The setting for the noontime luncheon was casual, local, and chatty. It was Mulvaney’s, midtown, and timely. Twenty-eight win seasons leave a lot to chew on, including players, coaches, trades, makes, misses, tomorrow. Among other things, the Kings’ season-ending gathering Tuesday illustrated several of the reasons Pete D’Alessandro was Vivek Ranadive’s choice as his first general manager.
Ranadive, the Kings’ principal owner – who interviewed almost two dozen candidates before D’Alessandro swooped in and secured the job in the final hours – realized very quickly his franchise was bereft of talent both on the court and in the front office.
Figuring out the first part was easy. Ranadive didn’t need an analytics expert to tell him DeMarcus Cousins was a fish out of water, a major talent flopping around without much of a supporting cast. He didn’t even need an analytics expert at that point. What he needed – what the Kings have needed for years – was a full-time executive who understood the unique challenges of small- and mid-sized markets and didn’t simply roll over and cry “uncle.”
The days of outsourcing contract negotiations and salary cap/labor issues are long gone. D’Alessandro looks like a lawyer, operates like an agent and works the room like a politician. With the new regime in place and the NBA draft, free agency and trade possibilities approaching, the fact the general manager has experience in all three things should work to the Kings’ advantage.
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His ability as an evaluator of talent remains to be seen. Ten months into the job, his skills as an organization’s top executive also have yet to be determined. As D’Alessandro noted a number of times during official and unofficial conversations with members of the local media, 28 wins is 28 wins. And no matter what, owners of pro teams are universally impatient and demanding, eager to see results sooner than later, and almost all of them make the significant final decisions; though understaffed and underfinanced, the departed Geoff Petrie enjoyed an inordinate and unusual amount of autonomy during his tenure under the Maloofs.
Today, the makeup and dynamic of the Kings’ front office is very different. It teems with potential for a clash of egos and agendas. Ranadive adviser Chris Mullin, for example, is far more visible than assistant general manager Mike Bratz – whom D’Alessandro chose as his right-hand man – or player personnel director Shareef Abdur-Rahim. And let’s not even mention minority owner Shaquille O’Neal, who is chatting away on TNT.
Yet appearances (and titles) can be deceiving. These are longtime friends and colleagues; theirs is a house united in terms of philosophy, coaching and approach. The seldom-seen Bratz travels the globe seeking talent. Mullin, who lives in the East Bay, stays in D’Alessandro’s guest house in east Sacramento during much of the season.
Bald, bespectacled and slightly built, D’Alessandro looks like anything but a shark. Don’t be fooled, though.
His portfolio includes time spent working on former New York Congressman Rick Lazio’s campaign and untold hours toiling for power agent Bill Pollak, whose numerous clients include former Kings point guard Jason Williams. D’Alessandro thus arrived in Sacramento with abundant knowledge of the surroundings.
Yet what could be his major selling point is his almost stubborn appreciation for small- and middle-sized markets. Instead of whining because LeBron James and Kobe Bryant won’t soon be signing with the Kings, he advances the motto: “What can Sacramento do for you?”
“We have to get talent in the door,” D’Alessandro said later Tuesday. “Like a lot of teams, we’re trying to acquire talent in a different way. The best way to get Rudy Gay to know Sacramento is to get him here, to get him to know the community, the staff, the area. Trading for him gives us an extended period to recruit. Around the league, you hear all the time – players who come to Sacramento realize it’s a vibrant basketball community. And once you have success, you attract more (quality players).”
Tim Duncan stayed with San Antonio. David West signed with Indiana. And as Chris Webber reminded me during All-Star Game Weekend, he didn’t want to get near Sacramento and then never wanted to leave.
D’Alessandro doesn’t have to be the smartest person at the table. He just has to be one of the smartest people in the building. With the increasing complexity of the salary cap, the meaning of enhanced revenue sharing for smaller markets, the difficulty of plucking talent in heavily scouted Russia, Serbia, Italy, Argentina, etc., finding talent is only part of the job. Manipulating and maneuvering the talent is what will make him successful.