Sports

Kings down to final interviews in coaching search amid Joe Dumars’ mysterious exit

In the old days of Sacramento Kings coaching searches, back when Joe and Gavin Maloof owned the team and used Las Vegas as a satellite office of sorts during the offseason, this was the part where all the candidates hopped on a Southwest flight and headed for Sin City.

Round Two of the interview process meant the owners weighed in, with a final decision not too far away. And if you wanted to catch a show on the way out of town, by all means…

But in this modern-day Kings era, where Vivek Ranadivé is on the verge of employing his seventh head coach in nearly nine years as the team’s embattled owner, there’s a decidedly less flamboyant approach to the process. Even if the end result — the league’s longest playoff drought that began in 2007 — has been the same.

In the wake of the Kings narrowing their list of coaching candidates down to three finalists — Steve Clifford, Mark Jackson and Mike Brown — sources say they’ve begun the second and final round of interviews in Sacramento. The first round took place via Zoom, and general manager Monte McNair, assistant general manager Wes Wilcox and (now-departed) chief strategy officer Joe Dumars took part without Ranadivé’s involvement. As our Shams Charania reported Monday morningDumars — whom the Kings hired in June 2019 — has accepted a role as the league’s executive vice president, head of basketball operations.

The final round of Kings interviews, which now includes Ranadivé, is in person in Sacramento. Clifford, the former Charlotte and Orlando coach who spent last season as a Brooklyn Nets consultant, interviewed Sunday and continued his visit Monday. Jackson, the former Golden State coach who spent the past eight years as an ESPN analyst and who was with the Warriors during Ranadivé’s time there as a minority owner, is up next.

Brown, the Warriors associate head coach whose team is in Memphis for Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals Wednesday, is expected to present his vision for this team that went 30-52 last season later this week. As a matter of postseason convenience, Brown’s interview may take place in both San Francisco and Sacramento.

Brown, of course, has been a head coach on three occasions: in Cleveland during the beginning of the Lebron James era from 2005 to 2010, with the Kobe Bryant Lakers in the 2011-12 season and six games of the 2012-13 campaign, and then again with the cavas after James was gone in the 2013-14 season. Brown joined Warriors coach Steve Kerr’s staff — thanks partly to a strong recommendation from legendary San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich—in the summer of 2016.

Before we take a deeper look at what we’ve learned so far in the search, let’s go back to the Dumars component for a moment. To state the obvious here, it’s quite unorthodox to have a high-ranking team official head for the successes just days after his voice was taken into consideration during a coaching search. But Dumars’ contract was expiring, and I’m told he wanted more direct control over the front office if he was going to return. In Dumars’ desired structure, McNair would have reported to him rather than Ranadivé.

Ranadivé didn’t share an interest in that sort of setup, and now Dumars has opted for this prominent role with the league. Considering the bizarre way the Kings’ GM search unfolded nearly two years ago, when Dumars showed strong signs of wanting the job he would later play a pivotal part in filling, none of this should come as a surprise. A source with knowledge of the situation said it does not appear Dumars’ role will be filled.

So, what does all of this mean for the Kings’ purposes? The questions around the league about whether or not McNair was truly leading the front office should subside. Dumars was far more influential than his opaque title suggested, and his true place in the Kings’ power structure had been a matter of great debate among rival executives for quite some time now.

In terms of the final decision, this much is clear: The Kings’ next head coach will have a strong track record of building a good defense. Clifford, Jackson and Brown are all known as strong defense-first coaches, and it makes perfect sense that McNair & Co. would want to finally fix what ails them on that end of the floor. Consider this little bit of historical context that you have to see to believe: Per NBA.com/stats, here are the Kings’ defensive rankings (and accompanying coaches) since the 2005-06 season, when they were last in the playoffs and 11th in defense during Rick Adelman’s final season…

22 (under Eric Musselman)

25 (Reggie Theus)

30 (Theus, Kenny Natt)

23, 20 (Paul Westphal)

29 (Westphal, Keith Smart)

29 (Smart)

23 (Michael Malone)

27 (Malone, Ty Corbin, George Karl)

22 (Karl)

26, 27, 21 (Dave Joerger)

19, 30 (Luke Walton)

27 (Walton, Alvin Gentry)

The (latest) coach to try and turn this trend, it seems, isn’t far away.

(Photo of Vivek Ranadivé and Alvin Gentry: Noah Graham / NBAE via Getty Images)

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