Two of the men most responsible for keeping the Kings in Sacramento: Vivek Ranadive (left) and Kevin Johnson (right).
After years and years of uncertainty surrounding the Sacramento Kings—most notably whether the team would even remain in the capital city for the following season—there’s finally some clarity about the franchise’s future home.
Now that we know where the organization will reside, it’s time to take the next step in the process—building a consistent contender.
Going from the NBA’s cellar to its playoffs will not occur overnight. It’s a methodical undertaking, and one that should begin immediately. In fact, all indications are that it’s already begun.
Secure an Ironclad Arena Deal
You can’t have a king without a proper castle. Unfortunately that’s been the situation for the Sacramento Kings for far too long. The team has been playing in the antiquated Sleep Train Arena (formerly known as Arco Area) for years.
That needs to change…and soon.
Developer Mark Friedman on #NBAKings arena: We are on the cusp of doing something that is truly transformational in our community— Ryan Lillis (@Ryan_Lillis) May 15, 2013
All indications are that it will change. A lot of movement has been made on that front—some of it before the NBA announced its decision on the team’s future and some of it in recent days. In the months leading up to the league’s decision to keep the team in Sacramento, city management stepped up with a viable arena proposal.
The project calls for a new $448 million facility to be built at Sacramento’s Downtown Plaza. The city is slated to cover $258 million for the project, with the ownership group contributing $189 million. The term sheet was voted on and approved on March 27.
In the days since the sale of the team was announced, even more work has been done to secure the arena proposal, according to The Sacramento Bee:
City officials rededicated themselves to the task of completing an environmental impact report, a lengthy document that must be finished before construction on the arena can begin. The work on the EIR began about a month ago in anticipation of opening the building in fall 2016.
"We had to get started in order to achieve this 2016 opening date," said Assistant City Manager John Dangberg.
The owner of most of Downtown Plaza, JMA Ventures of San Francisco, is working on purchasing one last parcel in the mall: the Macy's men's store at the east end of the plaza. Dangberg said JMA doesn't need the Macy's location to build an arena, but removing that building would improve the layout of the area around the arena.
Friedman, the developer who's part of the Ranadive group, said officials are starting to sketch out ideas for the arena and the rest of the mall, which would be overhauled. He said the whole site could turn into a miniature version of New York's Times Square or Boston's Faneuil Hall.
A proper arena, like the one that’s proposed, could really revitalize downtown Sacramento. It should also draw fans to games, which would increase the team’s revenue, allowing it to spend more freely on the roster than its done in recent years under the Maloofs.
Increase the Season-Ticket Base
For years, fan support in Sacramento was never a problem. Even when the team wasn’t winning much, as was the case during its first decade-plus in the state capital, selling out the arena was commonplace. It remained that way during the Kings’ competitive years at the turn of the 200s and throughout much of the Maloofs’ tenure as owners.
However, in recent years, fan support at the games has waned. Part of that is due to the recession—people simply didn’t have the same discretionary spending that they used to. Yet another aspect of it was the Maloofs—fans didn’t want to financially support an ownership group that was so openly trying to relocate the team.
Well, the Maloofs are gone now and the economy has started to rebound. The base of season-ticket holders needs to increase, thereby increasing the team’s overall revenue. But just as with the arena, work is already underway on this front.
First off, the team is actively hiring more sales representatives to field calls for season-ticket holders.
We are looking to hire 40 P/T Ticket Sales Associates to start on 5/24! Scheduling interviews now! Apply at nbateamjobs.teamworkonline.com/teamwork/r.cfm…— Kings Recruiting (@workforthekings) May 17, 2013
It was also announced that fans can start buying season tickets on Tuesday, May 21 at 9:00 a.m. PT.
Mayor says you can start buying season tix Tuesday at 9 am— Dale Kasler (@dakasler) May 17, 2013
Mayor Johnson’s announcement in regards to season tickets was made during his press conference on May 19. Already there have been numerous fans publicly announcing that they’re either renewing their tickets or purchasing them for the first time.
@carmichaeldaveDefinitely renewing next week for year 26.— Jeff Glasnap (@kngsfn4lfe) May 19, 2013
@carmichaeldave yessssirfirst time season ticket holder now that i dont feel like I would be help funding the relocation efforts— Dustin Hefner (@DustinHefner) May 19, 2013
Those are only a couple of responses to the poll. There are many more where those came from. Not to mention the countless others who are purchasing season tickets without publicizing it on Twitter.
