There was figurative head scratching, confusion and in some cases laughter that reverberated throughout the NBA.
Are the Kings going for the league’s lone all-center lineup?
Of course that’s not the plan. But after Thursday’s NBA draft, the Kings, if anything, are equipped to play big in a league of teams looking to play small.
Consequently, the Kings will have to address their needs through free agency and trades because the draft put them no closer to escaping their decadelong losing ways.
The Kings’ first draft pick, Georgios Papagiannis at No. 13, adds depth to the team’s strongest position, center, where Sacramento has an All-Star in DeMarcus Cousins and a solid veteran in Kosta Koufos.
Free agency begins at 9:01 p.m. PDT Thursday, and the Kings might have to begin by reaching out to a familiar face: Rajon Rondo.
Many scouts didn’t rate Papagiannis the 13th best prospect, with some even seeing him as a late first-round, or even second-round, project. Scouts can be wrong, but using a lottery pick on a center when you have the best one in the NBA still is puzzling. Furthermore, players who might have helped immediately (point guard Wade Baldwin, guard-forward Denzel Valentine) were available, and last year’s first-round pick, Willie Cauley-Stein, is a center.
The third of the Kings’ picks, Skal Labissiere, is a power forward-center athletically in the mold of Cauley-Stein. Labissiere is talented, but like Papagiannis, he’s more of a long-term project, and the Kings have allowed young players to develop.
Such moves would indicate the Kings are preparing to rebuild their frontcourt, but that’s not the case. Sacramento still sees itself as closer to the playoffs than being the Philadelphia 76ers, largely because of Cousins.
But only two of the additional picks who will be on the team next season (shooting guard Malachi Richardson and point guard Isaiah Cousins) address urgent needs. And counting on two rookies to help end the Kings’ 10-year playoff absence is wishful thinking at best.
The Kings still need help at point guard, athleticism at small forward and a veteran shooting guard. To address those issues, they will have to make trades or convince free agents the team isn’t the center of NBA dysfunction.
Free agency begins at 9:01 p.m. PDT Thursday, and the Kings might have to begin by reaching out to a familiar face. By passing on Baldwin and point guard Dejounte Murray in the first round, the Kings must seriously consider re-signing free agent Rajon Rondo.
Mike Conley, the best of the free-agent point guards, will entertain offers from playoff contenders and would need to be seriously swayed to consider Sacramento.
Despite the drama of last season, Rondo is open to a return, so the Kings might need to sign him to ensure they have depth while continuing their search for the point guard of the future.
Scouts can be wrong, but using a lottery pick on a center when you have the best center in the NBA still is puzzling.
But the Kings likely will wait for the top free agents to sign and sift through the second and third waves of free agency and trades.
The Kings have players who could be assets on the trade market. There was interest in Koufos and shooting guard Ben McLemore leading up to last February’s trade deadline.
Small forward Rudy Gay is a proven scorer with what likely will be a below-market-value contract ($13.3 million next season) after deals are doled out this summer. The Kings could look to move him but would need to replace his scoring from the wing.
The ultimate move would be to trade Cousins, but that’s not happening because the Kings aren’t rebuilding, even if some of their moves indicate otherwise. So the Kings must determine how to get the most out of a player entering his prime years with two years left on his contract.
If not, the sound coming from Golden 1 Center won’t be cries of success, but sobs from an 11th consecutive season missing the playoffs.