Less than 24 hours after the Memphis Grizzlies fired Dave Joerger on Saturday, the Sacramento Kings sent a private jet to fly Joerger and his family to Northern California. By Monday, Sacramento announced Joerger as its new head coach, reportedly agreeing to a four-year deal worth $4 million annually.
Before swiftly nabbing Joerger, Sacramento had drawn widespread praise for taking a measured approach that included interviews with at least 10 candidates for its bench opening. During the extensive interviewing process, Divac, new assistant general manager Ken Catanella and a few other front office executives vetted the candidates during an initial round of discussions. Sacramento planned to narrow the pool down to two final candidates before bringing Kings owner Vivek Ranadive into the fold, one person who interviewed for the position told SI.com. The former candidate spoke under the condition of anonymity, allowing an inside look at the Kings’ coaching search.
“It was just like any other room,” the candidate said. “You just have the decision makers in there and they just ask you a bunch of basketball questions. They’re just trying to get a feel for what you think, which coach has the right personality, the right type of system. It just depends. Each team, all the interviews I’ve been on, they’ve been all totally different. When I was in [city redacted], you had to do a lot of psychological tests and things of that nature. I interviewed in [city redacted] some years back and it was more basketball stuff. It depends on the GM and the president and the owner, as far as, Are they looking for a more personality driven coach? Are they looking for a more X’s and O’s coach? Or are they looking for a guy that has a little bit of both?”
Sacramento scheduled the interview four or five days after initially contacting the candidate and his representatives. As is customary in the league, the Kings took care of the candidate’s travel arrangements. “They fly you out first class, put you up in a nice hotel, car service, all that,” the candidate said. “They do all the arrangements. You don’t have to do anything, just show up at the airport.”
The interview did not take place at the Kings’ facilities, and the candidate would only say the meeting took place at a nice establishment in Sacramento. Head coaching interviews apparently are “no different from any other job interview you’ve been on,” the candidate said. He added Divac led a free-flowing conversation about basketball. “It’s not like there’s a list of questions they’re sitting around asking you,” he said. According to the candidate, the discussion centered on playing style and philosophies that were congruent with the Kings’ current roster make up. “What kind of team do they think they have?” he said. “Do they have a half-court team, a transition team, are they lacking defensively? And you kind of tell them what you think from what you saw in your research.”
Of course, as the reports filed out, candidates became aware of how extensive Sacramento’s search became. “You read the rumor mill,” the candidate said. But he did not inquire with the team about the broadness of the search or their recent coaching carousel.
“When you go in asking stuff like that, you’re planting negative seeds in their minds,” the candidate said. “If you’re interviewing for a job, you’re trying to plant all kinds of messages, but more so positive things. You as a candidate, for any job, you need to be careful about the type of questions that you ask them. When you start asking questions like that, to me it sends a message that you’re already backing yourself into a corner. You’re already assuming that you’re gonna be that guy. When you walk in that room, I’m the guy that’s going to change everything. You may not, but you have to go in there and present that attitude. Because to me, if you don’t, if you’re already coming in there with your tail between your legs and you’re already scared and you’re asking those types of questions, to me you would disqualify yourself. I would want a guy to come in there and think, ‘All this ends with me. I’m gonna be the guy to turn it around.’”
The Kings now feel Joerger, who appeared at an introductory press conference in Sacramento on Tuesday, is that guy. The widely reported numbers of his contract have raised eyebrows across the league, however. Scott Brooks signed in Washington for a reported $35 million over five years. Soon-to-be-rookie head coach Luke Walton will reportedly earn $5 million per year over five years in Los Angeles, while the veteran Joerger drew less annually with two fewer guaranteed seasons. “You agree on what you think you’re worth and what the team’s willing to pay,” the candidate said. “It sounds like a lot less. I don’t know. That’s all in the person’s choice—that a guy that’s established himself would take less.”
Divac certainly emerges from this coaching search with sparkling reviews. After a turbulent year dating back to a pre-draft rift between George Karl and DeMarcus Cousins last June, Divac now has his own coach debuting in the Golden 1 Center this fall. Kings fans are certainly hoping Sacramento can continue to forge forward on a positive path toward building a true contender.
“The coaching hire is a box that you check, but it’s too early to have any kind of expectation of what Vlade’s going to be,” the candidate said. “He’s just filling into the role. His first major thing is hiring a coach and, after that, it’s going to be what type of team he puts together, what kind of style of play, and the moves they make. That’s when you start judging, determining what kind of job a person’s done. With all these jobs, you’re not going to know if you took the right coach or players for two, three years.”