Vlade Divac fires Dave Joerger, takes full ownership of Kings' future

Vlade Divac fires Dave Joerger, takes full ownership of Kings' future

SACRAMENTO -- Dave Joerger is out. So, what does it all mean?

The Sacramento Kings shocked a good portion of the basketball world Thursday when they jettisoned the veteran coach after three years at the helm. They are going in a new direction, although which way they are headed is unknown at this time.

Joerger started the season strong, shook off a behind-the-scenes battle with assistant general manager Brandon Williams that spilled out into the open, and won more games as a Kings coach than anyone not named Rick Adelman or Garry St. Jean.

Joerger also saw his team struggle down the stretch, finishing 9-17 over the final 26 games and missing the playoffs for a 13th consecutive season.

In Joerger’s defense, the Kings were predicted to win 25.5 games by Las Vegas oddsmakers. The fact they showed a 12-game improvement over the previous season and posted the most wins since 2005-06 is impressive.

Who made the decision?

Kings GM Vlade Divac had plenty of time to assess Joerger and his coaching style during their three seasons together. According to Divac, the decision was his alone.

“I was clear, it was my decision," he said. "Obviously, I had to inform [ownership] about it, but they were supportive of that.”

Why now?

It’s complicated, but the short answer is this: Joerger was entering the final year of his contract, and there was very little chance he was walking into next season as a “lame duck” coach.

Divac had two choices — let Joerger go or extend him. Divac chose to let Joerger go and find someone more compatible with the path he wants the team to venture down.

“The next level is a team that is going to be a playoff team and down the road, a contender," Divac said. "I think our kids are very talented. We have to believe in them and give them a chance to take advantage of their work and talent.”

The team’s final-game meltdown in Portland didn’t help matters, but plans were in the works long before the Kings blew a 28-point lead at the Moda Center.

What went wrong?

The late-season losses were an issue, but according to Divac, he began to consider a coaching change following the All-Star break. That is the moment when the Kings sat at 30-27 and had just pulled off a series of moves to improve the talent on the roster.

“I think he did a great job to make that step, but moving forward, I just felt like we got to go in a different direction," Divac said of Joerger. "It’s been three years and we made progress, but this year, I know with you guys, and I feel the same way, it was a good season, but I think we could do more, especially after All-Star.”

While Divac didn’t force Joerger’s hand, he wasn’t in agreement with at least one specific rotational issue.

Divac preferred that Marvin Bagley start at power forward, especially late in the season. Selected with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, Bagley showed incredible promise in his rookie season, although two separate knee injuries cost him time.

Joerger chose to start Bagley a total of four games out of a possible 62 opportunities. Bagley performed extremely well in those starts, averaging 20.0 points and 11.5 rebounds in 33 minutes per game. On the downside, Bagley ran a minus-11.8 per game as a starter and the Kings lost all four games.

The issue of Bagley starting also was one of the primary issues behind the Joerger-Williams rift. While Divac tried to play peacemaker, the tension was palpable behind the scenes all season.

Divac allowed Joerger to coach his team, but that doesn’t mean that he didn’t have differing opinions on some of his decisions. In the end, the winning stopped, and very few adjustments were made.

Who’s next?

“Our new coach, which I’m looking for, has to bring, first of all, the style that we had last year -- that’s Kings style," Divac said in addressing Joerger's potential replacement. "We have to play that way. Uptempo and moving the ball and communication and defined roles and obviously believing in the team.”

Names like Luke Walton, Ettore Messina and Monty Williams already have surfaced. The Kings have a young and exciting roster that appears on the rise, which might entice Walton or one of the top-tier assistants in the league.

Walton still is employed by the Lakers, although that might not last long. The second-year head coach had a disastrous first season with superstar LeBron James. The Lakers finished the season two games behind the Kings in the standings, with James missing the playoffs after eight straight Finals appearances.

Messina has spent the last five seasons on Gregg Popovich’s San Antonio Spurs staff after an extremely successful career coaching overseas. He’s been in the running for multiple jobs over the last few seasons, but for one reason or another, he hasn’t landed a head-coaching job.

Williams has head-coaching experience from his time with the Pelicans. The 47-year-old player-turned-coach posted a 173-221 record in five seasons in New Orleans. He’s worked his way back into the league as an assistant with the 76ers after a personal tragedy had him away from the game.

Additional coaches likely will be added to this list. Divac held an extensive search before Joerger became available late in the process the last time around. Messina and Mike Woodson were high on Divac’s list of candidates at that time.

Was this the right move?

While Joerger was a very good X's and O’s coach, he has an edge that rubs certain people the wrong way. The Williams issue was one problem, but murmurs of a disconnect with his players started to filter out late in the season.

