Sunday Musings: A symphony, not a jazz band

Adelman and Petrie

The Sacramento Kings are in a dark place right now, because the front office and coaching staff weren’t able to find common ground.  Ideological and even personal differences were too great to overcome.  It’s a common occurrence in professional sports.  These types of issues are almost commonplace in a results-based industry such as this one.

Finding synchronicity between the two halves of a basketball organization is rare, but when it’s right, it is a beautiful thing to watch.  The golden age of Kings basketball wasn’t a jazz band; it was a symphony orchestra of greatness that the basketball fans of Sacramento long for on a minute-to-minute basis.

A jazz band is so similar to an isolation game in basketball.  Sure, it can be free-flowing and beautiful, but at the same time, it is about individuals taking turns showing how great they are.

An orchestra is nameless.  Faceless.  No piece is greater than the whole.  It is the blending of sounds that, when done right, creates something that is lasting and timeless.

The Sacramento Kings had this type of magic for eight seasons between 1998 and 2006.  Geoff Petrie was the architect of one of the greatest teams assembled, while Rick Adelman was the builder who took the pieces and created a masterpiece.

Chris Webber, Vlade Divac and Peja Stojakovic jerseys all hang from the rafters of Sleep Train Arena from this era, but the same could be said of Doug Christie, Mike Bibby, Bobby Jackson, Scot Polland, Jason Williams and Brad Miller.  The individuals were terrific, but the chemistry on and off the court made this team legendary.

Adelman’s time in Sacramento was incredible, as was his time in Portland before and with the Rockets after.  He brought stability to organizations, and, beyond the wins and losses, he had a knack for taking a locker room of players, many of whom had failed in other places, and turning them into something magical.

When Adelman left the Sacramento Kings following the 2005-06 season, there was no love lost within the walls of the organization.  While his players were devoted to him, he wasn’t one for the politics of the new NBA game, especially the interpersonal relationships required to keep meddlesome owners happy.

When the coaching icon walked away, he did so from an ownership group in Sacramento to whom he hadn’t spoken in months and a team that was no longer worthy of his talents.

Adelman would go on to coach the Rockets and the Minnesota Timberwolves after he left the Kings.  He gracefully stepped away from the game after last season at the age of 68 with a career record of 1,042-749 (.582 winning percentage).

Following the Adelman era, Petrie would search for another conductor to lead his grand symphony.  Eric Musselman, Reggie Theus, Kenny Natt, Paul Westphal and Keith Smart tried to fill Adelman’s shoes, but to no avail.

It was unfair, really.  For Adelman, the cupboard was never bare.  But in his last seven years with the Kings, Petrie was handcuffed by an ownership group unwilling to spend the money necessary to compete.

The Princeton grad was known for his stoic demeanor, and it carried over to the entirety of basketball operations staff.  They were a tight-knit group known for their ability to keep a secret.  Seldom did a bit of information leak before a deal was done.  If you wanted to work a deal with Petrie, it was under the guise of secrecy or maybe a blood pact.

Unfortunately, I was only able to cover him near the conclusion of his 19-year run in Sacramento.  At that point, he was a legend without a bankroll.  His every move was so calculated that you could hear the grind of two pennies being rubbed together.

Moves were made out of necessity.  One of the great basketball minds of our time was forced to make lemonade out of lemons for so long that carpal tunnel had set in.

In the end, he could only say so much.  When he stood in front of the media, he would tell awkward jokes, at which he alone would laugh.  It’s hard to toe a company line that even you don’t believe.  The sad reality was that the product on the floor was not representative of his talent, a fact he knew very well.

Gone was his longtime friend and coaching companion.  The duo had done serious NBA damage both in Portland and in Sacramento.  Gone were the fun-loving, spend-happy Maloof brothers, sadly replaced by a group barely holding onto their fleeting fame and fortune.

Sometimes you need distance from a situation to get a better sense of appreciation.  The era of Rick Adelman and Geoff Petrie in Sacramento came and went, but it’s hard to imagine it ever being forgotten.

The new regime is more than happy to throw around its dream of recapturing the golden age of Kings basketball.  It is a way of giving the fanbase a glimmer of hope.  A way of connecting the past with the present.  But also a long way from being a reality.

If they truly hope to achieve this goal, they have to put away the catchphrases and analogies, especially ones that make so little sense.  They must also put away the pettiness and infighting, get on the same page and make definitive decisions that propel the franchise in a specific direction.

Be it Tyrone Corbin or the next guy, the Sacramento Kings must find a leader and give him the necessary support and pieces to create.  They must temper their expectations, allow a coach to coach and show patience.  Even the Maloofs were able to accomplish this for a while.

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About: James Ham

James Ham is the senior editor of Cowbell Kingdom, providing extensive Kings coverage through news analysis, in-depth interviews with players and staff and daily coverage of breaking news since 2010. Along with providing original content for the site, including the Cowbell Kingdom Podcast and his weekly Sunday Musings column, James also contributes to ESPN.com and is one of the producers behind the award-winning, independent documentary film "Small Market, Big Heart".