Vlade Divac was true to his word, give or take a year-and-a-half.
Divac stepped down as general manager of the Kings on Friday, nearly three-and-a-half years after he told Ailene Voisin -- then with the Sacramento Bee -- that he would leave his post if the Kings weren't better by 2019. He said as much after Sacramento traded All-Star big man DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans in a deal that brought Buddy Hield, a 2017 first-round pick and a 2017 second-round pick (among other pieces) to California's capital.
“I believe we are going to be in a better position in two years," Divac said in a piece published by The Bee on Feb. 25, 2017. "I want to hear again from these same people in two years. If I’m right, great. If I’m wrong, I’ll step down. But if I go down, I’m going down my way.”
The Kings were in a better position two years later, winning more games in the 2018-19 season (39) than at any point in Cousins' tenure and since Sacramento last made the NBA playoffs. Just shy of 18 months after Divac's deadline, Divac is out and Joe Dumars is the executive vice president of basketball operations looking to hire a new GM.
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The postseason drought Divac inherited is three years older, and there's not much left from the Cousins trade. Yes, the 2017 first-round pick, through a series of trades, helped the Kings land Harrison Barnes last year. But Harry Giles, selected with one of the first-round picks Sacramento acquired after dealing New Orleans' selection, could be headed elsewhere as a restricted free agent this summer. Frank Mason, picked with the second-round pick from the Cousins trade, now is on the Milwaukee Bucks.
And Hield, the crown jewel of the deal, could also be on his way out. The sharpshooter signed a four-year contract extension in October, but that was before coach Luke Walton moved Hield to the bench and Bogdan Bogdanovic, a pending restricted free agent, into the starting lineup. Hield and Bogdanovic each played well in their new roles before the season was suspended due to the coronavirus, but are the Kings going to pay both of them as if they're starters?
If Hield is traded and Giles also departs this summer, Barnes will be the only player left with any ties to the franchise-altering Cousins trade. Those ties are more tangential than either Hield or Giles, since the Kings traded a player (Justin Jackson) who was used with one of the picks they acquired by trading the Pelicans' 2017 first-rounder. So, in three short years, it's possible the Kings will have very little left to show for trading a center who, at the time, was a three-time All-Star and made All-NBA second team twice.
The Kings are in a better place than they were when they traded Cousins. De'Aaron Fox looks like a superstar, and Sacramento was in spitting distance of ending its playoff drought before a disastrous skid to begin the restarted NBA season.
In this case, the Kings seem to believe that better still isn't good enough.