’ No. 8 pick despite pressure from other team officials.

“Mike (Bratz) is a simple guy,” Divac said. “He is in his office all the time, watching tape, talking to people. You ask a question and he gives you a straight ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. So we are going to take our time and think about exactly what we need, what expertise we are lacking. Then we make our move.”

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