There is one time-tested way to drastically improve a team’s standing, stock and reputation in the NBA: acquire talent.
That can happen in three forms – through the draft, free agency and/or in trades, in no particular order.
The Kings have dabbled in all of it since their arrival to Sacramento in 1985. They have endured their share of hits and misses in employing hoop heroes and zeroes.
The free-agent and trade seasons have roared in like the summer heat, and the Kings vow to be an active player to up their game. Sacramento has the NBA’s longest active playoff drought, 13 years, but one player can foster immediate change. The upstart Kings, bursting of youth, skill and optimism, have become an appealing option, and the money is just as good here as anywhere.
The burden belongs to general manager Vlade Divac to upgrade the roster. He invites it. The irony is Divac knows firsthand how franchises can turn.
He remains the greatest free-agent find for the Kings, the first and most paramount piece for Sacramento’s reclamation and renaissance and revival in 1998, which ushered in eight consecutive winning seasons. But for every Divac or Bobby Jackson free-agent find, there was a clunker such as Arron Afflalo signing a two-year, $25 million deal with the Kings in 2016. He was released before his second season.
Some players were offered nice contracts only to reject them, including Bonzi Wells, a forward who sparkled for the Kings in their last playoff series in 2006 against the San Antonio Spurs before spurning a five-year, $36 million extension and later signing for two years with Houston, where his career fizzled.
A closer peek at the most significant and impactful trades in Sacramento history:
Divac on board, 1998
The Kings enjoyed not a single winning season and just two playoff berths in their 13 seasons in California’s capital before Divac was signed away from the Charlotte Hornets by general manager Geoff Petrie.
A center who could score, pass and inspire, Divac became the player anchor of the franchise, the leader, the captain, and, according to longtime Kings do-all Jerry Reynolds, “the greatest teammate I’ve seen in 50 years of being involved in this sport.”
Divac may also be the most beloved of all Kings. That same offseason saw the Kings sign Jon Barry, Vernon Maxwell and Scot Pollard as free agents, kick-starting the feel-good era.
Webber comes West, 1998
Chris Webber dripped of talent and charm, but the 25-year-old power forward also rubbed coaches wrong early in his career.
The Kings swooped in, sending club cornerstone Mitch Richmond, closing in on 33 years old, to Washington for Webber, who initially viewed Sacramento as the Siberia of the NBA. He did not want to report.
Webber’s father, Mayce, said Chris would report to the Kings and absorb his contract. Webber finally became a King, blossomed, fell in love with the place and last year said “that trade was the best move of my life.”
Webber and Divac powered the Kings and nearly got them to the 2002 NBA Finals.
Webber, Part II
The Kings re-signed Webber, who pondered free agency, in 2001 for $122.7 million over seven seasons, then the second-richest deal in league history.
This came after a summer of the Maloof family, then the owners of the team, posted billboards in town begging Webber to stay. Said Petrie of the signing then, “This is a great, great day in the history of the Sacramento Kings. Everyone knew going in we would either be playing ‘The Band Played On’ or ‘Thanks for the Memories.’ I’m overjoyed to tell you that the music is going to keep on playing here, folks.”
The sing-song cheer didn’t last. Webber’s knee gave way in 2003. He was in 2005 traded to Philadelphia for Brian Skinner, Kenny Thomas and Corliss Williamson. Said Petrie then of that trade, “He was an instrumental force in ushering in and maintaining an exciting period of basketball in Sacramento. We all wish him the best. The memories remain the property of the Kings.”
Cousins to NO, 2017
As GM, Divac had his fingerprints all over this one, a make-or-break move that has turned out to be a major make.
After trying to make it work with DeMarcus Cousins, a big man with big-time talent, Divac decided he had to remove the team’s most talented, if not disruptive, player in an effort to launch a new era. In four prolific seasons, Cousins and the Kings managed a best season of 33 wins.
The All-Star center was sent to New Orleans along with Omri Casspi for rookie Buddy Hield, some spare parts, and the Pelicans’ first-rounder in 2017. That pick turned out to be De’Aaron Fox, who was at the forefront last season, the club’s best since 2006.
