Vlade Divac emerges as Kings' lead voice

Vlade Divac has quietly emerged as the new lead voice of the Sacramento Kings' front office, according to league sources.

‎Sources told ESPN.com ‎that Divac, who was recently hired by the Kings under the seemingly broad title of vice president of basketball and franchise operations, is indeed regarded as the team's top basketball official by owner Vivek Ranadive after months of turbulence in Sacramento.

The Kings have yet to formally announce their new power structure, but sources say that Divac has supplanted both general manager Pete D'Alessandro and former Kings adviser Chris Mullin -- who just jumped to the college game as the new coach at alma mater St. John's -- as Sacramento's lead basketball decision-maker.

The future of D'Alessandro in Sacramento, especially after the departure of his closest ally in the organization in Mullin, is unclear. Sources say, however, that the Kings have already launched a search to add another front-line basketball executive to work alongside Divac whether D'Alessandro stays or departs.

Other high-ranking officials in the Kings' current setup include assistant GM Mike Bratz, scouting director Chris Gilbert and director of player personnel and analytics Dean Oliver, who left a position at ESPN to join Sacramento's front office entering this season.

Sources say that Mullin began to lose sway with Ranadive after refusing the owner's offer to replace Mike Malone as coach when Malone was abruptly fired in mid-December. As ESPN.com reported at the time, Mullin had interest in the position but did not want to begin his coaching career after the season had started, without the opportunity to assemble a veteran coaching staff or hold training camp.

Yet when the Kings lost 21 of their first 28 games under interim coach Tyrone Corbin, Ranadive could no longer stomach waiting until the offseason to undertake the more expansive coaching search that had been planned. The Kings instead ramped up their pursuit of George Karl and hired him away from ESPN, where the 63-year-old was working as an analyst, during the All-Star break.

The hiring of Karl as coach, followed by Divac's surprise appointment in March, were Ranadive-driven decisions. The chain of events thus marks the second time in Ranadive's brief tenure as Kings owner that he has hired a coach before hiring his lead basketball decision-maker, as seen with Malone and D'Alessandro.

But Divac has been insistent in numerous interviews since his return to Sacramento that he is a longtime fan of Karl's and is determined to make the partnership work.

The Sacramento Bee reported earlier this month that Ranadive hired Divac over the objections of Mullin and D'Alessandro. Divac, 47, is one of the most popular players in Kings history after his role in the club's emergence as a Western Conference power early in the 2000s and had his No. 21 retired by the club in 2009.

Divac has also had much to say in recent days in praise of All-Star big man DeMarcus Cousins. He is adamant that the Kings will build a winner around him after the fifth season of Cousins' NBA career -- like the first four -- failed to net anything close to a playoff berth.

"I understand his frustration," Divac told The Bee in Tuesday's editions. "We need better shooting, more talent. That's obvious. And five years in the league and five coaches; DeMarcus needs stability. We're trying to bring that with [Karl], myself and make this a stable situation.

"But when I look at him, I see a dominating big guy who is not afraid of anything. He's playing in the paint, hustling, playing hard. I think he's unbelievable. George is going to develop his passing abilities, create more opportunities for him because everybody is moving around. We're going to help him. Believe me. Next year will be very different."

Divac's front-office work to date has been mostly overseas. In addition to working as a European scouting liaison for the Los Angeles Lakers upon retiring as a player in 2005, Divac has served as an adviser for Spanish club power Real Madrid as well as president for the club in his native Serbia (Partizan Belgrade) where he rose to prominence.

Divac also had a lengthy run as president of the Olympic Committee in Serbia and has served as a FIBA board member for the sport's world governing body. He has been known throughout his career as a unifying force wherever he's been, which is a quality said to particularly appeal to Ranadive after the Kings' longstanding in-house tension between management and the deposed Malone.

D'Alessandro was brought to Sacramento after working under Mullin in Golden State and as part of a successful cabinet with Bratz and Oliver in Denver under Masai Ujiri. He is widely known for his strong command of the salary cap and made numerous moves to attempt to rouse the Kings out of a playoff drought that has now reached nine seasons, most notably the December 2013 acquisition of Rudy Gay from Toronto and the signing of Cousins to a max extension two months before that.