That Pete D'Alessandro has fled the Sacramento Kings organization after two years on the job is the least surprising news of the NBA offseason. It was obvious that D'Alessandro would bail as soon as it became clear he'd be answering to Vlade Divac, the Kings legend who hadn't worked in the NBA in any capacity for a decade.
D'Alessandro is a smart, process-driven executive with a really interesting career path, but it's clear he's not cut out to thrive in a Vivek Ranadive business. The Kings' franchisee has never stopped tinkering with his front office since acquiring the team in May 2013, eventually adding enough members that no one outside the walls really knew who reported to whom. (The midseason hiring of George Karl, a known personnel meddler from the sidelines, only complicated the issue.) D'Alessandro showed his hand by offering a "no comment" when asked about Divac's arrival once it became clear Vlade would be more a decision-maker than a community ambassador.
This is the craziest thing about Divac's arrival: According to league sources, no one but Divac and Ranadive actually understood he'd be in a powerful basketball operations position until a few days after the announcement. It was assumed that because Divac has extremely limited front office experience -- one year as a scout for the Lakers -- and deep business connections, he'd be a glad-hander instead of a personnel boss. Even folks in the front office, according to sources, were unclear Divac had personnel power until the big man said as much in the media and Ranadive confirmed. Imagine getting a new boss and not realizing it until a few days after s/he arrives. That's some serious professional whiplash.
Likewise, Chris Mullin -- an adviser to Ranadive officially, and unofficially D'Alessandro's mentor as someone who knows everyone in the league -- stayed mum when Divac arrived. Eventually, Mullin bailed without fanfare to coach his alma mater, St. John's University in New York. According to Yahoo!'s Adrian Wojnarowski, D'Alessandro almost followed him to serve as athletic director.
Instead, D'Alessandro is in a decidedly Mullinesque role reporting to Josh Kroenke in Denver and assisting Nuggets GM Tim Connelly. It's unclear whether Mike Bratz, who followed D'Alessandro from Denver to Sacramento in 2013, will remain with the Kings. The status of Dean Oliver, the analytics pioneer hired away from ESPN in the past year, is also uncertain. Likewise, no one knows what role Mitch Richmond (listed as a special assistant to D'Alessandro, officially) will play going forward. In an amazing turn of events, the team with too many mouths in the front office is left with essentially no one with deal-making experience.
USA Today's Sam Amick reported that Divac is attempting to hire Ryan West, the son of Jerry, away from the Lakers. But West is a scout by trade and lacks experience working the salary cap and war room. We're quickly approaching the most critical month of the season for any bad NBA team: the draft at the end of June and the free agency period quickly thereafter. And the Kings' front office is a complete mess.
If that weren't reason enough for Sacramento to panic, they also have a pissed-off 6'11 NBA All-Star on their hands. What the mind-boggling dismissal of Michael Malone did to DeMarcus Cousins' psyche was evident to anyone who watched the Kings regularly. He came back from viral meningitis completely frustrated and bewildered by the decision to replace Malone with the team playing much better than at any time earlier in Boogie's career. Sources say that frustration spilled over into the start of George Karl's tenure and even into the offseason.
Fortunately for Ranadive and Divac, Cousins isn't a free agent until 2018. The question is how Boogie will act if he wants out, but the Kings refuse to trade him. If Cousins continues to express frustration in the media and locker room and generally makes life difficult for Divac and Karl, won't they break at some point?
This is the reality pushing sharks like Danny Ainge to float up the Sacramento River and wait for their opportunity to pounce. There's no question Ranadive and Divac believe they can win with a team built around Cousins. They are right: That can absolutely happen.
But between now and that moment, they don't actually have to deal with a pissed-off Boogie every day. Karl does. And Karl has been around way too long to put up with petulance from grown men. That's the relationship to watch here. If the Kings hold onto Cousins through the summer (as is very likely), how long will it take before Cousins and Karl butt heads in a serious, harmful way? Can the Kings actually get good enough quick enough to avoid that face-off?
If they had a GM with a plan in place, maybe. With an inexperienced jumble of names in the war room and an activist franchisee calling the shots, that task is a whole lot more difficult. It's time to pray Vlade really does know what he's doing in Sacramento.