The 'Doncic enigma': the fall of Divac and the shadow of Milicic

The Kings will no longer have Divac as general manager after his terrible time through the bubble. Decisions from the past corner the franchise.


Vlade Divac, one of the greats in the history of European basketball, will leave his position as general manager of the Sacramento Kings after five years of disappointment in the Californian franchise, right now an example of dysfunction and a team on the way to equaling the worst record of seasons in a row without playoffs: in 14, the Clippers linked 15 from Buffalo Braves to LA, passing through San Diego (1977-1991) .

The 3-5 in the bubble, where the team has not given the level when it had found (the new play in) a second bullet to look for the qualifiers, has finished the course at 31-41, a sad 43% of victories in a season in which they dreamed of a step forward that would put the team, at least, in the fight to return to the playoffs. In the fight for relevance. The green shoots of the second section of last season (47.6% of victories) have come to nothing. And Vlade Divac, a legend of the Kings due to his time as a player (1998-2004) in a team that could be champion, has left despite having a contract until the summer of 2023. Owner Vivek Ranadive will pay his full salary to a Divac who did not want to leave but did not accept that his power plot would be seriously diminished.

Divac falls, Joe Dumars rises

The key figure in this movement is Joe Dumars. The legendary guard of the Bad Boys of Detroit Pistons, champion in 1989 and 1990, and a manager who debuted (left the tracks in 1999) with a very good foot in the MoTown: Executive of the Year in 2003, champion in 2004. Then he suffered setbacks and walked out the back door of Detroit but left on his resume the ability, or so they say, to create a strong and functional office structure. The Pistons were also finalists for the East six seasons in a row (2003-08). Ranadive's adviser since June 2019, the relationship between the two had narrowed to the point of raising many suspicions in the NBA: the changing of the guard seemed paid, the failure of the bubble has accelerated it. Dumars now serves as vice president of operations and general manager on an interim basis. Your first job should be to find someone to run the day-to-day business. The second, to see what he does with a Luke Walton whose first season on the bench has been a disaster and who has a contract (as Divac) until 2023. In principle, and according to journalist Sam Amick, Walton is not in danger. For now. But when the new general manager arrives…

Divac is blamed for never wanting to surround himself with a strong team to help him in areas (salary cap, pre-draft workouts…) in which he had very little experience. Now, without any intention of giving ground in decision-making, he is leaving a very dark legacy as an executive. Despite the fact that in 2017 he seemed to set the course with the transfer of DeMarcus Cousins in February and the arrival of D'Aaron Fox in the draft, in June (number 5). The new directive will have to deal with the extension of the base contract, an almost all star that will come out at the maximum contract price or almost, almost maximum. And the continuity of Bogdan Bogdanovic, who is a restricted free agent and whose value will have to be analyzed very calmly in case the market shakes a strong bid for the Serbian. Many fans breathe easy as they pull Divac out of those momentous decisions. Last summer, in an attempt to solidify a team that seemed on the rise, Divac signed a gruesome strategy: 85 million for four years for Harrison Barnes, 37x3 for Cory Joseph, 25x2 for Trevor Ariza, 40x3 for Dewayne Dedmon and a 94x4 spread. for Buddy Hield.

Luka Doncic's long shadow

Those movements demanded a competitiveness that has barely appeared, although the team had improved just before the break in March after a dire start to the season. Marvin Bagley, number 2 in the 2018 draft, has once again had a season marked by injuries: He has only played 13 games, which leaves him at 75 in two seasons, just 10 as a starter. Between defensive loopholes and an obvious inability to threaten on the outside and open the court, he has averaged almost 15 points and 8 rebounds in the NBA. He is not a hopeless case and he can be a 20 + 10 player if he matures ... and injuries respect him. But he took No. 2 in the draft, behind DeAndre Ayton (Phoenix Suns) and ahead of Trae Young, Jaren Jackson Jr, Shai Gilgeous Alexander, a Michael Porter now on the rise… and ahead of Luka Doncic. The departure of Vlade Divac, and surely his career as an executive in the NBA (if it continues) will always be linked to the non-election of Luka Doncic, whom the Hawks took with the 3 and sent the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for Trae Young (5) and a 2019 first round (it was Cam Reddish) .

John Hollinger, who at the time worked in the Grizzlies' offices, explains in The Athletic that at the time it was so obvious that the Kings would choose Doncic that when it was learned that they could not do so, many suspicions were aroused: would the Kings know something that the rest no? The European (and Balkan) connection was obvious: Divac was accompanied on his team by Peja Stojakovic and Peja Drobnjak. They had the advantages of culture and language, they were assumed to be less giddy when it came to evaluating European talent, and they had had no trouble adding Bogdan Bogdanovic (before) and Nemanja Bjelica (after that draft) to the roster. Divac even dared to draft Greek Georgios Papagiannis with number 13 in the 2016 draft. The center is now a (discreet) player for Panathinaikos.

The Kings bet with Bagley and every Doncic game (and it comes out almost one a night) is a blow to the walls of the franchise offices. In the bubble there was a direct duel. With Bagley injured, the Slovenian gave what could have been his team 34 points, 20 rebounds and 12 assists. Doncic's shadow lengthened over Divac as Joe Dumars's ideas nestled in Ranadive's head. Interestingly, Dumars is haunted by a similar shadow in his career in the offices. The irony is obvious, although the former guard can at least boast of the 2004 title, the unlikely submission of the Lakers of Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, Karl Malone ... Dumars chose with number 2 of a historic draft, that of 2003, to Darko Milicic. One of the worst mistakes ever: No. 1 was LeBron James, the Pistons gave Milicic No. 2, and right after Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade were selected.

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