Could the ‘Pressure’ on McNair Be a Recipe for Disaster?

It’s painfully obvious how much is riding on this next season for the entire Sacramento Kings organization. Having missed the playoffs in each of the last sixteen years like a corpse at a bus stop, the need to make the leap this team’s fans deserve is more pressing than ever. With that presiding urgency, the burners beneath new head coach Mike Brown and—to a far greater extent—General Manager Monte McNair have the potential to get hot in a hurry.

The relief that washed over the fanbase when Brown was hired as head coach seemed boundless as it affirmed McNair’s role as the lead in basketball decision making. More to the point, it showed that whatever opinions Vivek Ranadive shares as owner do not currently hold sway—or significant sway, at least—over the main directional choices made.

Of course, things aren’t perfect, as evidenced by the organization’s hiring of Anjali Ranadive as the Assistant General Manager of the G-League Stockton Kings. That’s not due to any discernible evidence that Anjali Ranadive is ill-equipped for the job—it’s not at the NBA level, after all, and one has to gain experience somehow—but rather because of the simple fact that the intra-familial promotion is a subtle reminder that Vivek Ranadive is still there, overseeing the whole operation from above.

While Anjali Ranadive makes her bright ascent from the Kings’ Social Responsibility Department to the role beneath Stockton GM Paul Johnson, there is a more ominous sense of security for two of the primary figures leading the charge for the NBA club next season. That’s because the futures of Mike Brown and—again, to a much larger degree—Monte McNair, as is the case for all coaches and GM’s, rests solely on the performance of the team, but moreover, it comes packaged with Vivek’s unbearable flare.

Marc Stein reported that those interviewing for Sacramento’s head coaching position “were told that team officials are counting on a Minnesota-esque surge in the standings in Year 1 after a league-record 16 consecutive seasons out of the playoffs.”

The Kings are in an excellent position to actually do that. The acquisition of Domantas Sabonis to pair with De’Aaron Fox proved to change the look of a team that struggled to retain any element of consistent identity. With Sabonis on-stage as the team representative at the NBA Draft Lottery drawing, it’s evident that there is an organization-wide confidence in what’s lies ahead next season. 

With considerable head coaching experience and with the likelihood that the roster will further improve throughout the summer—especially with the 4th overall pick—it’s feasible for Mike Brown to get this team to do what the Timberwolves did, or maybe even better. Minnesota, for reference, doubled their win total from the previous season to amass 46 victories and a play-in spot that landed them in a playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies.

It’s not the expectation itself that reeks of Vivek Ranadive, it’s the specific characterization of it. There is now a concrete gauge to compare next season’s outcome with, which means there is a specific line and expectation that, if not met, will certainly turn the heat up high enough to incinerate the hold on some job titles, namely general manager.

Again, this is obvious, but at the same time it speaks to the inherently precarious nature that accompanies any ounce of optimism perceived by Kings fans.

After McNair decided on his guy, Brown was granted a four-year contract, and barring a complete disaster he should be able to remain in his post on the sideline for more than one season at the very least. 

Hypothetically, if the Kings make only a slight improvement and it’s not enough to make the play-in—say they win 33 or 34 games—it would be difficult to imagine Brown would get kicked to the curb after just one season.

In all likelihood, Brown’s winning experience lends him some leeway in terms of any hiccups. The length of his leash would be longer than a first-year head coach. Had a Ham, Lee, or Hardy been hired, any of them would have been in a less secure position after a season if they were to fumble the anticipated leap next year.

Furthermore, the Kings have obviously learned a few things about their optics and how they are perceived around the league. It hasn’t been too long since The Athletic named Ranadive as the worst owner in the league, citing sources familiar to paint a picture of how an owner can almost singlehandedly create a “chaotic” environment by “trying too much” to be a competent authoritative figure. Even the most out of touch billionaire has to figure it out at some point.

Prior to the head coaching hire, Ranadive’s presence in San Francisco at a Conference Semifinals game in the aftermath of reports that he had a preferred candidate in mind, seemed to set up for an unsavory overtone. It did not prove to be a foreshadowing of anything, though, as Brown was hired the next day, which ultimately lent credence to the idea that the owner’s presence, with the surplus of ambiguity, was an intentional move to highlight the apparent fact he’s not intervening.

But—and there’s always a ‘but’—engrained in the franchise is a recent history of steep expectations that result in hasty terminations under Ranadive’s ownership when certain longings, no matter how unrealistic, are not satiated. Because Brown has some breathing room, the potential for McNair to be a fall guy should the Kings fail to make the long awaited progression is extremely high.

As Sam Amick notes, “McNair is entering the final season of his contract and there have been no talks about a possible extension,” adding that either way one cuts it, there will be “significant pressure on McNair.”

If next season is a swing and a miss, and if the Kings add another year to their drought—that 33 or 34-win scenario—it’s almost certain that Monte McNair would be shown the door. 

There would be merit to such a ghastly outcome if it were to arise a year from now, but it exists as a legitimate concern because of who the owner is.

According to Amick, for some head coaching candidates, it was precisely that uncertainty regarding McNair’s security that was a cause for concern pertaining to “the lack of contractual commitment to the front office and what it might mean for their (would-be) partnership.”

Kenny Atkinson was widely considered a notable candidate for Sacramento’s vacancy, but with his exclusion from the refined list of seven candidates and with his inclusion in Charlotte’s search where he’s getting a second interview, the indication was that something within the Kings’ building turned him off about the opportunity.

Might it be a little clearer as to why?

Given the reputation for incongruity in the last nine years, there’s ample reason as to why there’d be notable concern surrounding the partnership between head coach and front office.

In all likelihood, the lack of clarity illustrated that the potential for chaos is still more than breathing within Ranadive’s organization.

While he’s drafted well and happened to snag a two-time all-star, McNair may still have a fair amount to prove in order to establish any sort of longterm security, but the lack of alignment between the coach-front office partnership risks extending this trend of little to no organizational continuity even further. And truthfully, it’s a horrible idea and an even worse sign.

McNair ultimately stands as the antithesis of Ranadive’s horrific hands-on approach to owning a professional basketball team. He’s the lone figure under this ownership that has, by all accounts, avoided interference from the very top. If McNair is fired, it stands to reason that Ranadive could view it as a sign that simply trusting the basketball minds to do the right thing on their own is not exactly the way to go.

It’s not like he would name himself the GM—though, Kings fans probably wouldn’t put it past him—but the potential for Ranadive to want to have a more integrated role within the front office’s decision-making body seems reasonably high.

In other words, the pressure that faces McNair could, at the same time, be threatening any prospect of having an autonomous front office free from the owner’s meddling hand, and by extension, a winning franchise. 

As has been asked: Out of all the qualified candidates, who would want to even take over that position knowing McNair was canned?

The answer is probably none of them, not in their right mind. Maybe that’s why Ranadive’s daughter is getting her feet wet down in Stockton…

Before declaring the end of the world, it’s worth noting that there is no clear indication Ranadive wants to transform his daughter into the next Jeannie Buss or anything like that. But—and there’s always that ‘but’—one can’t exactly rule it out as impossible.

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Kings Talk: Episode 68

On this episode of Kings Talk presented by Cap City Crown, with training camp a week away, Tony and John discuss questions for each player that will be attending camp in Sacramento.

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