With the NBA draft taking place Thursday evening, Kings fans bellied up to the bars at the Firestone Public House and de Vere’s Irish Pub, thirsting for a young player that will help their team out of a 10-year drought.
What Kings fans got instead were two trades that led to three first-round picks for players whose ability to help the team won’t be known until the 2016-17 season starts at the new Golden 1 Center in late October.
After watching the reaction to the first seven picks of the draft, the buzz built when the Kings were officially on the clock at No. 8 overall.
Some fans applauded when the Kings’ selected Elk Grove’s Marquese Chriss, a power forward from the University of Washington. Others shouted, “No!” when his name was announced.
Seconds later, ESPN announced that the Kings traded Chriss’ draft rights to Phoenix for the Suns’ 13th and 28th picks in the first round, as well as the 2014 draft rights to Serbian guard Bogdan Bogdanovic and the rights to the Detroit Pistons’ 2020 second-round pick.
From that point, Kings fans at the watch party had a hard time following the unforeseen complexity of Sacramento’s draft strategy. The crowd muttered in confusion when the Suns picked Georgios Papagiannis, a 7-foot-2 center from Greece, for the Kings.
With All-Star DeMarcus Cousins and Willie Cauley-Stein entrenched at the position, the Kings didn’t have a pressing need for a center.
“I’m very confused so far,” said Woodland’s Sean Gottkrau, 22. “It leaves me with more questions than I came here with.”
“It’s all really shocking,” said Sacramento State student Brianna Mallari, 19, of San Ramon. “All of this is so unexpected. Everyone had a general idea of where we needed to go, and that’s not where we’re going right now.”
Others wanted to give the new Kings center a chance before rushing to judgment.
“I don’t mind trading down, considering what was available,” said Keaton Riley, a 31-year-old from Sacramento. “I heard (Papagiannis) is a good center prospect. But I don’t see how he fits in with the team.”
With the No. 22 pick via a trade with the Charlotte Hornets, the Kings received the rights to Syracuse shooting guard Malachi Richardson.
With the Suns’ No. 28 pick, the Kings received the rights to Kentucky power forward Skal Labissiere, who would be the fourth Wildcat on the Kings roster if free-agent point guard Rajon Rondo returns, joining Cousins and Cauley-Stein.
Rex Hime, 22, arrived at Firestone more than an hour before the draft. Sipping on a gin and tonic, Hime said he was excited for another Kings season, “as much of a struggle as it’s been.”
The Kings haven’t reached the playoffs in 10 consecutive seasons.
Kings fans were not only present to cheer for their team’s draft, but also to jeer their rivals.
The announcement of the Los Angeles Lakers’ first-round pick, Duke forward Brandon Ingram, was met with loud boos from the crowd.
Jason Vu, 27, of Sacramento said the Kings would continue to outperform the Lakers this year after winning all four of their matchups last season.
“I think the Lakers are way at the bottom of the cellar right now. The Kings are ahead in the rebuilding process,” he said.
Fans shouted in surprise, then cheered after the Boston Celtics drafted Cal point guard Jaylen Brown with the third overall pick, and the Phoenix Suns chose Croatian center Dragan Bender with the fourth pick. The tantalizing possibility of the Kings landing Providence point guard Kris Dunn or Oklahoma shooting guard Buddy Hield was still in play.
But these hopes were extinguished when Dunn and Hield were drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves and the New Orleans Pelicans, respectively. In spite of their dismay, a few fans clapped appreciatively when ESPN’s broadcast showed a close-up of Dunn’s glittering silver Gucci sneakers.
There were more groans from the crowd when the Denver Nuggets drafted Kentucky’s Jamal Murray, taking another highly rated point guard off the board.
Then came the moment Kings fans had been waiting for, only to be left confused and somewhat disappointed with their first of three first-round draft picks.
Joshua Mandell: 916-321-1076