Allusions of Ranadive’s Involvement in Basketball Decisions Evokes a Familiar, Eerie Feeling

At this point, one has to seriously wonder whether or not Vivek Ranadive is intentionally trying to start a riot in Sacramento.

On Monday, Marc Stein reported that as the Kings’ coaching hunt progresses faster than the Lakers and Hornets’ respective searches, Mark Jackson has by far “impressed” Ranadive the most throughout the process and now has “his best chance” at landing a head coaching job in the eight years since being let go by Golden State.

With so many positive expectations formulated as the offseason still works to stretch out its legs, there was a legitimate feeling in the air—unlike the recurrent false optimism that routinely lets fans down—that something was different in the Kings organization. However, with that report, a synchronous moan erupted from Sacramento’s fanbase. 

Here we go again, they collectively thought.

The question of what level of freedom Monte McNair actually has remains, and is once again supremely relevant.

It has been almost two years since Vlade Divac was asked to step down from his post as the team’s executive, and though winning basketball has yet to return to town, there has at least been some semblance of coherency as well as some early signs of what could be a clear organizational direction. 

Divac was after all the 7-foot-1 cardboard cutout of the fall guy, behind which stood Vivek Ranadive wringing his impulsive hands and scheming his next execution of self-sabotage before tightening his blindfold woven from hubris.

Once the cries of the people—the fans—approached a crescendo and there was no more breathing room to spare, Divac was given the boot after refusing to work beneath Joe Dumars. About a month later, Monte McNair was hired as the head executive of basketball operations, and the thought emerged that this was the long awaited sign that Ranadive had accepted the need for him to stay out of the way.

Though, in addition to bringing in McNair—a move that was applauded by those around the league—the Kings gave Joe Dumars the job of Chief Strategy Officer and thus the responsibility “to report to the owner and chairman, and help drive strategy across the organization’s entire portfolio of activities, including business, basketball, new ventures, entertainment and real estate.”

Even as hiring the reputably competent McNair set the stage for what sounded like a completely novel phase for the franchise in the Vivek Ranadive era, Dumars’ ambiguous role essentially left fans wondering whether or not it left open a potentially dangerous passageway for the guy who has had trouble resisting the allure of the red button that blows any progress or potential to smithereens.

As The Kings Herald wrote at the time, with Dumars “reporting to Ranadive instead of McNair, it’s easy to see where this can go wrong considering Vivek’s history of advisor meddling.”

Raising the level of uncertainty and creating room for worry, The Athletic’s Sam Amick told Carmichael Dave then that some of those considered for the GM job, “when they heard Joe Dumars was involved in the process, said ‘no thank you.'”

The Sacramento Bee reported a similar sentiment, that “the presence of Dumars and uncertainty about his role with the organization was a concern among some potential candidates.” According to a team source, “the Kings intended to hire a top basketball executive who would report directly to Ranadive.”

Interestingly enough, Dumars just left the organization yesterday to join the NBA’s basketball operations, reportedly because he desired more “direct control over the front office.”

Sam Amick wrote that because “Dumars’ contract was expiring… he wanted more direct control over the front office if he was going to return,” noting that Dumars preferred if “McNair would have reported to him rather than Ranadive.”

That “sort of setup,” Amick continued, was not preferred in Ranadive’s eyes, adding that a source had relayed that “it does not appear Dumars’ role will be filled.” 

While that substantiates the idea that Ranadive is not taking a hands-on approach, Amick further wrote that Dumars had partaken, along with McNair and assistant GM Wes Wilcox, in the first round of interviews that were conducted through Zoom with the initial list of candidates, all “without Ranadive’s involvement,” as is explicitly noted in the report and was confirmed by The Bee’s Jason Anderson.

The second round of interviews are in-person and set for this week with Ranadive’s presence included, as has always been anticipated. 

Clifford interviewed Sunday and continued his visit Monday. Brown’s will come after the Warriors return from Memphis, and will likely be held in both San Francisco and Sacramento. Like Brown, Mark Jackson’s is set for later this week…

…If Jackson’s in-person interview and visit hasn’t occurred yet, how is it that Ranadive could be “impressed” amid “the interview process”? When would that have happened?

What Amick reported and Anderson confirmed is no doubt the case—Ranadive was not involved in the interview—but that does not, however, rule out his involvement or influence in the decision making. 

There’s no reason to discount Marc Stein’s report. In fact, what Stein reported and what Amick reported an hour later can both be true at the same time.

What this ostensibly amounts to is that, no, Ranadive is not keeping himself out of basketball decision making entirely. 

If he’s impressed with Jackson, then he’s in on the process in some form or another, which may explain why Jackson has made it this far despite many fans’ opposition. In reality, it’s more telling that despite the fact he is simply not a good fit for Sacramento’s current situation, Jackson still became a finalist.

Jackson no doubt has coaching chops, and one can sit there trying to attribute it to whatever or whomever, but that’s on his resume. Still, it’s been eight years since he’s been on an NBA sideline, and sure he’s watched all the way through as a broadcaster, but he’s been removed for so long that hiring him seems like just as much of a gamble as hiring a candidate with no prior NBA head coaching experience. Plus, some of the off-court things, whether one chooses to pinpoint them or not, just aren’t consistent with Sacramento’s goal of stability.

And yet, despite all of that, Jackson is among the final three. The poignant question has to be asked: Was that primarily Vivek Ranadive’s doing?

It was written in this space a few weeks ago that there was a potential for Ranadive and Jackson to coalesce because they both have checkered reputations back in Golden State, which was originally a more humorous consideration than anything else:

“Then again, Vivek Ranadive wasn’t exactly well liked among some members of the ownership in Golden State, and the feeling was apparently mutual. That was noted by Bay Area sportswriter Tim Kawakami in 2017 when the Warriors had to significantly increase their offer to Iguodala in order to retain him after the cap-rich Kings’ offer was used as leverage (the implication being that Ranadive was all-in on messing with Lacob’s team).

“So if the worry is that a restrained Ranadive would still be prone to come out against Jackson due to history of having a “strong” personality, it could likewise be argued that Ranadive would want Jackson in Sacramento to somehow spite Golden State… which is exactly as thorny and fantastical as it sounds.”

Not only is Ranadive not at all “restrained,” but the proposed theory, all of a sudden, is not so “fantastical.”

It’s nothing but conjecture at this point to assume how much of a hand Ranadive is putting into the organization’s basketball decisions, but now it’s clear it wasn’t what many people imagined.

It may not be so bad, of course. To be fair, Stein’s report didn’t hit as hard with Amick’s clarification. Maybe Ranadive is merely making suggestions or offering a humble input. 

However, at the same time—Suggestions? Humble input?—that’s where things get hard to believe. Any scintilla of Ranadive involvement is simply too much involvement.

Knowing all of this, the biggest indicator of the degree to which Ranadive participates in decision making will be who gets the head coaching job. 

If Brown or Clifford end up getting the job, things don’t look so fatefully bound to assured catastrophe, though the possibility seems to always exist with Ranadive’s place at the top. If Jackson is hired, though, then it will be abundantly clear that there’s a familiar and singular face for fans to express their disdainful outrage at.

Either way, one would think Ranadive had learned to just stay out of the way by now.

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