Where have you heard these storylines before – owner inexplicably fires coach, owner meddles in personnel decisions or owner fails to understand their product and consumer? If you have a favorite sports team or have been following sports for any length of time, all three of these scenarios are familiar to you.
Whether it’s a lack of competence or inexperience running a professional sports franchise, there seems to be a growing list of owners such as Jed York (San Francisco 49ers), Daniel Snyder (Washington Redskins), James Dolan (New York Knicks) and Jeffrey Loria (Miami Marlins), to name a few, that seem to thrive on making decisions that create a public relations crisis and fan discontent, which is exactly what is playing out right now in Sacramento with the Sacramento Kings and new owner Vivek Ranadive.
But before I go forward, let me preface this post by making one thing clear. I am eternally grateful for Vivek and the group of investors for keeping the Sacramento Kings in town and committing to build a new state-of-the art entertainment and sports complex downtown. Keeping the Kings in Sacramento where they belong was the outcome nobody believed would happen, and ensures that me, my family, friends and countless others will be able to cheer on OUR team for years to come.
That said, I think I speak for Kings fans when I say that the honeymoon with Vivek, general manager Pete D’Alessandro and company is officially over. The fallout began just a few weeks ago when Head Coach Michael Malone was dismissed after just 24 games.
I’m not saying Coach Malone was Red Auerbach reincarnated, but he had the team playing well and above all expectations. Early into the season the Kings were 9-6 against what was the second most difficult schedule at the time, and only started tanking after soon-to-be named all-star DeMarcus Cousins hit the injury list with viral meningitis. It’s almost like the Kings’ front office was waiting for the team to hit a rough patch so they could get rid of Malone.
A lot has been discussed about Malone not being D’Alessandro’s guy since Vivek hired Malone before D’Alessandro (his first blunder – typically the general manager picks the coach) or that Malone’s approach to the game differed from that of management. Those are both legitimate reasons to severe ties with Malone, but couldn’t the team have made that decision BEFORE the season started? The fact that they fired Malone without any backup plan, or at least they haven’t articulated that plan to the fans, has created frustration and lots of head scratching. Consequently the Kings are once again a punch line across the NBA.
It’s amazing to me that someone as successful as Vivek and his basketball operations folks could make such a miscalculation so early on in their tenure. Are Vivek and D’Alessandro in over their heads? If not, didn’t they factor how this move was going to crush team morale and upset a fan base that was finally excited about the product on the floor after nearly a decade of lousy basketball and so much uncertainty around the team’s future in Sacramento? It gives fans little confidence about their next moves.
Are fans being unreasonable? Should fans give them the benefit of the doubt that they inherited a mess of a franchise from the Maloof family? Maybe so, but having been a Kings fan since as far back as I can remember, folks are just tired of the instability and are craving the stability that is needed to be a successful professional sports organization.
In an attempt to show stability and alleviate concerns, D’Alessandro himself spent an hour yesterday speaking to Kings fans on the KHTK-1140AM morning show. Credit D’Alessandro for his willingness to speak to fans even, but it was clearly a publicity stunt to calm the storm and there was nothing in the entire hour that made you say…”Ok, I see where they’re going now. I see why they parted with Malone when they did.” No discussion about a plan, no nugget of information to give fans hope of stability. All it did was raise more questions than answers, further cloud the situation and hurt the front office from a public relations arena, where they are getting absolutely crushed.
Sports pundits have spent the past five years trying to figure out how the San Francisco Giants have been so successful. But behind all the amazing plays and moments that have led to three World Series titles in five years, you see that it all starts with the stability of the front office, manager Bruce Bochy and on down the line.
Look, Kings fans are tired of living in the past. Tired of retiring jerseys from the glory days of the early 2000s. The Kings are only two players away (Doug Christie and Mike Bibby) from retiring the entire starting five from the 2000-2001 team. With all due respect, how silly is that? It bothers me and should bother every other Kings fan considering all we have to show for it is a Pacific Division Banner.
Sacramento fans are over the rhetoric too. We’ve been hearing the same pitch for years now about the need to change the culture, improve the talent and the need to be patient. It’s time now to just show it. We’ve been patient long enough and continue to be as loyal as any fan base in the NBA, but we’re getting little in return.
So I challenge Vivek, D’Alessandro and the front office to step up their game. Be transparent, create a culture of stability and we will meet you there. Because this is not the fan base of 14 years ago. Back then, fans were living in awe of our success, but the recent few years has hardened us. We expect more and deserve better.
The quicker they understand this dynamic, the quicker they’ll start winning fans back and restoring faith. There is still time to fix this, but the clock is ticking.
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