Commissioner David Stern cautioned Mayor Johnson when the deal with the Maloofs was finalized.
Mayor says he told Stern of deal last night at Warriors game, thanked him. Stern told him "you'd better fill that building"— Dale Kasler (@dakasler) May 17, 2013
Well, Mr. Commissioner, it looks like Sacramento is on its way to living up to those expectations.
Have a Competitive Payroll
In the last few years of the Maloofs’ tenure, the Kings simply didn’t field competitive teams. Part of that was due to some bad personnel decisions. However, a huge factor was the lack of a payroll in line with other NBA franchises.
The payroll was even lower in 2011-12. That year the team spent only $48.9 million. The Indiana Pacers were the only team that committed less money.
Yet none of that could compare to the 2010-11 season. The Kings spent only $44.9 million and had the league’s lowest payroll, with the next closest team (Los Angeles Clippers) having a payroll nearly $10 million greater.
Going forward, this needs to change. It’s not solely about spending money; it’s also about spending money wisely. At the same time, it’s difficult to correctly allocate your resources when they’re always in flux or when you’re not even sure there will be money to spend.
By having a new, deep-pocketed ownership group, the team can make decisions without this concern. There will still be the salary cap to abide by, but now the front office will know that it has a franchise willing and capable of at least spending money up to the salary cap.
Make Sure the Right Coach and General Manager Are in Place
Getting a strong ownership group in place is only half the battle for the Kings. The next step is ensuring that the right coach and GM are running the franchise.
Whether or not Keith Smart and Geoff Petrie are the right men for the job is difficult to say. Petrie was the architect of the Kings during their best years. However, his drafting and other personnel decisions haven’t panned out of late. Is that due to financial constraints that were placed on him in recent years that weren’t there during the team’s glory days?
As for Smart, the team in 2012-13 posted its best winning percentage in 2012-13 (.341) in four years. He accomplished this while dealing with the potential relocation, the absentee ownership group and the turmoil surrounding DeMarcus Cousins.
Should the Kings bring Smart back for 2013-14?
What the franchise ultimately decides to do with Smart and Petrie remains to be seen. However, it was reported by Sam Amick of USA Today that neither is expected to return, with two people new owner Vivek Ranadive is familiar with from his time as a minority owner with the Golden State Warriors named as possible successors.
If Kings coach Keith Smart is not retained as is expected, then Warriors assistant Michael Malone—a former assistant in Cleveland and New Orleans who sparked dramatic defensive improvement at each of his NBA stops and has interviewed for several head coaching vacancies – is expected to be a candidate.
Longtime Kings general manager Geoff Petrie is not expected to be retained either after the team's 28-54 campaign, and one possible successor who would certainly bring name recognition was on hand on Thursday night. Warriors legend Chris Mullin, who called Game 6 as a television commentator for ESPN, was in the team's front office from 2004 to 2009 and said he would be open to discussing the situation in Sacramento. He has met Ranadive several times but said they had not yet discussed the possibility.
"I definitely would (be interested in the job)," he told USA TODAY Sports. "But you know, it's something that's got to be the right fit. It's gotta be—they need my expertise…I'm not one of those people to go solicit it. But a guy like him, if he called me and he needed me, I'd love that."
Whether it’s Smart and Petrie back for another go, Mullin and Malone to break in a new era or a previously unmentioned combination, this much is clear: they need to be the right people for the job.
The general manger will be in charge of scouting for the draft, facilitating trades and sifting through the free-agent market. The coach will be responsible for molding that talent and getting results on the court.
Without the proper GM, the coach won’t have enough talented players with which to work. Without a viable coach, the team won’t maximize the players the GM brings in. Each one is equally vital in the long-term success of the Kings.
This is an exciting time to be a Sacramento Kings fan.
For the first time in years, the possibilities are endless—and I’m not talking about the possibilities for relocation. The team is here to stay for the long haul, it has a new ownership group that is committed and financially capable of fielding a competitive team and new arena is right around the corner.
The excuses are done with. We can no longer point to relocation as a distraction. Claims of the front office working with one hand behind their backs because of financial constraints are no longer valid. Fans can no longer blame low attendance figures to not wanting to support uncommitted owners.
Everyone is in this together: the players, the coaches, the executives, the owners and the fans. We’re all pushing in the same direction—back to the playoffs on a regular basis. The process may not be quick, and it certainly won’t be easy, but it’s going to happen.
It’s already begun.