As ‘Reasons to be Optimistic’ Exist, Fans Shouldn’t Forget the Last Nine Years

On Sunday, Jason Anderson’s SacBee piece delivered, among other things, another scathing slap of the blinding spotlight on the dysfunction and “toxic” environment of the Sacramento Kings organization, calling Vivek Ranadive’s team the “NBA’s biggest losers.”

It was yet another swipe at Ranadive’s mess, one that ostensibly caught the attention of many, including some players. Nevertheless, however, it was a poignant and necessary perspective to present to a fanbase that’s suffered from a sixteen-year playoff drought, nine of which have occurred under this ownership with little accountability from the very top.

Anderson spoke to a former member of the Kings’ basketball operations staff who told him what has been plainly obvious for too long, that this is “an owner who’s too involved.”

“People are not treated well,” the source said. “They’re not valued. It’s a toxic workplace where there are some super-talented people who either move on or get let go for different reasons. It’s unfortunate because I think people come with really pure intentions and want to turn it around.”

Even as the team was kept in Sacramento, clownish obsessions with loyalty, juvenile impulsivity, and arrogance from the owner have plagued this organization, creating a precarious climate where any chance to cultivate success is stunted, which is the opposite of the needed “stability” Harrison Barnes mentioned last week.

A catalog of names like Vlade Divac, Brandon Williams, Ken Catanella, Scott Perry, and Joe Dumars are all mentioned in the source’s description of a time, not so distant from today, when the organization’s chaotic power structure often had levels of responsibility and say fluctuating like stormy tides. And the task at hand, in an environment like that, was predictably like trying to do a handstand within the cabin of a rocky boat tipping back and forth.

“If it wasn’t someone getting fired, it was someone else getting hired or someone else getting power, becoming a decision-maker,” the source recounted.

The article also makes particular note of Ranadive’s unique ability to crumple a golden opportunity like it’s tin foil, whether drafting Bagley or pushing coaches off the ledge. 

Adding to it, the source said the Kings were once planning to pull the trigger on a trade that would have acquired Cleveland’s Jordan Clarkson in a deal involving then-Kings guard Yogi Ferrell. However, in a league where any potential deal “can very quickly be gone,” Ranadive’s feigned sense of meticulous consideration suffocated any opportunity to execute it, and Clarkson was sent to Utah.

“Getting decisions made was crazy,” the source recalled. 

As anyone could expect, such hubris from the owner has created a perpetual tailspin for the last nine years. After all, as Anderson’s source explained, “like any successful business or organization, a lot of stuff starts at the top.” 

Former Kings head coach and the first-ever hire under the Ranadive dominion, Michael Malone, expressed similar sentiments with a perspective that was once exposed to how this organization operates, as Anderson notes.

“It starts at the top,” Malone said recently when the Denver Nuggets visited. “I think leadership starts with the ownership group. I know I allude to this all the time, but Game 82 at Minnesota, my third year, we lose the game with a chance to go to the postseason. I know most owners in that situation probably would have been feeling the urge to make a change. Year 3, we didn’t win, didn’t get over the hump, and I have to give credit to Josh and Stan Kroenke because they had the willingness to take a step backwards and think big picture, not moment.”

As is clear to most Kings fans by this point in time, Ranadive—despite undoubtedly keeping the team in Sacramento—can and should be the target of ridicule. It’s the only way to hold that authority accountable. And by all accounts, in doing so, there’s signs of progress.

That is to say, there are signs that Ranadive’s compulsive hands-on approach is being limited and that there is room for a “big picture” strategy to be composed and implemented.

While some may have viewed Anderson’s piece as unfair to others in the organization as well as to the rare optimism being felt at the close of this recent season in spite of another missed playoff trip, one could argue it was packed with a heavier load of positivity.

Anderson also spoke to an unnamed minority owner who, among other corroborators, vowed that General Manager Monte McNair is operating without the interference that is characteristic of Ranadive.

“I’ve looked people in the eye and said, ‘We know this has been a problem. Is it a problem today?’ They’re telling me it’s not,” the minority owner asserted. “Does Vivek have the right to approve trades or give his input? Yeah, but I don’t believe Vivek is micromanaging Monte. I believe Monte is in charge and has total control.”

That was the biggest revelation in the article, and it was a positive sign. 

“We certainly have reasons to be optimistic,” said McNair at his end of the season presser on Tuesday, which is true. If McNair has uninhibited freedom to work, his track record already begins to paint a promising future.

McNair has drafted with a philosophy to “take the best player available.” With it, he’s provided two years of excellent first-rounders for a franchise that has been historically bad at drafting, and he is looking to add a third installment of that trend this June.

As GM, he’s also done something that feels completely adverse to the typical operating procedure of the Sacramento Kings in recent years. Instead of relinquishing talent or remaining passive, McNair was aggressive in acquiring it. As a result, the Kings have a two-time all-star big man in Sabonis in addition to a winner like Donte DiVincenzo (who is committed to Sacramento), a versatile presence like Trey Lyles, and others.

