Conservative and perhaps unspectacular at first, the tenure of GM Monte McNair has generated some novel buzz concerning the Sacramento Kings in recent months.
Novel in the sense the aura feels entirely new relative to the previous years of Vivek Ranadive’s ownership. And the buzz being produced emanates from both that sudden change under the general manager and his ostensible lack of job security.
Throughout the offseason, the topic of Monte McNair’s contract status was an area of concern.
In May, after Mike Brown was brought on, The Athletic’s Sam Amick pointed out that McNair’s deal was not extended to align with his newly hired coach.
“Though Brown signed a four-year deal, sources say Kings GM Monte McNair is entering the final season of his contract and there have been no talks about a possible extension.” he wrote then.
Amick concluded that “there’s significant pressure on McNair,” which, with Ranadive lingering overhead, was a source of uneasiness given the owner’s history of taking cover behind fall guys.
Just days before, Marc Stein reported that Ranadive’s expectations were explicitly made known in Sacramento’s hiring process. Per Stein, those interviewing “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.”
So the pressure seems undeniable.
However, at the post-draft press conference, when asked about the expectation to make the playoffs, McNair claimed there is “no mandate.” Of course, he expressed then and just the other day that his goal is to make the playoffs, but as for the “pressure” observers can unquestionably sense, it’s as if it doesn’t exist.
Since then, nothing has changed on the front of McNair’s contract, and one can’t help ignoring it in the midst of so much optimistic energy. Such was the case at Media Day on Monday when Deuce Mason brought it up.
“Is my deal, like, on the internet or something?” McNair asked as a joke before deflecting.
“Look, for me and my group, we’re excited about what we’ve done. We’re excited that coach Brown is in here. I’m the GM right now and I’ve got a bunch of work to do, so I’m going to do that until they kick me out, and I hope I’m here for a long time.”
Is the fact this topic is being skipped around a cause for concern?
Since he swung for the fences and made the move to get a two-time all-star in Domantas Sabonis, as well as a valuable role player like Trey Lyles, McNair carried out the process of evaluating and hiring a head coach, drafted the highest of his three first-round picks, and continued to add valuable skillsets to the roster.
Here at the start of camp and with the first preseason game less than a week out, it’s easy to argue that McNair has done a relatively adequate job. Obviously, whether success materializes or not will play a huge role in determining how satisfactory the GM’s been, but remember what he took over two years ago.
And remember what his job is.
McNair is not the head coach. His job, as he said on Monday, is “to get the guys on the roster,” adding that “coach (Brown) will take it from there.”
In fact, the mutual understanding of McNair and Brown’s respective roles is apparent, which is unsurprising given it’s one of the head coach’s core neccesities for creating a winning culture. McNair himself reiterated the overview the other day, saying for the new coaching staff there’s “a blank slate” for these guys to show what they can do.
“We need to let these guys come in and have the forum to prove it,” the GM told the media. “And that means from the starting lineup to playing time to roster spots. So, obviously we bring guys in, we’re excited for them, we’ve seen what they can do — that provides some sort of a basis — but we try to wipe that away and see what they can do for us going forward.”
Of course, McNair and company will always be ready to make more improvements; again, he’s stated it in the past and he did so again on Monday, saying “we never feel like we’re done, we’re always looking.” However, as it stands, most of the work to “get the guys on the roster” for this upcoming season is finished. Opportunities may arise, and holes may very well need to be mended along the way, but much of the responsibility to execute falls in the coaching staff and the players’ hands when the season is underway.
Again, that’s not saying McNair can kick up his feet or that he is off the hook and should just be extended for the simple fact he’s the breath of fresh air that relieved the fanbase following the departure of Vlade Divac.
It just raises the question: What exactly is Ranadive holding out for?
If it is indeed for a playoff spot this year, then that could spell trouble.
In spite of all the optimism going into this season, it seems like there’s also a general air of realism coming from McNair.
At Media Day, he made known the fact that while he wants to make the postseason, the concept of what Alvin Gentry would call “sustainable winning” remains the key focus, especially with the way the roster is constructed on the basis of age.
“We obviously want to make the playoffs, but we want to stay there and stay there for a long time,” McNair told reporters. “So for us, that’s the balance. The big thing for us — and we looked at this historically — teams that are as young as we are, if we can get into the playoffs this year, there’s a really good track record of what those teams can do going forward.”
And in the second part of his response to Mason’s question about the contract, he was frank about the gradual process of turning a roster around.
“I think with this team we put together, we’re really going to start to see that progress,” McNair said. “You know, it’s taken a couple of years for us to kind of continue to shape the roster and get guys around (De’Aaron Fox, Harrison Barnes, and Richaun Holmes) and some of these guys that have been here.”
As he noted, this team is essentially trying to pull a full u-turn on their fortunes. It’s taken time, it’s required McNair to be methodical, and it seems like there’s a clear path to follow that can lead to success.
Will it be sufficient in the eyes of Ranadive, who, as Stein reported, wants to witness a playoff game in Sacramento this year?
It’s hard to even say definitively whether the Kings make the playoffs or not, but the odds aren’t really in their favor on account of all the loaded teams in the Western Conference. Though, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
The route to the playoffs for Sacramento—with all the turnover and the new pieces that need to mix together into a cohesive machine—is likely through the play-in. The Kings, as far as many are concerned, are right in the thick of that conversation, but would that satisfy the owner, especially if a play-in appearance ends up being the extent of it?
With everything in mind they have a chance, but it is very reasonable to assume that the Kings might need a year to be a true contender. And after 16 years of ghastly on-floor products, making the play-in while missing the actual playoffs would still be a monumental win for the franchise. Naturally, one strives for the best, but frankly, that feat would be the highlight of Ranadive’s ownership aside from keeping the team in Sacramento.
And one would think that he would feel the same, especially with the way the previous nine seasons have gone. But there remains the fact that he apparently wants that “Minnesota-esque surge.”
To give Ranadive the benefit of the doubt, perhaps he’s just playing the tough guy role. Maybe he wants to see how long he should extend McNair, for how much, and so on, all based on the actual outcome of the season. That would be less reckless, it actually could be sort of clever, and maybe that’s the owner’s plan.
But there is not a lot of reason to believe that’s necessarily the case with all the dodging going on regarding McNair’s contract. It’s also hard to forget Ranadive’s history of exiting his lane as the owner to meddle with the job of the front office.
On the other hand, as mentioned, there does happen to be evidence to suggest that the pressure seems to be mostly McNair’s burden.
So, yes, this matter is definitely a potential concern. If the Kings can’t mirror the T-Wolves of last year, there is a very real possibility that the GM is at risk of being the scapegoat, which could threaten to throw all the progress into a vacuum.
What actually happens remains to be seen. Things could all work out in the end, but for now, it’s painfully hard to ignore that the potential instability of Ranadive’s ownership is making itself known yet again.