Vlade Divac on his run as Sacramento Kings general manager: 'If I’m wrong, I’ll step down'

Ball Don't Lie
If Vlade really wants to commit NBA seppuku, he knows who to call. (Getty Images)
If Vlade really wants to commit NBA seppuku, he knows who to call. (Getty Images)

If it feels like the pounding that Vlade Divac will take for not only his role in the disastrous DeMarcus Cousins trade but also his role as the Sacramento Kings’ answered-to personnel chief will continue to roll on unabated, well, then this is what happens when you do the sort of job Divac has as general manager of the Kings since 2015. This stuff just isn’t going to end.

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Divac is the subject of great ire (and, mostly for fans of the league’s 29 other teams, major fascination) for his team’s move to send Cousins, a three-time All-Star and 28-point scorer, to New Orleans over New Orleans’ own All-Star weekend in exchange for 39 percent shooting, 23-year-old rookie Buddy Hield and a first-round pick that won’t end up in Sacramento if it vaults into the top three in this June’s draft.

With the Pelicans now having lost three consecutive games to start its own Cousins era, New Orleans is now working with the sixth-worst record in the NBA and the very real chance that it may not have to send a pick Sacramento’s way this May, following the league’s draft lottery.

The Kings, led by owner Vivek Ranadive, are in danger of losing their own first-round pick to Chicago if it falls out of the top 10, and wherever their eventual pick lands the team will be beholden to Philadelphia’s swap rights, the result of a similarly-disastrous (in the same way that whatever caused the Chicxulub Crater was also “disastrous”) 2015 deal that Divac was behind.

Behind far too often, Vlade decided to discuss his rather rough run with a sympathetic voice in Sacramento Bee columnist Ailene Voisin recently:

Q: Well, the pressure is on you now. It’s pretty clear that Divac, not Ranadive, is making the personnel decisions. Some people still can’t believe Ranadive actually stepped aside and allowed you to trade his favorite player.

A: That’s my job, and I take responsibility. And I totally understand why some fans would be upset. They supported DeMarcus, and I like DeMarcus a lot. But I believe we are going to be in a better position in two years. I want to hear again from these same people in two years. If I’m right, great. If I’m wrong, I’ll step down. But if I go down, I’m going down my way.

Before, presumably, he goes down Ranadive’s way.

That’s all anyone can glean from this: Vlade Divac hasn’t charmed his boss in the same way that Isiah Thomas once dragged Knicks owner James Dolan from stall to stall. It appears Divac had to sneak in what should have been a loaded DeMarcus Cousins trade while he had Ranadive sailing on a whim, and this sort of blowback is the sort of thing you typically see as a result.

Following a terrible trade, of course. One that Hield, it seems, saw coming for weeks:

Whether or not Hield is talking about pre-draft visits or the two times (with averages of 9.5 points on 38 percent shooting in over 18 minutes a contest) he played against Sacramento this season, but we do know that (according to Sacramento’s newest centerpiece) the owner of the Sacramento Kings told a 23-year-old prospect several times that his team was “still gonna get” the prospect in question. Prior to DEALING DEMARCUS COUSINS FOR HIM.

That’s something else, man. That’s the Sacramento Kings.

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The push and pull here will remain fascinating for years to come. A 28-and-11 center in Cousins was apparently too onerous for Divac, the cheery and presumably star-obsessed former player of a general manager, to want to work with. Even if Divac hardly had to work alongside Cousins periods of time that lasted longer than a media conference or All-Star announcement ceremony.

The actual location of the 2017 NBA All-Star Game, as discussed by Adrian Wojnarowski during a Vertical podcast recently, may have shifted the relatively laconic Divac into trade-now mode with the Pelicans. Divac wanted Cousins out, but not so much that he was willing to burn through several phones in order to chase down his franchise’s future, and it took the setting of the Pelicans’ home All-Star facilities (in an exhibition weekend they weren’t supposed to host) to push Vlade over the top when it came to conversing and later settling on the second-best deal he could find (New Orleans Pelicans Division, ‘natch).

And all of this had to be snuck in while Ranadive was in one of his moods. It had to come with the knowledge that Hield, that 23-year-old rookie that Ranadive had spent several occasions whispering toward, was in the (almost literal) arena.

