When Sacramento Kings coach Dave Joerger was hired: ‘Best is in front of us’
The Kings hired a very good coach. Dave Joerger won in the minor leagues, won in the major leagues and on a warm Tuesday morning won his introductory news conference in the club’s downtown offices overlooking Golden 1 Center’s construction site.
He struck all the right chords. He spoke about the new building, the NBA draft, the team’s salary cap situation, and suggested the area was a terrific geographic fit for his active, outdoorsy family.
So here is the next question: What does this mean for DeMarcus Cousins and his future with the Kings?
“I don’t think we’re going to trade him,” Kings general manager Vlade Divac told The Sacramento Bee after Tuesday’s news conference. “DeMarcus needs a system, a structure. He needs rules, like we all do.”
That all sounds great, except for the fact that, among Divac’s handful of final candidates, Joerger is regarded as the most player-friendly of the bunch. Mike Woodson has an edge. Nate McMillan is a no-nonsense disciplinarian. Frank Vogel follows one set of rules. Ettore Messina ran his European teams with an iron fist and a steel clipboard. All of which makes the hasty hiring of Joerger – which totally contrasted with Divac’s insistence on proceeding cautiously – more than a little puzzling. Should anyone be concerned about the analytics on shotgun weddings?
It was about the team, ball movement. They helped each other; they protected each other. That’s the kind of people we want to be here.
New Kings coach Dave Joerger, hoping the team can emulate the franchise’s success from the early 2000s
Furthering the intrigue came word late Monday that Memphis Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace is entertaining the possibility of rehiring Lionel Hollins, the crusty veteran coach who developed the nucleus of the Memphis roster that features Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley, and was inherited by … Dave Joerger.
This new NBA is the same as the old NBA. It’s an unpredictable and political world. Joerger, 42, joins a franchise that is a sibling of the Grizzlies, Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers in the sense that they can switch jerseys and colors and arenas, and still reek of instability. Asked about putting an end to the Kings’ roller derby these past several seasons, Divac quickly responded, “I already stopped it.”
The iconic Kings figure went on to inject some humor with the quote of the morning: “In California, they have that (fast-food) chain In-N-Out, and we’ve got a (team philosophy), in or out.”
About the time the laughter died down, Cousins walked into the back of the room. He flew in from Los Angeles and planned to meet with Divac, assistant GM Ken Catanella and Joerger before the Kings officials flew to Chicago for the pre-draft camp.
“I can’t help but look back and be nostalgic about the heyday, the glory days of when Vlade and Peja (Stojakovic) played, with Chris Webber and Mike Bibby and Bobby Jackson and Hedo (Turkoglu) and Doug Christie,” Joerger said, “and the way they played, and the chemistry they played with, and the passion. It was about the team, ball movement. They helped each other; they protected each other. That’s the kind of people we want to be here.”
I don’t think we’re going to trade him. DeMarcus needs a system, a structure. He needs rules, like we all do.
Kings general manager Vlade Divac, on center DeMarcus Cousins
Joerger, whose wife, Kara, and daughters Alli, 13, and Kiana, 10, sat in the front row, arrives with his Memphis luggage and lessons learned at colleges in Southern California (Chapman) and Minnesota (Concordia and Moorhead State) and later in minor-league outreaches in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Sioux Falls, S.D., and Bismarck, N.D. Projecting a poised, confident demeanor, he half-jokingly recalled driving the vans and popping popcorn, and one suspects taping a few ankles as well.
But the Kings were most impressed by the fact he led the Grizzlies to the playoffs in all three of his seasons in Memphis, most recently to a 42-40 record and seventh-place finish without an ailing Gasol and Conley.
Winning sells. That never changes. Whether Joerger can flip the switch on Cousins, coax the big man into shedding weight and a bad attitude, remains to be seen. Unless that happens, the Kings could channel John Wooden, Pete Newell or Harry Litwack and still be left prepping for their early vacations and frequent lottery appearances. Given that Cousins’ previous coaches were criticized for enabling, or at least looking the other way as the immensely talented All-Star center bullied teammates and screamed at referees nightly, why should anyone assume Joerger will be different?
Because this is Divac’s hire, presumably. And this better be his hire. If the second-year executive was pressured by principal owner Vivek Ranadive to ditch his expansive approach when Joerger became available, was directed in no uncertain terms to hire someone he had spoken with only briefly in the past, this becomes another lame chapter in Kings history.
“I think it was a great decision by us, hopefully,” Divac said.