The Sacramento Kings have been a disaster for far longer than the past few weeks.
As news of DeMarcus Cousins’ seemingly imminent departure from the River City continues to rock the league, it now seems the Kings recognized the possibility of this maelstrom upon hiring George Karl back in February. According to multiple reports, former GM Pete D’Alessandro asked those within the organization to choose between player and coach in the months prior to his unceremonious exit earlier this month.
D’Alessandro worked with Karl in Denver before the latter’s dismissal after the 2012-2013 season. Along with owner Vivek Ranadivé’s, it was D’Alessandro’s voice that most contributed to Sacramento hiring the former Coach of the Year from the ESPN studios. But he’s back with the Nuggets now, serving an advisory role after watching Vlade Divac supplant him as the Kings’ chief decision-maker in a matter of weeks despite no previous front office experience.
With D’Alessandro out, support for Karl should be waning as he reportedly tries to force Cousins’ way out of Sacramento. Boogie is one of the several most talented players in the world, after all, and signed through 2017-2018 on an extremely reasonable extension. Karl, on the other hand, is a notoriously combative head man with a track record of middling playoff success. He’s a great coach under the right circumstances, but also replaceable. Cousins isn’t.
To his credit, Divac has remained steadfast in his refusal to part with Cousins even as trade rumors swirl harder than ever before. What will ultimately decide the All-Star’s fate more than anything else is with whom Ranadivé’s loyalties lie. And while the decision between Karl and Cousins should be an easy one, it’s extremely telling that D’Alessandro felt comfortable polling colleagues on the same choice over the latter stages of the season.
Not even Cousins is entirely innocent here. If he’d played good soldier under Karl and believed that long-term process would ultimately win out over short-term results, perhaps their mismatched marriage could have worked. But company lines aren’t in Cousins’ DNA, a less than ideal but manageable reality of which Karl, D’Alessandro, and every other honcho were fully aware from the very beginning. The Kentucky product isn’t on LeBron James’ level as a player and never will be, yet that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be entitled to a portion of the same latitude The King is with the Cleveland Cavaliers – and all superstars receive from their respective franchises.
Talent wins and Cousins has it. His presence alone allowed for optimism among Kings fans over the past two years that they hadn’t felt for over a decade. But it’s all gone now, a total unraveling that began with the firing of Michael Malone in December as Sacramento struggled to maintain its successful start to the season as Cousins watched from the sidelines with viral meningitis.
And just like that shocking development began and ended with ownership, this one does, too.
Most every noteworthy decision made by Ranadivé since he saved the Kings from moving to Seattle in spring 2013 has been born from inexperience. He hired Malone two weeks before D’Alessandro immediately after buying the team two years ago, a misstep in process that accounted for the complete lack of front office synergy that finally led to the coach’s dismissal. He pitched the idea of playing 4-on-5 and actually tried to implement it following Malone’s exit. He appointed Karl at least in part to D’Alessandro’s behest, then made Divac the team’s top basketball official less than two months later.
And now Ranadivé is tasked with either trading the franchise cornerstone or canning one of the most accomplished coaches in basketball after 30 games on the job. The relationship between Cousins and Karl is irreparable. Beginning 2015-2016 with both on the job and hoping for the best would be delaying the inevitable, further deepening Sacramento’s self-dug hole from which it currently seems impossible to scrape.
But if Ranadivé finally makes the right decision, that won’t necessarily prove the case. Cousins might not love the Kings, but he’s notably fond of Sacramento. Amazingly, there exists the possibility that so many missteps from Ranadivé could still be taken back. That’s the luxury of possessing an all-world talent on a multi-year contract.
Fire Karl, Vivek. Admit mistakes. Make peace with Cousins. Give Divac and his support staff full control. Hire a coach who bends his scheme to fit his personnel. Sit back and be an owner instead of a meddler. Let your franchise have the opportunity to become what you and so many Kings fans want it to be.
That’s the only way out here. And though it’s an arduous one, it’s certainly better than the alternative of re-building a roster from scratch and remaining the league’s utmost laughingstock as losses continue to mount.
[Via Aaron Bruski]