Protect ya neck!
The Sacramento Kings are always deeply fond of the folks under their employ. Until, they’re not.
It’s predicting when the Sacrificial Sacramento Sword comes for these players, these coaches, that has long been the mystery. Do you love our lambs, too, Kings fans? Cool. Sure hope you like shank.
Rick Adelman knew something was up when Geoff Petrie started playing coy about his and his staff’s contracts. The Kings hadn’t been anything of consequence since moving to Norcal from Kansas City, and some would go at least as far back as Cincinnati. Adelman was at the helm of the greatest eight-year run in the franchise’s lackluster history, including Sacramento’s first Conference Finals, and four consecutive seasons of 55-plus wins and trips to the West’s Final Four. But when it came time to talk turkey, Adelman found himself on the serving table.
The writing was on the wall, even if middle-man GM Petrie couldn’t read it aloud. The Magoof Brothers were just waiting for him to recede. Recede they did, in the form of two first-round exits after Chris Webber’s career-crippling injury found him traded to Philly. Even though the last playoff departure came after a valiant effort against the Spurs, The Sword was unsheathed for Adelman.
Butt-hurt by Shaq’s “Queens” assertions, the Magoofs long felt they could do better than second- and third-fiddle to the Lakers, and in their minds, better was the new-school Eric Musselman. Coach Muss rewarded them by pulling a Coach Bud, and not in a good way, with a DUI before the regular season could even arrive. Muss’ team slid to 33-49, a big step down from 44-38 in 2005-06, Adelman’s final campaign. The Kings would not win 40 games, or play a playoff game, since the Magoofs handed Adelman his walking papers.
Reggie Theus was put in charge of the resuscitation, and he got the team to 38 wins in his first season there. But then Kevin Martin was plagued with injuries to start the next season, and the Magoofs found the 6-18 run out of the blocks unpalatable. Coach Theus lasted longer on TNBC’s “Hang Time.” Kenny Natt was left to lug the Kings the rest of the way (11-47), and he never coached a pro outfit in the States again.
Paul Westphal took over the tank after two seasons, and few batted an eye when he pushed Martin out of town. but when he essentially declared, “it’s either him (Boogie Cousins) or me!”, after banishing his young star, he wasn’t going to be happy with the answer. Keith Smart goes 28-54? Not good enough. Grand opening, grand closing. Mike Malone goes 28-54 the very next season? Sashay, you stay.
That is, until Malone started the next season at 11-13. The new Kings regime said they simply “expected more,” as they handed the Smart-Natt Memorial Just Holding the Fort Award to Ty Corbin. A 7-21 run later, and now it was curmudgeonly worst-selling author George Karl being handed the keys to the Kings’ tainted coaching throne.
Around Sactown as the PBO since 1994, Petrie seemed like a nice-enough fellow. But years of meddlesome decisions by the Magoofs on coaching and draft-day decisions had him in a bristling mood. Petrie and the executive staff were relieved that when Vivek Ranadive arrived, offering a slimmer of hope they not only would they get to stay in town, they could stick around, keep their jobs, and allow some autonomy in doing those jobs effectively. That didn’t last long.
With smarmy Mayor Kevin and a city having Vivek’s back, Petrie knew he didn’t have a leg to stand on when Vivek announced Malone as the new coach, without much input from him. The Sword was still in town, this time swinging at lame ducks. Petrie was later incensed when Ranadive, explaining away the Kings’ inability to improve on the court, tried to suggest there wasn’t so much as a light bulb on at Kings Inc. when he took ownership. No, Petrie and Smart would note, you walked in and shot all the lights out.
Pete D’Alessandro used his work under Masai in Denver to snag Petrie’s job. But his penchant to leak poison pills to the media about players like Boogie and save-the-Kings-from-Seattle PR spokesman Isaiah Thomas, and coach Malone, wasn’t the wisest way to clean house. Ranadive realized in hindsight that hiring Malone before Pete D (“from Day One… they hated each other’s guts") wasn’t the wisest way to rebuild an NBA franchise.
How does one go about peeving off Shareef Abdur-Rahim, of all people, exactly? You have to be an absolute master of your craft to pull off a feat like that. The assistant GM, once happy to stay in Sactown after retirement, had to sue the Kings in civil court, citing a “hostile work environment,” just to get the salary they owed him after he would no longer be caught in the middle of D’Alessandro’s and Malone’s power plays.
The sense most of us outsiders often get, or are often told, is that Sacramento is some undesirable NBA outpost. But the theme that continues to shine through is the NBA talent there, however they wind up there, would be more than just fine sticking around in perpetuity, being around for the Kings’ eventual resurgence in the league, if only the crap from all the squabbling would quit flowing downhill. These aren’t wildfires that the Kings have had to put out. For the better part of 15 years, these have been wild immolations.
