The Kings have a modern arena, a front office, a coaching staff, no more concerns about a certain volatile center, and on Thursday evening, two more chances to get this right.
They can’t blow this, can they?
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For the first time in franchise history – and after years of futility and ill-advised personnel moves – the Kings have two lottery picks in Thursday’s 4 p.m. NBA draft and a chance to at least halt the decades-long downward skid. Though the annual talent grab doesn’t feature a prospect the caliber of LeBron James or Kevin Durant, not one that has been identified, anyway, the Class of 2017 is widely regarded among the deepest drafts in several summers.
Barring a last-minute, too-tempting development, general manager Vlade Divac’s plan is to retain the Nos. 5 and 10 picks and select the best available player.
“Our needs are point guard and small forward, but you have to be open to all possibilities,” he said, referencing his multiple moves during the previous draft. “If you look at our roster now, obviously, we have big guys and shooting guards. We’ll see what happens during the draft and use free agency to balance out the team.”
But remember that “no man is an island concept?” Well, grab a towel and find a shade tree. Things nonetheless figure to get hot and crazy Thursday. While most mock drafts have the Kings selecting Kentucky point guard De’Aaron Fox and Gonzaga power forward Zach Collins, in that order, recent trade activity (and front office upheaval) hints at a more unpredictable draft than usual.
With Philadelphia trading up to No. 1 for Markelle Fultz and the Lakers expected to draft UCLA’s Lonzo Ball at No. 2, the next picks by Boston and Phoenix are expected to come from a group that includes Fox and small forwards Jayson Tatum and Josh Jackson.
The Kings would be delighted with either Jackson or Fox. Jackson is a supreme athlete who impressed team officials here last week, while Fox is blur of a point guard who never lost an interview. Divac also likes North Carolina State point guard Dennis Smith, though probably not among his top five.
But again, be mindful of the already frenetic nature of this summer’s event. Within the past few weeks the following developments have occurred: Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka took over the Lakers’ front office; Golden State Warriors adviser Jerry West left for a similar position with the Clippers; Cleveland Cavaliers GM David Griffin, who assembled the squad that captured the 2016 NBA championship, resigned after repeated failed attempts to secure a contract extension.
The pre-draft chatter also has included the trades of D’Angelo Russell, Brook Lopez and Dwight Howard, and increasing speculation about the futures of Kevin Love, Kristaps Porzingis, Kyrie Irving, Paul George and Jimmy Butler.
For the league’s 30 GMs, part of prepping for the 2017 draft and free agency means setting up for 2018, when George and James, among others, can enter the market.
“People always forget that there is more to building a team than the draft,” West reminded during the NBA Finals. “How many high first-round picks are successful? Go back and look. Just go back and look. Signing the right free agents and making the right trades are just as important.”
And by the way: The Kings are being mentioned in trade rumors and free agency posturing (Paul Millsap) for obvious reasons. Their roster purge (Anthony Tolliver, Langston Galloway, Ben McLemore and likely Arron Afflalo) leaves them well below the projected salary cap mandates for 2017-18.
But that doesn’t preclude sticking with a youth movement. Along with the two first-rounders and a second-round pick (34), the Kings expect Serbian guard Bogdan Bogdanovic to exercise his $850,000 buyout with Fenerbahce in Turkey and to begin negotiating a free agent contract on July 1.
Divac opted for a complete reboot when he traded DeMarcus Cousins at midseason. It starts in earnest Thursday.