[RELATED: Kings finish once-promising season on perhaps lowest note]

Maybe it was the blame game or maybe Joerger’s approach had worn thin. Either way, this is a major gamble by Divac. Joerger not only outperformed expectations, but he also showed an ability to completely change his coaching style to compliment his roster.

“We know as a group what we want to do," Divac conveyed. "We are aware of challenges, but we are going in the right direction.”

Joerger was the ninth head coach in Sacramento since Adelman walked away in 2006. He lasted longer than any of the previous eight and won more as well. He took on a veteran roster in his first year at the helm, fought through a complete rebuild and posted the most wins in over a decade in his third season.

It wasn’t a perfect tenure, but Joerger and his staff were a big reason for the Kings’ success this season. Time will tell whether or not this was the right decision, but it certainly was a bold move by Divac, who is taking clear ownership of his legacy in Sacramento.

George Karl recalls DeMarcus Cousins' Kings meltdown, night Drake came

George Karl recalls DeMarcus Cousins' Kings meltdown, night Drake came

Over the last decade, there have been plenty of awkward moments to report on while covering the Kings. Oftentimes, the events are stranger than fiction.

Just a few that stand out include the time co-owner George Maloof spoke to reporters from a bell check closet in a Dallas hotel during an NBA Board of Governors meeting. Neither the Q&A, nor the BOG meeting went well for Maloof.

There was an odd “Game of Thrones” opening night with purple orbs and people dressed in cloaks. DeMarcus Cousins was thrown out of a game and then summoned back from the locker room. And there was a time when Austin Rivers flung a seat cushion into the crowd, hitting an unsuspecting Kings fan in the face two rows above our media seating.

Out of all of the crazy moments, the short window that NBA legend George Karl coached the team during the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons stands out as particularly dark. Karl, who should already be in the Hall of Fame with his 1,175 career regular-season victories, lasted just 112 games in Sacramento and it was a disaster from the start.

On the latest edition of the Truth + Basketball podcast, Karl, as well as former Kings assistant Vance Walberg, open up about their time in Sacramento. The conversation included a deep dive into one extremely memorable moment that happened early in the 2015-16 season.

[PURPLE TALK PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Karl was brought in to coach the Kings in February of 2015 after the team had already dispatched both Michael Malone and Tyrone Corbin. He posted an 11-19 record down the stretch and headed into the summer with another three years on his newly signed contract, but not before making a statement that put him on the hot seat.

“I’ve had some great players and I’ve never had one player that I have said is untradeable,” Karl told the Sacramento media at the time. “You always got to be ready for the possibility of a great trade that could come your way.”

That statement didn’t sit well with the players, specifically Cousins or his agent, who had issues with the coaching legend in the past. Karl would later apologize for the comment, but not before trying to move his star player during the summer, which Walberg confirmed during the taping of the podcast.

“The thought was maybe to try to do what we did in Denver when they flipped Carmelo, that changed Denver pretty big time,” Walberg explained. “See if there is somebody out there that would want to flip DeMarcus.”

According to Walberg, then general manager Pete D'Alessandro was in the room for the discussion. He would leave the Kings organization shortly thereafter and made it known, at least to his new employers in Denver, that Cousins was on the block.

The idea got out in the open, which tattered the relationship between Cousins and Karl before it ever really had a chance to get going. Cousins even turned to social media with an incredibly cryptic tweet aimed at his head coach.

Karl defended his decision during the interview. The Kings lacked talent and the idea was to potentially trade Cousins in a deal for multiple players that might help the team win.

“I didn’t want to trade Cousins, unless it made our basketball team better,” Karl explained. “That was my job. Make it better.”

When the Kings returned after the summer, there was tension dating all the way back to media day and the start of training camp. Despite an improved roster, with additions like Rajon Rondo, Marco Belinelli, Kosta Koufos, Caron Butler and rookie Willie Cauley-Stein, the Kings got off to a rough start.

[RELATED: Can Richaun Holmes and Marvin Bagley play together?]

After dropping eight of their first nine games, including an embarrassing 106-88 drubbing at home to the San Antonio Spurs on Nov. 9, the media was held outside the locker room for longer than usual.

We would find out afterward that minutes before the media was allowed in, Cousins had unloaded on Karl in dramatic fashion.

“As soon as [Karl] walks in DeMarcus just goes off, I mean, off,” Walberg explained. “Coach hasn’t even said a word and it’s ‘F you coach, you think you’re an F-ing Hall of Fame coach, all the hell you care about is your wins, you don’t give a s--t about us.’”

According to Walberg, the rant from Cousins went on for nearly a minute. When the coaching staff went to management the next day expecting a 3-5 game suspension, they instead walked away understanding that Cousins wouldn’t be punished and their days as a coaching staff in Sacramento were numbered.