The Kings, despite losing most of those games post-deadline, now have a foundation in Fox and Sabonis as well as a group of guys to be excited about, especially knowing that another few pieces can really elevate the potential. It’s all part of a longterm plan that’s discernibly being carried out, and with the same level of autonomy that allowed the major trade deadline shakeups, McNair will be able to add talent to the roster, particularly “shooting, length, and athleticism.”

To make the opportunity even more ripe for McNair to carry out a legitimate plan, he’ll be able to interview and choose the next head coach for the first time, a search that he said will be “comprehensive.”

“We’re going to run a very comprehensive and very process-driven coaching search, and we’re gonna let that run it’s course. We’re gonna take as long as we need to find the correct person to lead this organization, the team on the floor, and I’m excited to see what the people that we talk to — what their vision is for the future as well,” McNair said of the hiring hunt.

“I’m not putting any particulars in on that,” he added shortly after in regards to the search. “Like I said, we’re gonna run this process. We all know what we need to get to, there’s certain things that need to be fixed, but there’s also multiple ways to win in this league. We want the coaching candidates that we do bring in to bring their own style, to tell us how they want to do this. We’ll talk with them, and ultimately, we’re gonna bring in somebody who’s gonna win however they, and we, want to do that, together.”

What’s most revealing about his coaching search strategy is McNair’s overarching way of operating, and thus the overall direction of the team. 

With an emphasis on carrying out a wide-scoped search that takes into consideration all sorts of factors including fits with the team, experience, and “style,” McNair is specifically interested in a coach that can add to the culture being established here rather than ask him to adhere to a predetermined one.

Past coaches have been expected to toe a specific line and get yanked around on a leash. Malone, George Karl, and Dave Joerger were all fired for having a vision that happened to be different from whatever fever dream fantasy Ranadive was hallucinating at any given moment, and dysfunction reigned supreme. Maybe it can be claimed they were let go because no success emerged, but it’s clear that with the consistency of losing seasons and Randive’s meddling, none of these coaches had much of an opportunity.

McNair, on the other hand, is building a situation where the head coach will be a main component of the franchise’s direction, a working part of the operation to deliver success. Whoever is brought in will be entrusted with the schematic and on-court responsibilities just as McNair has been granted similar privilege in his role. 

By continuing to provide added levels of trust throughout the organization—from the front office, to the coaching staff, to the players—it is laying the groundwork for a healthier environment.

Kings fans therefore have every reason to be excited and optimistic. The adults in the room are in control, and the chance to produce a winning season is emerging.

However much this is true, though, one still can’t lose sight or forget the agonizing stagnancy that has riddled this franchise under Ranadive’s reign. That’s substantiated further by the fact that never once has Ranadive remotely signaled accountability for his role in this playoff drought, and it’s very unlikely that there ever will be.

In fact, it appears the organization’s viewpoint on all of this is to avoid acknowledging Vivek Ranadive’s role in the struggles at all, almost to pretend it never happened. Now, that’s not surprising, but it’s worth chewing on.

One of the best questions from the press conference asked McNair if there was anything he may have “wished” he’d known before he took the job. 

What made this question so illuminating (and slightly humorous) was that it seemed to present McNair with an opportunity to maybe allude to the well-known realities that surround Ranadive’s reputation and to make it clear that those no longer pose an issue. Of course, McNair went ahead and deferred to his opinion of the fans, saying they were even better than he’d imagined they’d be. 

To expect him to say anything related to his boss would have been beyond silly, but still, it was fascinating to consider that the organization is moving on as if much of the disorder of these past few years were just happenstance and that there was no source of it. 

Even if Ranadive has indeed taken a big step back and given control to Monte McNair and Assistant GM Wes Wilcox—as appears to be the case—that absence of accountability should be noteworthy because it makes past mistakes prone to being made again.

That doesn’t take away from the positive viewpoint this organization, its players, and its fans have regarding next season and beyond— that’s more than justified. But it does show that the threat of Ranadive has not been completely thwarted, that it could just be snoozing.

That’s not a prediction or a prophecy that Ranadive will revert to his obstructive, distrustful ways. Besides who the hell could say for sure anyway? 

What it is, is a thing worth keeping in mind. Ranadive’s got a track record.

It’s important to ask: What if success doesn’t get rolling the way all this optimism envisions? Doesn’t that present an opportunity for the Kings to regress into chaos once more?

It remains to be seen, and it may never have to be considered.

Naturally, fans should be gearing up for a promising coaching hire, another McNair draft pick, and what could be a fruitful free agency. There are plenty of reasons to have a bright outlook on next year and beyond, but, as is kind of the nature of Kings fans by now, it’s important to consider that other reality, too.

One can’t simply forget that someone who could be characterized as an arrogant control freak is still upstairs.

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