Sacramento Kings

How the Kings drafting Divac, Shaq or Magic 'would've changed everything'

Vlade Divac, selected in the first round of the 1989 NBA draft by the Los Angeles Lakers out of Yugoslavia, attends a news conference with his wife, Snezana, on Aug. 8, 1989, in Inglewood. Divac went 25 picks after the Kings took Pervis Ellison at No. 1 overall.
Vlade Divac, selected in the first round of the 1989 NBA draft by the Los Angeles Lakers out of Yugoslavia, attends a news conference with his wife, Snezana, on Aug. 8, 1989, in Inglewood. Divac went 25 picks after the Kings took Pervis Ellison at No. 1 overall. Associated Press file

If only the Kings had better luck drafting bigs.

In 1985, their first selection, months after relocating from Kansas City to Sacramento, was Joe Kleine at No. 6. The lovable lug could set train-stopping screens, but was otherwise average at best.

In 2007, Spencer Hawes at No. 10 was the pick, and he was an underwhelming, ho-hum one at that.

In 2010, the Kings went with DeMarcus Cousins at No. 5. While often called the best big man in the NBA and making three All-Star appearances, the team never found success with him and dealt him after the 2017 All-Star game.

In 2012, the team took Kansas' Thomas Robinson fifth overall. The 6-foot-10 forward was a bust, playing just 51 games for Sacramento before being traded to Houston midseason. In five NBA seasons, he played for six teams and averaged just 4.9 points and 4.8 rebounds.

In 1989, the Kings shot and missed badly with Pervis Ellison at No. 1 overall. "Never Nervous Pervis" quickly became "Out of Service Pervis."

The best center in the 1989 draft was from Yugoslavia. The Los Angeles Lakers scouted a slender, bearded fellow in European games and selected Vlade Divac at No. 26. He helped the Lakers reach the NBA Finals in his second season and later in his career was paramount in turning the Kings into championship contenders in the early 2000s.

Divac now makes the call on this draft as general manager of the Kings, who have the No. 2 pick. Oh how history could have changed for the team had it drafted Divac, which was never a consideration due to unfamiliarity.

"Most of us didn't know anything about Vlade then," said Jerry Reynolds, the Kings coach when Ellison was drafted. "I saw Vlade in a summer-league game after the draft and thought, 'Geez! He's really good. He could've been the No. 1 pick! Holy cow!'

"He was thin and mobile at 7-1, and he had small forward skills, a complete player. It was a credit to the Lakers to scout him. Back then, the Lakers and Warriors were the only ones looking scouting internationally.' "

Shaq Sac Attack?

Had it been more fashionable for high school players to jump straight to the pros in 1989, like it was years later with Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady, the Kings could have landed a gold mine.

The top-rated prep in '89 was Shaquille O'Neal. He attended LSU and was the No. 1 pick in 1992 to Orlando.

Shaq became a Kings playoff nemesis in the 2000s when the Lakers three-peated. When told years ago while in Sacramento for a visit that he could have boosted the Kings as a top pick in 1989, Shaq told The Bee, "I never thought of that. I would've owned this town!"

Shaq hopes

Reynolds in 1992 represented the Kings for the draft lottery. Everyone wanted Shaq, who left LSU after his junior season.

"I had a Shaq jersey in my hands under the table and prayed," Reynolds said.

The Kings picked seventh and landed Walt Williams, who showed glimpses of promise but never approached All-Star status.

A year earlier, Reynolds said he was hopeful O'Neal would come out early when he didn't go by Shaq.

Reynolds said then, "If Shaquille O'Neal comes out and if we get the No. 1 draft pick, we're going to take him. We'll show up in New York with O'Neal's name written on the back of a jersey. Then we'll learn how to spell his first name."

What did Reynolds do with the Shaq jersey he did have?

"I kept it in my closet for years," Reynolds said. "When Jim Thomas, the owner, sold the team (in 1999), I told him, 'You know, you really ought to have this jersey!' "

Magic twist

The last time the Kings held the No. 2 pick as a franchise was in 1978, when they were in Kansas City.

Following Magic Johnson's freshman season at Michigan State, then-general manager Joe Axelson arranged a meeting with the 6-foot-9 guard to gauge his interest about going pro. Axelson violated NBA rules that forbid teams from attempting to coax underclassmen into the draft but he was never fined.

Axelson told NBA Commissioner Larry O'Brien that no financial terms of a contract came up, though Johnson said years later that the Kings offered a five-year contract worth $225,000. Why else have a meeting, right?

Axelson gushed praise before the meeting, telling the media "Johnson could start for anybody in the league tomorrow. He's the most exciting college player I've ever seen. I can't believe God created a 6-8 man who can handle the ball like that."

Johnson returned for his sophomore season at Michigan State, won the NCAA championship, was the first pick of the 1979 draft by the Lakers and was at the forefront of a 1980s dynasty. He is widely regarded as the greatest point guard in league history.

The Kings in that '78 draft settled on North Carolina guard Phil Ford, who earned Rookie of the Year honors. His career was cut short by 1985 due to injuries.

Had the Kings been successful in luring Johnson as the Portland Trail Blazers were set on No. 1 overall pick Mychal Thompson, it would have altered NBA history. So much so that the Kings might not have relocated to Sacramento in 1985 due in large part to sagging attendance and a sale to a Sacramento group headed by developer Gregg Lukenbill.

"Would've changed everything," Reynolds said. "Hard to believe."

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