Joe Maloof was in New York on a business trip when I reached him late Tuesday afternoon to ask about parting ways with team president John Thomas, and while he refused to say anything negative about his former executive, he sounded surprisingly upbeat about the changes. Thomas' eventual exit was a foregone conclusion, though until recently, the plan was to let him finish out his contract next year and then let him go elsewhere.
Things started to change last spring when Joe and Gavin Maloof became closely involved with the daily operations and were stunned by the lack of an innovative business/marketing model. And don't underestimate Colleen Maloof's influence. The frustrated/angry/troubled look on her face during games in near-empty Arco Arena last spring was priceless. These past few years, she would often vent to me in the corridors during halftimes, and in what might come as a shock to Kings fans, complained that tickets were too high for an average family to afford. Especially given the product. When the Maloofs re-evaluated their marketing practices and decided to become much more involved, their longtime friend and consultant Kevin Kaplan was enlisted to help.
The mood swing has been nothing short of amazing. The brothers are back in town, engaged, and enthusiastic. The marketing schemes are interesting - and some of them, very effective. Remember cheap beer night? Even the arena discussions are civil and seem to be progressing nicely. Imagine if the Maloofs had moved more quickly and extracted the much-disliked Thomas much sooner? Or done their due diligence - say, contacting a few Houston Rockets employees or officials? - and not hired him at all?
"We've taken a very active role again," said Joe Maloof. "Last year I had a problem with my knees and all. (Laugh) I guess that was my excuse. But I feel great, and everything is back to normal. Now that we sold the beer operation (in New Mexico), I've got a lot more time to spend with the Kings on the business side. It feels good to be back."
Falling On The Sword
The oldest Maloof sibling, who plans to meet with The Bee in the next two weeks for a state-of-franchise conversation, also dropped this humble little nugget: "We have to figure out ways to keep people engaged, to get them back into the arena. It's not going to come back over night. And it's nobody's fault but our own. We have great fans. They will come back, but we have to show them something. They'll come back when the product is worth watching, and it's happening. Spencer (Hawes), Tyreke (Evans). Omri (Casspi). Donte Greene. Look at Beno (Udrih). But we're really young, and we realize we have a long way to go."
A Few Other Post-Thomas Asides
* Matina Kolokotronis, who was named president of basketball operations, is a Chicago native and graduate of McGeorge Law School. She was hired as an outside legal counsel by former Kings owner Jim Thomas 14 years ago, but subsequently became a trusted advisor to the Maloofs. She has long had Colleen Maloofs' ear ...
* Kaplan, who hastily pulled together the opening night campaign that sold out Arco Arena, owns a private consulting firm that, among other things, and works with professional coaches and their charitable foundations. His dealings with the Maloofs date back to their ownership of the Birmingham franchise in the World Football League.
* During our conversation, Joe Maloof several times reminded me that the changes involve only the business side of the organization. "The basketball stuff is Geoff's (Petrie's) game," he said. "That's not changing."
* Small steps. The Kings co-owner said the club sold two suites last week and said he is encouraged with early returns on season ticket sales for for next season.
* One of the more successful tickets promotions is "birthday night."
* Appreciated Mayor Kevin Johnson taking time from his duties at the City Council meeting to comment on the day's (Kings) events.
The Man Left Standing
Though it was reported extensively during Thomas' early years with the club, his tense relationship with Petrie improved slightly. By the end, the two had reached an uneasy truce. Arguably, one of the best things to come out of Thomas' leave will be a warming of relations between the basketball and business sides. We're not talking Cold War, but maybe, a Silent War. It doesn't hurt that Kolokotronis is close with Petrie and Jason Levien, who works in basketball ops but has expanded duties as general counsel and senior vice-president. He is projected as the point man on all future contract matters.