Damaged goods, 1986
Kings management fell in love with Derek Smith’s skills after the Clippers guard scorched them for 35 points the season before.
Sacramento shipped guard Larry Drew and Mike Woodson and a 1988 first-round pick for Smith, Franklin Edwards and Junior Bridgeman. Smith’s bad knees stalled any progress, and he was waived during his third season after averaging 13.8 points in 116 games. Bridgeman never played for the Kings and Edwards rarely did.
“I’m a free man!” Smith said when waived. “I’m free at last. They decided to get rid of the corpse.”
Said Reynolds, the one-time Kings coach/front-office man, “That trade crippled us. It took us 10 years to recover.”
Big on Bibby, 2001
The Kings in effect traded the flash of guard Jason Williams for the substance and cool of Mike Bibby, and the move elevated the franchise to NBA elite.
The biggest shot in Sacramento history remains Bibby’s game-winner in Game 5 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals. This trade came a year after the Kings shipped Corliss Williamson to Toronto for defensive-minded guard Doug Christie, who meshed beautifully with Bibby and Jackson.
Hedo and Scot for Big Bad Brad, 2003
Petrie couldn’t resist bringing in a skilled big man such as Brad Miller from Indiana, and gave up fan favorites and beloved teammates Hedo Turkoglu and Scot Pollard to get him.
The Kings enjoyed three more playoff seasons under Miller before the bottom started to fall out.
Peja for Artest and unpredictability, 2006
The Kings, mired in last place in the Pacific Division, sent a proven scorer and the club’s longest-tenured player in Peja Stojakovic to Indiana for an All-Star and Defensive Player of the Year who boggled his bosses with his antics.
Ron Artest was great theater, insisting one moment after practice that the Kings were capable of winning the NBA championship now and 20 minutes later insisting the Kings are light years away from the postseason. The Kings competed in their last playoff in 2006, with Artest playing a paramount role.
But initially, then-coach Rick Adelman was miffed, saying then when asked about the deal, “I didn’t do this. Better ask the people who made those decisions. I’m just going to coach the team.”
Rock and a hard place, 1991
The Kings selected Billy Owens third overall in the 1991 draft, and then the Syracuse star made it known that he wasn’t interested.
Sacramento traded his draft rights to Golden State after a lengthy contract holdout for Richmond, who initially pondered retirement, crushed at leaving a sure thing in Oakland. Nicknamed “The Rock,” Richmond averaged 23 points over seven seasons in giving the Kings a legitimate star and a fighting chance. Owens was solid at best.
Charles Barkley in 1993 praised Richmond’s talents, saying, “The guy plays in a (bleeping) ghost town. They don’t even have TV in Sacramento.”
Thomas for nothing and less, 2014
For reasons still difficult to comprehend, the Kings traded the relentlessly effective Isaiah Thomas, a prolific guard and fan favorite, to Phoenix for a sign-and-trade exception, never used, and the rights to forward Alex Oriakhi, who has not played in the NBA.
Reynolds to The Bee in 2017 said the trade was “the worst in the history of the Kings. We gave him away. I still get mad, still disappointed about it, and I didn’t understand the reasoning. He’s the most talented point guard who ever played for the Sacramento Kings. That’s saying a lot. We had Reggie Theus, Mike Bibby, Larry Drew, Danny Ainge.”
Ainge era, 1989
One moment, Kings fans lustily booed Danny Ainge of the Celtics, an easy target.
Then they cheered him as one of theirs after the Kings acquired the guard and Brad Lohaus for Joe Kleine and Ed Pinckney. Ainge averaged 18.5 points in his 103-game stint with the Kings, providing star power for a team starving for it. Kleine, the Kings first pick in the 1985 draft, found out about the trade while his wife Dana was giving birth to their first son.
Out of service Pervis, 1990
A year after the Kings swung and missed badly on the No. 1 overall pick in taking Louisville center Pervis Ellison, the Kings gladly traded the uninspired big to Washington, in effect landing guard Bobby Hansen and spare parts.
Said Reynolds, then a Kings executive, “We won’t miss him.”