An old trade could have come back to haunt Sacramento in new and more torturous ways Tuesday during the NBA draft lottery in Chicago, but fate chose to smile on the New Orleans Pelicans instead of cursing the Kings.
The Pelicans were awarded the No. 1 pick in June’s NBA draft after vaulting six spots to win the lottery. The Grizzlies received the No. 2 pick, the New York Knicks got the No. 3 pick and the Kings quietly conveyed the No. 14 pick to the Boston Celtics, averting disaster while completing a 2015 trade with the Philadelphia 76ers.
There were fireworks elsewhere in the lottery with the Pelicans, Grizzlies and Los Angeles Lakers all moving into the top four along with the Knicks. The Cleveland Cavaliers, Phoenix Suns and Atlanta Hawks all fell out of the top five.
This is considered a top-heavy draft. Three Duke players could be selected in the first five picks. Power forward Zion Williamson is widely projected to be the No. 1 pick. Small forwards R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish are also top prospects.
There was a buzz leading up to the lottery over the fate Williamson, the 6-foot-7, 285-pound phenom who dominated the college ranks in his only season at Duke. There was added intrigue Tuesday after Shams Charania told Stadium the New York Knicks would consider trading the No. 1 pick to the New Orleans Pelicans in a package for Anthony Davis if they won the lottery. Instead, the Pelicans will likely try to convince Davis to stay in New Orleans to play alongside Williamson.
The NBA changed its lottery system this year to level the odds, reducing the incentive for teams to tank for top draft picks. The teams with the three worst records — the Knicks, Cavaliers and Suns — all had a 14-percent chance of landing the No. 1 pick. Under the old system, the team with the worst record had a 25 percent chance of winning the lottery, the second-worst team had a 19.9 percent chance and the third-worst team had a 15.6 percent chance.
The Kings went into the draft lottery with a 1 percent chance of being awarded the No. 1 pick, a 4.8 percent chance of landing in the top four and no chance whatsoever of actually keeping the pick. The Kings had to convey the pick to Philadelphia or Boston to complete an infamous trade with the 76ers.
In July 2015, the Kings traded Nik Stauskas, Carl Landry, Jason Thompson, a future first-round pick and the right to swap first-round picks in 2016 and 2017 to the 76ers in exchange for the rights to Arturas Gudaitis and Luka Mitrovic. The Kings made the move to clear cap space in a failed effort to build a winning team around DeMarcus Cousins.
The 76ers later traded the pick to the Celtics with the provision that Philadelphia would keep the pick if it ended up being No. 1.
The draft considerations included in the Kings-76ers deal could have crippled Sacramento’s rebuild after Cousins was traded. General manager Vlade Divac has made a number of savvy moves since then to position his team as a playoff contender, but handing the No. 1 pick to the 76ers would have brought renewed embarrassment to the organization.
This is the first time the Kings have not had a first-round pick since 2003. They have picked in the top 10 each of the last 10 years.
Sacramento will have the 40th, 47th and 60th overall picks in the second round, but Divac could try to use those picks to move back into the first round.