Vivek Ranadive, Joe Dumars, Mike Forde, and the Sacramento Kings are currently in the middle of a nationwide search to find their long term general manager. The Kings are taking their time, as they should, because this franchise cannot afford to get this hire wrong.
Throughout the early days of the hiring process, a common concern among general manager candidates has been the question of power. Who will this new general manager report to? How involved will Joe Dumars be after the hire is made? How much input does Vivek Ranadive want in basketball operations? Will the new general manager have autonomy to build out his or her front office and coaching staff from the ground up?
Some of those questions have been answered publicly, and some haven’t, but the unfortunate truth is that even if the Kings say the new general manager will have some level of autonomy, until they prove it, it’s fair to be skeptical. This has been an issue throughout Vivek Ranadive’s ownership tenure.
The Sacramento Bee’s Jason Anderson added fuel to that skepticism in his mailbag on Thursday. While answering a question about Luke Walton’s job security moving forward, Anderson reported the following:
The new general manager will ultimately decide the fate of this coaching staff, but as recently as Monday league sources told The Sacramento Bee Walton is safe and will coach the team next season. The Kings are assuring Walton and making it clear to potential candidates they do not intend to make a coaching change prior to the 2020-21 season.
Even so, Walton will enter his second season in a tenuous position after agreeing to a four-year deal with the Kings last summer. New general managers usually end up bringing in new coaches, but Walton will have an opportunity to forge a relationship with his next boss before any decisions are made. Essentially, he will be auditioning for his own job.
If I’m confused about how much power this new general manager will have after reading a report like this, I can only imagine how confusing the messaging has been to potential hires. Anderson states that “the new general manager will ultimately decide the fate of this coaching staff” meanwhile the the Kings are actively telling Walton that his job is safe. Which is it?
We’ve seen this scenario play out time and time again in Sacramento. Michael Malone was hired before general manager Pete D’Alessandro. George Karl was hired before Vlade Divac was fully empowered. We’ve even heard through several grapevines that Dave Joerger wasn’t necessarily the coach Divac wanted.
What’s more frustrating than anything else is that the solution here is pretty simple. It’s obvious, really. The general manager needs to decide who is coaching his team. The Kings cannot be guaranteeing job security to their coach before that guy is even in the building.
This is a prototypical Kings error. For whatever reason they consistently reject NBA norms. You’d think that an organization in the midst of a 14 season playoff drought would look towards successful franchises and try to replicate what they do instead of blazing their own losing trail, but that has never been Ranadive’s style. They think they know better than everyone else.
It’s entirely possible that the Kings are just telling Walton that his job is safe because they have to keep the peace. The Kings wouldn’t be the first NBA organization to lie to their coach about job security, but for a franchise that already has some trouble attracting top-tier talent on the court, and in the front office, playing games with someone as plugged in to the NBA world as Walton is dangerous.
Walton has good relationships around the league, and the Kings are desperately trying to improve their reputation. Repeatedly telling Walton that his job is safe only to fire him in a few weeks wouldn’t be the best look.
One thing we can say for certain is that the Kings need to figure this out. The messaging to general manager candidates needs to be consistent and clear. There are legitimately troublesome financial ramifications of firing Walton this early into his contract, but reports like this tell candidates that they will not have the power to hire the coach they want, and that the Kings are in such financial stress that they cannot afford to fix their mistakes even if they wanted to.
If you’re trying to attract elite general manager candidates, this kind of messaging is the quickest way to eliminate the best options.