SACRAMENTO, Calif. – As he stepped to the podium Tuesday morning for his introductory news conference, Shaquille O’Neal reached down to goose Mark Mastrov, a long-time acquaintance and now a fellow minority owner. Just because.
This is going to be fun. And different. Probably unlike anything ever seen in an NBA front office, actually. This is going to be nutty, free-flowing, stream-of-consciousness Shaq who can make people love him or make people really dislike him or now, in the case of his suddenly updated Sacramento history, both.
This is going to be tricky.
The Shaquille O’Neal the Kings got Tuesday — glib, handling the attention as if it was Greg Ostertag, creating excitement just by his presence — is the one that will make a positive difference as a marketing move. He charmed, though it helped that one of his toughest tasks was responding to all the requests from media members to take a picture with him. O’Neal even apologized, with all apparent sincerity, for referring to his new team as the Queens a couple lifetimes ago during the Lakers-Kings playoff matchups layered in antagonism.
It’s the other one that could be dangerous. O’Neal bought into the new ownership group, at approximately 2-4% by Forbes’ estimates, not only with the understanding that he will have input on the direction of the team but with majority owner Vivek Ranadive encouraging him to speak up.
For one thing, Shaq does not need to be encouraged to speak up. For another, he should be very careful when he does.
It may not happen, but this would be a good time for O’Neal to hang back on the basketball front. The Kings have good things going on and the smart hire as general manager, Pete D’Alessandro, and the smart hire as coach, Michael Malone, should be allowed to work. Most anything connected to O’Neal creates the possibility of disruption and even outright conflict. It’s just who he is. It’s gravity.
Ranadive and D’Alessandro are saying all the right things about wanting an open environment around the team and welcoming the input, especially from a center bound for the Hall of Fame. It sounds good. But knowing Shaq, as many coaches and front offices around the league do, means starting a clock on how long before he throws someone from the Kings under the bus or gives instructions to DeMarcus Cousins counter to what the coaching staff wants. And knowing he envisions himself as a potential general manager of the future, and having once said he didn’t know all the starting centers within his own division as a player, O’Neal may push for moves without having fully scouted or studied.
“I think DeMarcus has had good people around him,” D’Alessandro said. “I’ve met a lot of those people. I’ve met his family. Great people. It helps me to have Shaq around, so I know it helps DeMarcus to have Shaq around. It helps the business side to have Shaq around. It’s going to help everyone. The focus is really that. And now we have a great young emerging talent at the same position. It’s going to obviously effect that as well.”
Asked if he expects to hear from O’Neal on personnel matters, D’Alessandro said: “I hope to. I’m a believer, much like Vivek, in that open flow of communication, and if someone has a strength, if someone has a perspective, every perspective is good, especially the perspective of a Hall of Famer like him. So I would hope so, yeah.”
The specifics of his role remain vague, so maybe O’Neal will primarily be a marketing magnet. Tuesday, when asked to describe his specific duties around the team itself and with Cousins, Shaq had no specifics to offer. The closest was “We will have conversations” (regarding Cousins) and “We will let the general manager and the assistant general manager do what they do” (regarding basketball operations). Ranadive did add that “We’re not going to micro-manage. We’re just there to support them and help them in any way.”