Vlade Divac's growth into GM job has Kings heading in right direction


Vlade Divac's growth into GM job has Kings heading in right direction

SACRAMENTO -- A lone microphone sat perched on a table when media members assembled for a post-NBA trade deadline press briefing Thursday afternoon at Golden 1 Center. All 7 feet of Kings' general manager Vlade Divac lumbered up onto the stage, sat down and, in classic fashion, made jokes.

“Two days ago, I had a better deal, but it didn’t go through,” Divac said with a smile after further transforming the Kings' roster at the NBA trade deadline.

Of course, Divac was taking a self-deprecating jab at himself. Those are the words he spoke following the deadline trade of DeMarcus Cousins two years ago, and they went viral and made him a target around the league.

Divac has come a long way since that moment, and he continues to grow into his role. The fact that he was sitting alone on the stage speaks volumes about how far he has come.

Like raising a child, running an NBA franchise takes an army. But someone has to lead the way.

Standing along the side wall during the press conference was Ken Catanella, one of Divac’s three assistant GMs. Known for his work with the salary cap, Catanella had plenty to do with the Kings’ position coming into the trade deadline.

“I’m so thankful for the people that work with me,” Divac said. “I think we did a great job preparing ourselves for this time. We did a great job as a team.”

A series of conservative short-term deals allowed Sacramento to leverage expiring contracts and its existing $11 million in cap space as assets to acquire Harrison Barnes from the Dallas Mavericks.

Iman Shumpert’s expiring contract yielded Alec Burks and a second-round draft pick in a three-team trade with the Houston Rockets and the Cleveland Cavaliers. None of these deals would have worked without budget-conscious Catanella.

[RELATED: Kings praise Shump's leadership after he's traded away]

Brandon Williams and Peja Stojakovic stayed behind the scenes, but both were instrumental in supporting Divac as he navigated the treacherous trade deadline waters.

“It’s very easy to execute when you have a group of people that know each other very well,” Divac added while jokingly pointing out that Catanella was getting a raise for being the only one who showed up at the press conference to support him.

Divac and his team had a clear set of objectives coming into the season as to how they would approach their assets. Initially, they were looking to leverage their expiring contracts and massive cap space to perhaps gain back a 2019 draft pick.

With the team winning, goals shifted, but the Kings’ front office never lost sight of the basic principles that have allowed the franchise to take giant leaps forward in their rebuild.

“Our focus going into this process was to improve our team and not jeopardize our future,” Divac said. “I think we achieved exactly what we tried. We brought talent that is going to help us be a better team, not just for now, but moving forward.”

Sacramento came into the deadline with a glaring hole at small forward, as well as a need for more talent. Shumpert was undersized for the position, and second-year forward Justin Jackson, who went to Dallas in the Barnes trade, wasn’t ready to take on the role full time.

After making it through the first half of the season with eight players on rookie scale contracts, Divac looked for and found a seasoned veteran who matched the team’s age arc.

At 26 years old, Barnes checked a lot of boxes for the Kings. He has the size and physical tools to step in and help right away. Also, his $24.1 million salary for this season with a player option next season at $25.1 million is manageable considering the team's overall cap structure.

“I see him as a player who’s going to help us go to the next level,” Divac said of Barnes. “Everything else about his playing position or whatever, that’s for Dave [Joerger] to decide how he’s going to make happen.”

It’s a hallmark of Divac’s managerial style. He’s learned what he knows and what he doesn’t. While he’s had to play peacekeeper on occasion, he lets the people around him do what they do best.

Barnes will have a chance to see if Sacramento is a good fit. The Kings took a gamble that he will decide to stay with the team beyond this season.

“We want to focus on the rest of the season, and we’re going to talk about it after, but definitely, we have interest to have him here for a long time,” Divac said.

[RELATED: Relive the NBA trade deadline with our live blog]

Burks and Shumpert were a virtual wash financially, and the Kings picked up an additional second-round pick in the process. While it’s not an earth-shattering addition, it’s another transaction in a series of savvy moves that the team has pulled off.

Divac has made plenty of mistakes since taking over the Kings following the 2014-15 season, but he’s learned on the fly and made adjustments. He’s helped rebuild the franchise that he led as a player, and he’s positioned the team well for the future.

While it started off rocky, Divac has stabilized the Kings, who as of now sit only one game out of the Western Conference's No. 8 playoff spot.

Team USA 'understands' why Kings' De'Aaron Fox opted out of World Cup

Team USA 'understands' why Kings' De'Aaron Fox opted out of World Cup

It appears USA Basketball isn’t holding grudges against every player who withdrew from the program's roster prior to the 2019 FIBA World Cup.

On ESPN’s “The Jump” last week, analyst Amin Elhassan suggested that De’Aaron Fox would not be welcomed back to the program for future competitions, adding that he wasn’t sure what the Kings guard was “saving himself for.”

