SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Vlade Divac’s first coaching search as general manager of the Sacramento Kings was methodical. He talked to about a dozen candidates over several weeks and was ready to bring in three finalists for a second interview before settling on a pick.
That all changed when Memphis fired Dave Joerger on Saturday and a plodding search moved into warp speed. The Kings flew Joerger and his family to Sacramento on Sunday, hired him as coach a day later and introduced him at a news conference on Tuesday.
“We got probably the best coach out there,” Divac said. “I’m happy with the process. If I did it overnight or I did it fast, we’d probably end up without Dave. We took the time, talked to a lot of candidates and had the opportunity to talk to Dave, too.”
Joerger described the two days between getting the news of his firing in Memphis while in the parking lot at a track meet for his daughters to taking over a new organization halfway across the country as a whirlwind.
“It’s certainly been a wild couple of days,” Joerger said. “Bang-bang, it was a quick turnaround. We got out here as fast as we could.”
Now it’s time for Joerger to get to work hiring a staff, building relationships with the front office and players and heading to the draft combine in Chicago.
Joerger said he had already talked to players like Rudy Gay and Kosta Koufos whom he had coached before in Memphis and planned to talk later Tuesday with star DeMarcus Cousins, whose rough relationship with former coach George Karl contributed to this latest coaching change.
Joerger will be the ninth coach in Sacramento since the team last went to the playoffs in 2006 in the final season under Rick Adelman. But instead of fretting about the instability, he sees reason for optimism with a roster that includes players like Cousins, Gay, Willie Cauley-Stein and Darren Collison, a new downtown arena that opens next season and a front office headed by owner Vivek Ranadive and Divac.
“The team is on the rise,” Joerger said. “There’s still some heavy lifting to do but some of the heavy lifting has been done. This is not a blow up, let’s start over situation. We’re on the road to recovery.”
The Kings have the second-longest playoff drought in the NBA and more losses over the past 10 seasons than any franchise other than Minnesota. A rotating cast of coaches has overseen these struggles: Eric Musselman, Reggie Theus, Kenny Natt, Paul Westphal, Keith Smart, Michael Malone, Tyrone Corbin and Karl.
Karl went 44-68 in one-plus season but had frequent run-ins with Cousins and was at odds at times with Divac, who was hired as general manager after Karl took over as coach in February 2015.
With Divac hiring Joerger, he is confident that the coach-general manager relationship will be strong. Divac also believes Joerger can get the best out of Cousins, who is one of the most talented big men in the league with averages last season of 26.9 points and 11.5 rebounds per game but he was also suspended by the team for lashing out at Karl.
“It will be players, coach, front office on the same page. It will be a good environment,” Divac said. “I have no doubt DeMarcus will be on the same page. He’s our leader and our franchise player.”
Joerger also comes from a situation that was somewhat unstable. He was promoted from assistant after Lionel Hollins took the team to the conference final in 2013. Joerger went 147-99 in three seasons with the Grizzlies and took them to the playoffs each year. He led the injury-ravaged team to 42 wins this season, pushing them to the playoffs, where they were swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the first round.
Despite the success he achieved with the Grizzlies, he never was able to get on the same page with Memphis owner Robert Pera. The situation grew so strained that Joerger interviewed for the open Minnesota Timberwolves job two summers ago before ultimately staying in Memphis.
He expects a healthier relationship in Sacramento.
“The coach and the general manager are absolutely on the same team going forward like this,” he said. “There aren’t going to be any cracks. You’re not going to hear Vlade say something about me or me say something about Vlade. That’s not going to happen.”