In the weeks before the 2012 NBA draft, the top five prospects snubbed the Kings.
None would work out for Sacramento, even though it had the fifth pick.
Relocation rumors swirled around the struggling team. The combination left players holding their breath and hoping the Kings would not call their name.
Sacramento selected Kansas’ Thomas Robinson, even though he was among the players who didn’t work out privately for the team.
And after a season that coach George Karl repeatedly called “basketball hell,” it wouldn’t be a surprise if top prospects remain cautious as the Kings begin interviews.
Though players who hope to move up in the draft avoid talking publicly about teams they consider undesirable, some prospects are eager to talk to Kings officials.
“I’m definitely willing to meet with every team, any team,” Murray State guard Cameron Payne said Thursday during the annual NBA draft combine.
Payne said he is scheduled to meet with the Kings on Friday. He is projected to be picked from No. 10 to No. 25, so he said he’s not in a position to stonewall any team, especially one picking earlier.
The Kings have the No. 6 pick in Tuesday’s NBA draft lottery, during which they could move up to one of the top three spots or fall as far as ninth.
“I’m going to talk to everyone because I’m not the man yet,” Payne said.
Another player who figures to be available when the Kings pick is Arizona forward Stanley Johnson.
Johnson, a projected top-10 pick, said there’s no reason to worry about a team’s struggles or issues during the draft process.
Though agents and supporters might hope for the best fit and stability, Johnson isn’t concerned that the Kings had two coaches last season before hiring Karl.
“You’ve got to control what you can control. If you go into a situation looking at coaches and this, that and the third, you’re putting yourself behind the 8-ball already,” said Johnson, who hasn’t met with the Kings yet. “I’ll just go in there and control what I can control, happy they picked me and ready to work.”
Prospects like Payne hope to impress enough during the combine to force teams like the Kings to consider them. Payne said his background has prepared him for the possibility of joining a struggling team.
Payne attended Lausanne Collegiate School in Memphis, Tenn., as a seventh-grader before the school had an athletics program. By his senior year, Payne was part of a 25-4 team that won the Tennessee 2A private school championship.
Payne said he would enjoy helping build a winner. Payne declared for the draft after two years with the Racers, continuing a rapid ascension after not starting on his AAU team in high school.
Payne, who averaged 20.2 points and 6.0 assists as a sophomore, said his strength is being a crafty playmaker who can score when necessary. The Kings are looking for more willing passers, too.
Payne is familiar with the Kings’ past success and their current roster.
“They’ve got some great history,” Payne said. “Peja Stojakovic, Doug Christie, Chris Webber, Mike Bibby, they’ve had some great players there. Now they’ve got DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay. They’ve got some great pieces, and they need one more piece, and that can get them over the hump.”
- What: Annual NBA draft combine.
- Where: Quest MultiSport Complex, Chicago
- When: Friday
- TV: ESPN2, noon
NBA draft lottery
- When: Tuesday, 5:30 p.m.
- TV: ESPN
- Kings’ odds: No. 1, 6.3%; No. 2, 7.1%; No. 3, 8.15%; No. 6, 43.9%; No. 7, 30.5%; No. 8: 4%; No. 9, 0.1%