USA Basketball communications director Craig Miller took exception to the notion, telling The Sacramento Bee on Saturday that the program “understands De’Aaron’s decision” to withdraw. 

“Given De’Aaron was added into consideration for the World Cup team after originally being part of the USA Select Team in Las Vegas, USA Basketball understands De’Aaron’s decision,” Miller said.

Fox and Kings teammate Marvin Bagley originally were members of the USA Select Team, which was scheduled to practice against the national team as it prepared for the World Cup.

The duo was called up to the national team roster following a litany of player withdrawals, but ultimately, the Kings duo decided to withdraw from consideration to focus on preparation for the 2019-20 NBA season.

Skipping the event made sense for Sacramento’s players, as the team will play two preseason games in Mumbai, India, adding a significant amount of travel to what's already a grueling schedule for West Coast NBA teams. 

Harrison Barnes ended up being the only King who competed for the U.S. team in China, as the 27-year-old scored just under 12 points per game in 26.5 minutes through eight contests.

[RELATED: Team USA's cloak of invincibility has all but vanished on world stage]

Managing Director Jerry Colangelo voiced his frustration with the team's seventh-place finish this past week, and said he would remember all those who decided to withdraw.

Still, look for both Fox and Bagley to be in the mix for spots on the 2020 Tokyo Olympics roster.

Can Kings' Bogdan Bogdanovic bring World Cup stardom back to Sacramento?

Can Kings' Bogdan Bogdanovic bring World Cup stardom back to Sacramento?

Serbia finished off their 2019 FIBA World Cup run Saturday morning with a 90-81 victory over the Czech Republic. A fifth-place finish is not what the Serbs were hoping for when they entered the field in China. It was a disappointing showing for a team that came into the tournament with visions of gold.

Losses to perennial international powerhouses in Spain and Argentina proved to be the undoing of Serbia, but it wasn’t for a lack of effort from Sacramento Kings wing Bogdan Bogdanovic. In fact, the 27-year-old has been the talk of the tournament, despite his team’s early exit.

For the tournament, the smooth shooting guard averaged 22.9 points, 4.4 assists and 4.1 rebounds in 28 minutes per game. During his team’s eight contests, Bogdanovic knocked down 35-of-66 (53 percent) attempts from behind the arc and ran an incredible +100 overall in the plus/minus category.

Bogdanovic was the star of his team and possibly even the MVP of the tournament. He took ownership of his team and put on a show. More importantly for his team back in the NBA, he escaped the tournament without injury and looks ready to take another big step forward in his third season in the league.

It’s possible Bogdanovic will need to take it easy through training camp and the preseason schedule as he recovers not only from the World Cup, but the extreme travel schedule. He’ll fly to Sacramento and then back to India in the first week of October for the Kings’ preseason matchups against the Indiana Pacers.

The Kings have undoubtedly kept a close eye on Bogdanovic throughout the tournament to ensure that he returns to the States in good health, and they have to love what they are seeing on the court. Luke Walton is still learning his players, but like everyone else in Sacramento, he has to wonder if Bogdanovic can translate his international success to another step forward with the Kings.

This is the third straight summer Bogdnaovic has come to the Kings after playing in international competition. His rookie season in the league, Bogdanovic looked worn out early in the year as he adjusted to a new league. In his sophomore season, Bogdanovic missed 11 of the first 12 games after sustaining an injury during the EuroBasket tournament, undergoing knee surgery at the start of camp.

Now fully healthy, Bogdanovic will enter camp competing for minutes in a crowded rotation in Sacramento. The early plan is likely for Bogdanovic to be a key component in the second unit. He’ll have an opportunity to be an offensive leader of the group with veterans like Cory Joseph, Trevor Ariza and Nemanja Bjelcia flanking him.

How good can Bogdanovic be? It’s a question the Kings are anxious to learn.

He’s often drawn comparisons to former San Antonio Spurs star Manu Ginobili, who spent years coming off the bench for Gregg Popovich’s club. Like Bogdanovic, Ginobili continued to star in international play as well as with his team in the NBA.

Prior to his third NBA season, a 27-year-old Ginobili led Argentina to a gold medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. That experience appeared to work as a catalyst for the player Ginobili became in the NBA. 

He would go on to make the All-Star team for the first time during the 2004-05 season and he became a vital member of a perennial championship contender in San Antonio.

The Kings can only hope that Bogdanovic will have a similar career trajectory to Ginobili’s. With any luck, his latest experience in World Cup play will give him the confidence to be a more assertive NBA player and to take ownership of the Kings like he has with the Serbian national team.

[RELATED: How Luke Walton could use Bogdan Bogdanovic, Buddy Hield this year]

Sacramento could use a player that can score at will and makes his teammates better. They have seen flashes of this from Bogdanovic, but they need more.

There is an outline of what Bogdanovic can be. He’s a long way away from a real comparison to Ginobili, but if he can be the player he was for Serbia, he can be a difference-maker for the Kings.