When the media was finally let into the room that evening, it was clear that something had transpired. Players were grouped together in their locker stalls and the entire feel was different than usual. And then things got downright weird.

As we prepared to interview players, rap mogul Drake walked through a side door and into the locker room with owner Vivek Ranadivé and team executive Vlade Divac.

The surreal scene played out in real time, as Drake tried to work the room and greet a completely silent locker room. His arrival was not well-received by the players ,and lasted only a minute or two before Drake hugged Cousins and then left the building.

According to both Karl and Walberg, this was the beginning of the end for the coaching staff.

“It was probably the rudest, the worst I’ve ever seen of any game in my life, what happened in that locker room after we played San Antonio that night,” Walberg explained.

The next day, the coaching staff met up and expected the franchise to drop the hammer on their budding star.

“DeMarcus and I had a confrontation after the game and we meet the next morning and we have a long serious talk that we can turn this into a win,” Karl recalls. “Because we’ve got to suspend DeMarcus and whatever it is, for two or three games, and maybe he’ll wake up that he can’t be the boss. We went in and fought very hard that we had to suspend him.”

That’s not the direction the franchise chose to take. Instead, they sided with Cousins and allowed him to resume playing under Karl. The message was clear.

“How are you going to have control in the locker room when you’ve got a player that can say and do what he wants?” Walberg said.

Karl almost was relieved of his duties heading into the All-Star break that season. He survived in the short-term, but Divac let Walberg go before the team played another game.

“He knew he could divide the organization from the coach,” Karl said of Cousins. “Unfortunately, if he knew that, then the players knew that.”

Divac let Karl go following the 2015-16 season despite the coaching legend posting a 33-49 record, which was the franchise's best mark in more than a decade. The Kings also were forced to pay out the final two years on his contract.

Cousins remained with the Kings until the mid-way point of the 2016-17 season, when Divac traded him to the New Orleans Pelicans for Buddy Hield and a first and second-round pick.

The story isn’t new, but the perspective of the events from Walberg and Karl is. It’s not often that a legendary coach gets destroyed in the locker room by an All-Star player minutes before Drake stops by for a visit.

NBA rumors: GM survey gives Kings another boost in postseason chase

NBA rumors: GM survey gives Kings another boost in postseason chase

So you’re saying there’s a chance.

The Kings got a boost in their mission to snap the franchise’s 13-year postseason drought Friday morning when the results of the general managers' survey were released.

According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, 83 percent of NBA general managers voted for the “Playoff Plus” option, which would allow 20 or more teams to compete for the playoffs.

20 is the magic number for the Kings. When the season was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic on March 11, Sacramento was in a virtual three-way tie for ninth place in the Western Conference playoff race with Portland Trail Blazers and New Orleans Pelicans. 

All three teams trailed the Memphis Grizzlies by three and a half games in the standings, with Sacramento and New Orleans still having 18 games remaining on the schedule and Portland with 16. Memphis has 17 games left, and the most difficult remaining schedule in the NBA.

[PURPLE TALK PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

What would a 20-team playoff picture look like? No one knows for sure just yet, but the prevailing thought is that the Blazers, Kings, Pelicans and San Antonio Spurs, who currently sit four games back of the Grizzlies, would likely go through either a play-in scenario to try to earn a spot in the postseason. Or, it’s possible the league would reseed the field as a whole, and allow the four teams into an expanded playoff format.

There still is a possibility that the NBA chooses to include Eastern Conference teams in the grouping of 20, but when the league shut down, the race for the eighth spot was all but over in the East, with Orlando leading Washington by five and a half games.

[RELATED: NBA rumors: Kings on shortlist for potential playoff play-in tournament]

According to Charania, there is a 53-47 percent split on whether the league should reseed the playoffs this season to take into account potential additional teams.

Only 27 percent of NBA general managers voted to pick back up where the season ended and bring back all 30 teams to finish out the 82 game schedule. GMs would also like expanded rosters for the postseason and an end date no later than Oct. 1.

Sacramento was playing their best basketball of the season when the pandemic put a hold on everything. Richaun Holmes had just returned from injury and was preparing to reclaim his starting center position when the league abruptly shut their doors. There also is a chance that Marvin Bagley will return to action after playing just 13 games overall due to thumb and foot injuries.

Kings players have been filtering into the practice facility over the last few weeks for individual workouts with the hopes of getting back in shape for a potential return.

While the GM survey isn’t the final determining factor, it is a piece to puzzle for Commissioner Adam Silver as he tries to navigate an incredibly difficult task of balancing player safety and getting the league back on line.