'We already won': De'Aaron Fox excited by NBA draft lottery
Critics said the Kings didn't even know how to lose right, which is quite a statement for a team that's missed the playoffs for 12 consecutive seasons.
Losing teams often tank to end the season in hopes of increasing odds in the NBA draft lottery, but not the Kings. They won nine of their last 21 games, way too much winning for a team that needed to bolster its chances of getting lucky.
"I don't like that word," Kings general manager Vlade Divac said. "Tanking, I hate it."
Still, the lottery went the Kings' way for a second year in a row as the Kings moved up from the seventh slot to the second pick Tuesday at Palmer House Hilton in Chicago. The draft is June 21.
The Phoenix Suns, who had the best odds of landing the first pick, won the lottery. The Atlanta Hawks are third.
Karma was the buzzword for the Kings, who believe their decision not to go out of their way to lose games will pay off in the long run.
"I'm glad that again it happened the same way last year," Divac said. "We tried to develop our young guys and win games. Some people criticized, but karma did it again."
The Kings needed the good karma after years of bad draft decisions and questionable trades.
Last year's pick would have been No. 3 if not for a 2015 trade with Philadelphia that gave the 76ers the right to swap picks with the Kings.
Even this season, luck wasn't all the way on the Kings' side. They lost a tiebreaker with the Chicago Bulls, who were slotted sixth going into the lottery. Both teams finished 27-55.
That loss proved to be a win because if the Kings had won the coin toss, the number combination of 14-7-6-8 would have belonged to Chicago.
"Every team in here is hoping for some luck and good fortune," Bulls general manager John Paxson said. "Sacramento got it tonight and good for them. That franchise has had some bad luck along the way. That's all part of the NBA draft lottery."
This year and last are the only times the Kings have moved up in the lottery during their current playoff hiatus.
Assistant general manager Ken Catanella was in the drawing room for the lottery. He'd written "1" and then "2" on a sheet of paper before taking notes on the back.
He'd written down the first three combinations, all that went to Phoenix, and wrote 14, 7, 6 before being overcome with excitement when the pingpong ball with No. 8 was drawn, giving the Kings the second overall pick.
While the rest of the organization waited, Catanella knew around 6:24 p.m. CDT that the Kings had gotten lucky again.
The Kings would also tell you the basketball gods rewarded them for their approach to the season, one many would call a misguided approach to tanking.
The Kings added three veterans — Zach Randolph, George Hill and Vince Carter — last summer and waited until midseason to start phasing them out in favor of more minutes for youngsters.
The 9-12 finish to the season was mocked by those who spend their time obsessed at how each win hurts lottery odds.
"Winning the games that we won, it's better for the experience that we got," said guard De'Aaron Fox, who represented the Kings on the stage at the lottery. "It's always great to win close games. Those are the games you want to play in and those are the games that you want to win. I feel like we have guys that can close games and we didn't get the seventh pick, we got the second pick, so we got the experience and the pick that we wanted. We ended up getting a win-win out of it."
Divac, like most executives, said he would have been content no matter where the Kings selected, but picking second obviously changes who the team can expect to look at prior to the draft and who might be interested in Sacramento in free agency.
Divac believes the way the Kings approached last season makes for the kind of environment that would be welcoming to anyone the team drafts.
"I've been in basketball for a long time," Divac said. "You can't teach guys and develop them if you don't teach them how to win. ... It's a deep draft, we were fine at seven. Obviously moving up is great, but there's a lot of work to do."
The Kings haven't made the best decision more times than not over the previous 11 drafts, which includes three different front office regimes.
Picking second does not guarantee the Kings will land a star. Despite picking high for more than a decade, the Kings have only drafted two All-Stars:
▪ DeMarcus Cousins made three All-Star teams after being selected fifth overall in 2010. He was traded to New Orleans in February 2017.
▪ Isaiah Thomas was the NBA's version of "Mr. Irrelevant" in 2011, going No. 60 overall. After leaving Sacramento, he later made two All-Star teams with the Boston Celtics.
Many consider Arizona center DeAndre Ayton the top player available, so it would be a surprise to see him slip to the Kings.
Duke forward Marvin Bagley III and Slovenian swingman Luka Doncic are at least two of the players the Kings will consider with the second pick. Michigan State forward Jaren Jackson Jr. and Missouri forward Michael Porter Jr. also are highly-touted players.
The Kings have spent recent draft picks on players at each position, but given the team's struggles to win, the Kings will not allow that to be a factor in passing up an elite talent.
Karma did it's part. Now it's up to the Kings to make the right decision.