What an unholy combination of events meant to damn Sacramento Kings fans all to hell, in ways no follower deserves.

In the talk with the Bee, Divac recalls Cousins’ “history,” one that left far too many teams “scared” to deal for him. “I really,” Divac admitted, “did not have [good offers] for DeMarcus.”

The “[good offers]” brackets were added by Voisin, who attempts to help Divac land his way out of the jump that left him admitting he had passed on a “better deal” prior to the one that sent Cousins to NOLA for Hield and a protected pair of draft picks:

Q: Can you explain again what you meant about having a “better deal” two days before the trade? I refer to this as one of your Serbian slip-ups – something lost in translation – and included your clarification in my Sunday column. But you might want to elaborate, because that quote is out there in the ether.

A: When I was first talking with the Pelicans, it was about Buddy (Hield) and two first-round picks. I talked to DeMarcus’ agents (Dan Fegan and Jarinn Akana) to inform them we were having talks, negotiating terms, and they called teams and threatened them, saying that if Cousins was traded, he would not sign an extension. (Only the Kings could offer a fifth year, at a higher percentage of salary cap, because of Cousins’ designated veteran status.) They got scared and dropped it down to a second-round pick. I thought if I waited longer, I would get less. I needed to act.

He did, and due to circumstances Vlade acted small: Hield and picks, and not great picks. If New Orleans lands a pick in the top three of the draft this year and continues its winless ways throughout 0-82 seasons in 2018, 2019 and 2020, and the Pelicans receive the first pick in the draft throughout that same run, the Kings won’t receive a first-round pick in return for Cousins until 2021. If that scenario sounds ludicrous, consider Sacramento’s luck, and Cousins’ own history in pushing the Kings toward having to start (due to his “history”) with crummy return offers in the 14 actual minutes that trade conversations were held.

In the talk with Voisin it is revealed that the NBA had vice president Kiki Vandeweghe and former respected referee and undercover FBI agent Bob Delaney talk to Cousins after he needlessly earned himself a suspension with his 15th and then 16th technical fouls of the season, in the hopes of settling things down. DeMarcus, prior to the trade talks with New Orleans, refused to fully walk back the temperament that put him in position to be suspended for parts of the playoff run, before joking about his growing list in his initial press conference with the Pelicans.

On Sunday, in his third game with his new team, Cousins worked through a foul-plagued (for both ends, as Boogie attempted and made 15 free throws) night after earning his 18th technical foul in a relatively minor back-and-forth with annoying Oklahoma City center Steven Adams:

The foul could be rescinded, it probably should be rescinded, but with the Pelicans 3 1/2 games in back of the 8th-seeded Denver Nuggets with 22 games to play, New Orleans fans don’t really want to be banking on the whims of an NBA league office that has already had it up to here (*points at the 6-9 Kiki Vandeweghe*) with Cousins’ antics in order to keep their team’s hopes in the race with Denver.

Denver being, as you’d expect, a squad that laughed in Divac’s face when he wanted to turn DeMarcus (again, a guy who averages 28 points, 10.6 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 1.7 blocks a game for your squad) into Nikola Jokic, who wasn’t even starting early last December:

Vlade Divac, presumably, hasn’t had Vivek Ranadive in the room as much as his predecessors had to suffer through, but Vivek has been around enough for Vlade to notice what his team owner likes, and when the time is right to strike a terrible, terrible trade.

Divac’s past failures can be blamed solely on him, as the outrageous misfortune of the 2015 deal with Philadelphia will retire as an all-timer. The DeMarcus Cousins trade, however, looks like something altogether more unseemly, as Divac appears to have figured out that the lead boots he’s been saddled with just in his role as Sacramento boss, mixed with his uneasiness over clinging to DeMarcus this long alongside the always-unfortunate recognition that player agents would spit in your lunch if it meant earning another dime (or, in Cousins’ case, nearly $40 million) for their client … it all may have woken Vlade Divac up from whatever was stopping him from thinking that this wasn’t a nightmare.

Even Vlade knows this trade is stinko, it appears, and that even terrible GMs might be too good for the Sacramento Kings.

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Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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