Kings fans are well aware of what general manager and vice president of basketball operations Vlade Divac said in February 2017. Just days after trading center All-Star DeMarcus Cousins, Divac promised he had a plan. And if his plan didn’t work, he would take responsibility.
“I think we will be in a better position in two years,” said Divac Sacramento Bee columnist Ailene Voisin. “I want to hear from these same people again in two years. If I’m right, great. If I am wrong, I will withdraw. But if I go down, I go down my way.
Although it’s been three and a half years, not two, Divac essentially keeps its word. The Kings general manager, who joined the team’s front office in March 2015 and got the general manager job in August, resigned on Friday. Special Advisor Joe Dumars will take over on an interim basis.
This movement was not expected. In April 2019, the team seemed married to Divac for the long term. That month, the franchise fired head coach Dave Joerger, hired Luke Walton and granted Divac a four-year extension. Walton’s deal was also for four years, matching the general manager and head coach to contract deadlines in an effort to create a cohesive new era of Kings basketball. Oddly enough, Walton won’t follow Divac to the door. AthleticSam Amick’s reported that the head coach’s job is safe. Although NBC Sports’ James Ham has reported that the next GM may change that.
Divac was a staggered hire in 2015. Owner Vivek Ranadivé brought former Kings legend back to Sacramento as the team’s vice president of basketball operations, in what felt like a move to connect the current administration in the franchise’s glory years (around the same time, Peja Stojakovic also landed a front office role). Speculation grew that Divac was supplanting then-GM Pete D’Alessandro, which was almost confirmed when D’Alessandro left the team in June 2015, weeks before this year’s NBA Draft. Divac was officially promoted to the role of general manager a few months later.
Out of this chaos arose an administration that seemed rude. In June 2018, Divac said the Kings were “a great team, just young”. Also in 2018, the Kings’ Twitter account posted a photo of Divac that showed the team’s roster project in the background. In December of that year, Divac admitted he “didn’t know” how the salary cap worked when he came to the Kings front office.
As you might expect, the results were mixed – at best. His first big move as general manager, a dump from the 2015 salary cap that cost the Kings Nik Stauskas and a future first-round pick, is one of the most chaotic moves in recent NBA history. The team used the money they saved from trading on an interest-free core of Rajon Rondo, Kosta Koufos and Marco Belinelli, and Sacramento improved their win tally to four wins. Divac drafted Georgios Papagiannis, an obscure foreign player who was virtually unknown before selection, with the 13th pick in the 2016 draft. He made 38 franchise games in a season and a half and left the NBA shortly thereafter. Divac has handed out big contracts to players like George Hill, Zach Randolph, Dewayne Dedmon and Harrison Barnes. And he fired Joerger after the coach set a record 39-43 in 2018-19, the team’s best season since 2005-06.
All of this surely contributed to Divac exhausting its welcome with the franchise. But his real legacy as Sacramento general manager will, of course, be the selection of Marvin Bagley III in the 2018 draft. Kings fans were desperate for Luka Doncic, and draft experts made Doncic a surefire star. . It remains inexplicable that three teams have passed him, but at least the Suns and Hawks have strong young cornerstones in Deandre Ayton and Trae Young, respectively. Bagley only played 75 games for the team in two seasons and was not very effective when he was on the ground. Doncic is an All-Star who will soon be competing for MVP trophies, if not Final trophies. Kings might have had the bright future that the Mavericks now have, but they are past. It’s Sam Bowie’s modern pick, a move so disastrous it will haunt the franchise for decades to come. Divac has been loved in Sacramento since his playing days, but there was no escaping this mistake.
Divac deserves some credit during her tenure. Technically, the team is better now than when Divac exchanged cousins. When the Kings struck the deal, the team was 24-33, a .421 winning percentage. They finished the 2019-20 season with a 0.431 winning percentage. If you squint, it almost looks like progress. The Cousins swap worked for the franchise, as Buddy Hield – the main player the team got in exchange – has grown into a solid player in Sacramento (although it seems less likely that Hield will want to stay with the long-term deductible). In 2017, Divac drafted De’Aaron Fox, who is hands down the best player the Kings have had since Cousins - and who has the potential to be even better. Divac also brought Bogdan Bogdanovic to town in a judicious trade with the Suns in 2016.
But the mistakes have gone beyond the brief moments of competence. Divac promised he would do things his own way, and if that didn’t work he would fall. The timeline wasn’t exactly the right one, but in the end that is what happened.