Sunday Musings: Change starts at the top for the Sacramento Kings

Geoff Petrie at the 2011 rookies press conference. (Photo: James Ham)

Vivek Ranadivé went before the NBA Board of Governors and pitched his vision of “NBA 3.0”. By all accounts, aside from the Seattle and Maloofs camp, the new owner of the Sacramento Kings blew away the league with a plan of global expansion that all begins with his new franchise.

I’m intrigued by the idea of millions of people in India tuning in to watch the purple and black. But before that happens, there needs to be a hard reset of this franchise.

That is what happens to a computer that’s become so corrupted from the inside. From top to bottom, a facelift is needed before Ranadivé and the NBA try to pitch the Kings to anyone outside the 916.

We need to see “Sacramento Kings 2013”, a complex overhaul of one of the league’s worst franchises.

I’m not talking about players so much and I’m certainly not suggesting that all 800-1000 arena employees need replacing. There are some incredible people out there that have been through absolute hell over the last three years.

I’m talking about how this team needs a new identity and a voice at the top. Someone who can attempt to rebuild this franchise from the ground up.

For the last 19 years, Geoff Petrie, not the Maloofs, has been the brains behind the Kings’ product on-the-court. It was Petrie who assembled the 1995-96 team that broke a 10-year playoff drought and it was the magic of Petrie that brought us the greatest eight-year run in franchise history.

There was a time when Petrie couldn’t miss. His crowning moment came before the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season when he traded for Chris Webber, signed Vlade Divac, drafted Jason Williams and talked Peja Stojakovic into coming over from Greece.

That team was pure basketball genius and to Petrie’s credit, the hiring of Rick Adelman to coach was spot on. Not only did Petrie sustain an incredibly high level of performance from that group, but he added pieces along the way that made the Kings one of the best teams of the early 2000s.

But it appears that Petrie has lost the Midas touch. Sure, the current Kings roster has talent, but the swings and misses are beyond egregious.

Drafting Thomas Robinson with the fifth pick, a player who refused  to visit Sacramento during pre-draft workouts, instead of Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard will haunt the Kings for the next decade. And bailing out on Robinson before the All-Star Game just compounded the mistake.

People will blame the Maloofs for that move. They will point to the millions saved for the Kings former owners by dumping Francisco Garcia’s expiring contract and they might even champion Patrick Patterson as atonement.

But Petrie did have a choice. He could have walked away from the final three months of his contract. He could have said “no, that is not how I want to be remembered” and people around the country would have applauded the former two-time NBA executive of the year.

Petrie could have walked away anytime from 2006 when the Maloofs began to make their intentions clear. Petrie was coming off an incredible run and he was extremely marketable. Instead of looking for a better situation, he stuck around and watched, while the Maloofs systematically ran the Kings into the ground.

It began with the decision to not retain Adelman following the 2005-06 season, a longtime friend of Petrie’s and the most successful coach in franchise history. Over the next seven years, Petrie turned to four new head coaches (not including interim head coach Kenny Natt). He was in the room when Eric Musselman, Reggie Theus, Paul Westphal and Keith Smart were hired to run the club. A string of budget picks for sure, but again, this was Petrie’s reputation on the line, not the Maloofs.

And when these coaches struggled with the players that Petrie had brought, he allowed the Maloofs to override the good judgment of his people on the ground on disciplinary issues. In fact, he approved the letter Paul Westphal released to the media regarding DeMarcus Cousins’ trade demand just hours before a Sunday home game then asked the Maloof family to cut Westphal his final check two days later when the letter was received poorly.

“However, when a player continually, aggressively, lets it be known that he is unwilling/unable to embrace traveling in the same direction as his team, it cannot be ignored indefinitely,” Westphal wrote in his letter released to the media.

Instead of backing the coach that put on “clinics” for season ticket holders at local gyms during a league-wide lockout, Petrie sent him packing after just seven games of a 66-game schedule, describing Westphal as taking a “philosophical vacation.”

Coaching decisions aren’t the only mistakes on Petrie’s resumé the last seven seasons. Remember Mikki Moore? How about the more than $30 million he offered Bonzi Wells or the stack of cash John Salmons made the first time around when he had nowhere else to sign? Petrie lived and died by the mid-level exception. And when he wasn’t overpaying on the open market, he competed against himself for his own players like Francisco Garcia, Beno Udrih and Marcus Thornton.

In the changing world of the NBA, this basketball legend has not exactly adapted well. The league has turned to the versatile player that Petrie used to pull out of his hat in every draft. And the league has turned to advanced statistics to define the search for talent.

Petrie has bucked the trends, leaving the Kings organization a step behind. Was it hubris or arrogance? I’m not sure that we will get that answer, but the modern basketball front man looks for every advantage in his search to compete – especially when he’s forced to clip coupons to sign talent.

It’s a difficult reality, but Petrie chose to stay in Sacramento under the Maloofs reign. Kings fans have lived by the mantra “In Petrie We Trust” and in return, they have received a 187-371 record in the seven seasons since the Kings’ last playoff run.

The new ownership group has a lot to consider when they walk through the doors of Sleep Train Arena this week. They need to come in with a blueprint for success, but also with an idea of how this situation got to where it is today.

Geoff Petrie had seven years to either fix or walk away from this once-sinking ship.  It’s time to give someone else a chance to fix the mess.

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About: James Ham

James Ham provides coverage through news analysis and in-depth interviews with Kings players and staff. James is also one of the producers behind the award-winning, independent documentary "Small Market, Big Heart". James graduated UC Davis with a degree in history and is happily married with two children.