To say the Kings need point guard is an understatement.
The quest to find one has been an exercise in missteps. From passing on good ones in the NBA draft (Damian Lillard), trading away an All-Star (Isaiah Thomas) or looking for veterans to lead the way (Darren Collison, Rajon Rondo), multiple front-office regimes have tried to figure out who is best to run the Kings’ offense.
Thursday’s draft gives general manager Vlade Divac an opportunity to use one of Sacramento’s two lottery picks to address the position.
Sacramento’s affection for Kentucky point guard De’Aaron Fox is no secret. At worse, he’s the third best point guard available and seems to be an ideal fit. His speed and defensive instincts would mesh with what Kings coach Dave Joerger had with Mike Conley in Memphis.
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But should Fox be drafted before the Kings select fifth, that’s no reason to abandon the pursuit of a point guard. This is the position the Kings can least afford to ignore.
Besides Langston Galloway, who has a player option in his contract to return next season, the Kings have no point guards besides Garrett Temple, who already splits time between shooting guard and small forward.
So this draft cannot be Fox or bust at point guard. North Carolina State’s Dennis Smith Jr. and France’s Frank Ntilikina are also lottery-worthy prospects for the Kings to consider, as well as the unlikely scenario of UCLA’s Lonzo Ball falling past the Lakers, who pick second. There’s also a player like Louisville’s Donovan Mitchell, who some might not consider a true point guard, but would be worthy of the 10th pick if the Kings believe he can play the position.
Finding a point guard is paramount because Collison and Ty Lawson are free agents. The Kings might be able to entice one to return with a big salary to serve as a mentor or even the placeholder until the team is turned over to the rookie.
But you can expect Collison and Lawson to explore their options with teams that aren’t in rebuilding mode. Collison has spent three years with the Kings and has never experienced a winning season – including the last two in which the team rested players to improve draft position.
Could a significant raise from the $5.2 million Collison made keep him in Sacramento? Or will the Kings have to look to Lawson, who was solid most of last season leading the second unit and made $1.3 million?
The Kings will have plenty of room under the salary cap, but paying big for a free agent would not address the need to develop a player who can grow at the position with the young nucleus.
The Kings play in a division where they are rank last in terms of stability at point guard. Golden State has Stephen Curry and the Clippers are set unless Chris Paul bolts in free agency. Phoenix has Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight, plus the Suns drafted Tyler Ulis last season.
The Lakers aren’t a good team, but they still have D’Angelo Russell (who could end up playing shooting guard) in addition to the chance to draft Ball.
If the Kings are going to close the gap in the division and conference, they have to find their point guard and find him soon.
Kings draft glance: Point guards
Need level (scale 1-10): 10
Five prospects who could be available: Lonzo Ball (UCLA, 6-6, 190), De’Aaron Fox (Kentucky, 6-3, 170), Dennis Smith Jr. (North Carolina State, 6-2, 195) Donovan Mitchell (Louisville 6-3, 200), Frank Ntilikina (France, 6-5, 190).
Perfect fit: The Kings cannot expect Ball to fall to No. 5, but it would be a great day for Fox to end up in Sacramento. He’d bring speed, athleticism and a willingness to defend to a young group. Fox in Sacramento could be the key piece the Kings have lacked.