Sneaky Pete wasn’t wild about Vivek bringing in Kings glory-days legend Vlade Divac as a power-usurping “advisor.” D’Alessandro concerns came to life as Ranadive pushed both him and Chris Mullin out to make Divac the top dog in 2015.
The Sword that swung for C-Webb and Kev-Mart and I.T. and Tyreke continues to swing for players under Divac’s watch, notably Cousins, who was sent in a deal that had Reke attached to Pelicans rookie Buddy Hield. It still swings sharply for the coaches, too. The Kings went 39-43 last season, their best finish since Adelman’s ouster eons ago, and a 9-seed in the rough-and-tumble NBA West. That was good enough this past spring for Vlade to earn a contract extension. Not so much for third-year coach Dave Joerger.
Vivek and Vlade thought they could do better. And better, in his eyes, was Luke Walton, Vlade’s old Laker teammate and the coach who could not be entrusted with a rebuilding program centered around LeBron James. Magic fired himself trying to fire Luke, and yet Luke is the one charged with improving upon Joerger’s record.
Last season was good enough for the Kings to extend near-obligatory contract options for up-and-coming stars (hopefully, for them) Marvin Bagley and De’Aaron Fox. After a period of contention that had Hield mapping routes out of town, the young sharpshooter and the Kings locked up a four-year deal just in time for this season to start. Hield handed his travel guides to Bogdan Bogdanovic, the Serbian swingman who knows he could earn more than Sacramento could offer this summer. That is, if Walton would just give Bogdanovic functional minutes with the starters.
If you went back in time, and told Kings fans in the summer of 2017 that a guy named Harry would be leading the team in minutes, they’d be thrilled. Just don’t tell them that you’re referring to Harrison Barnes. Harry Giles was left out in the cold at option time, the would-be second-year center joined by ex-Hawk Dewayne Dedmon as questionable for tonight’s game against the Kings (TAKE MARTA IF YOU VALUE YOUR SANITY; 7:30 pm Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports California) with a knee injury.
Divac drafted Zach Collins at #10 in 2017, traded him that night for Portland’s #20 pick, Giles, then basked in the glow of the punditry who looked right past a whole other Collins in declaring that Sacramento got the steal of the Draft.
Known for problematic knee injury issues since he was a prized recruit in high school, Giles was medically redshirted by the Kings in 2017-18. He was essentially a two-way player in the opening months of 2018-19 and was shut down in the closing games of the season, after 58 appearances, for continued rehabilitation.
All the while, the Kings were eager to tout and offer glimpses of Giles’ boundless potential. Much of his highlight reel tape comes from his career high 20 points (10-for-12 FGs) in a satisfying 135-113 win over the visiting Hawks last January.
Now, it appears Giles will bear the brunt of the organization’s blame, not their medical and conditioning staff, for his inability to put up Willie Cauley-Stein numbers, if not at least Zach Collins figures, by the end of this season. The Kings were out of options, contract-wise. But Giles, like Bogdanovic, knows he could have plenty of options this summer as a free agent, if he makes the most of the floor time Walton grants him.
Checking into tonight’s contest at 2-6, Walton and the Kings are eager to, as 92.9 The Game’s Randy McMichael likes to say, “put them foots into” the Hawks, much as the desperate Bulls hooved the home team just two nights prior, much as Joerger’s team did to coach Lloyd Pierce’s crew twice last season.
The Hawks (3-4) took several chair-shots, some more literal than others, during the 113-93 blowout loss to Chicago. As they prepare for a five-game, eight-day road excursion through the Western Conference, they’re unlikely to take another beating from State Farm Arena’s visitors sitting down. Not just because there may not be any chairs standing upright if they waste the time of fans who made it through horrendous motorcade-impacted downtown traffic.
Pierce, unlike Walton, is secure in his team’s mediocrity, and can afford to keep hammering away at lotto-rookies Cam Reddish and De’Andre Hunter, and guys playing like rookies (Kevin Huerter and Alex Len, neither on the injury list any more), until they figure things out. There’s no need to wait until Trae Young (0-for-8 3FGs vs. CHI) cans a shot from Druid Hills before the young Hawks decide to start playing with a competitive spirit, especially when the ball’s in transition in either direction.
What does the Giles situation say to Bagley, who returns in a few weeks after fracturing a thumb in the season opener, or even Fox (6.8 APG, 4.0 TOs/game) and Hield (40.8 3FG%, but 41.1 2FG%), while trying to right the ship under an unsteady Walton’s direction? You’re our rocks, our mainstays, Vivek and Vlade will assure each of them. That is true. Until, they’re not.
Watch your step, kids!
Let’s Go Hawks!
"Dunking is better than sex." - Shawn Kemp, 1996