Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin: NBA draft has turned into big gamble for teams

Ailene Voisin
Ailene Voisin

The No. 8 draft pick? So roll the dice already. With college players routinely ditching the textbooks after their freshman and sophomore seasons, the NBA draft has morphed into a visit down the casino aisles in Las Vegas.

This is craps, slots, 21 and the roulette wheel all spinning as one. The only difference between the high rollers and NBA executives is one of timing and immediacy: Gamblers learn their fates quickly. There are winners and there are losers, and usually, there are losers.

The results for NBA owners and executives come via the more protracted trickle-down effect. The true value of today’s prospects/selections often is revealed in increments, with the three- to five-year calendar frequently in play. All of which probably explains why Kings officials and fans appeared disappointed but not dismayed Tuesday evening when Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum opened the envelope and revealed the Kings had dropped a slot to No. 8.

“People would have been excited if we had moved up and gotten the first pick,” minority owner Raj Bhathal said while watchingthe lottery on a large-screen TV in the City Hall courtyard. “But we will get a good player.”

While Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid rank atop most teams’ draft boards, the next grouping indeed is intriguing with Dante Exum, Marcus Smart, Julius Randle, Noah Vonleh, Doug McDermott, Aaron Gordon and Dario Saric.

The Kings thus could draft a good player. Or perhaps not draft a good player. Team executives were receptive to trading the pick long before the order of selection was determined. On a team that wins 28 games in consecutive seasons, there are no guarantees.

Though the Kings hope to re-sign Isaiah Thomas, the priorities consist of obtaining a facilitating point guard, acquiring the additional “passers and shooters” general manager Pete D’Alessandro openly covets, and adding a rim protector to provide cover for DeMarcus Cousins.

That’s a laundry list of needs. Uncertainty about Rudy Gay, who can opt out of a contract that would pay him $19 million next season, further complicates the task of assembling a roster consistent with the team philosophy.

Ideally, the Kings this offseason inch closer toward resembling the San Antonio Spurs or, better yet, developing a visible kinship with the Sacramento teams known for exquisite passing, body movement, cohesiveness, unselfishness and pacing.

The death-by-dribbling offense remains a chronic disease. The Kings’ last postseason appearance was in 2006. Remember the arrival of Ron Artest? Yep. That long ago.

The repeated lottery appearances reinforce the theory that improving franchises is a three-tier process: shrewd trades, wise free-agent signings, smart drafts. But the latter has become an increasingly dicey proposition for many reasons, primarily the fact that the body of work once available to evaluate prospects – four years of college competition, participation in structured scrimmages at the pre-draft combine, fullcourt sessions during visits to teams – essentially has been reduced to scouting one or two years (at most) of college games.

Recent drafts have left league execs shuddering. A year ago Anthony Bennett, Victor Oladipo, Otto Porter, Cody Zeller, Alex Len, Nerlens Noel, Ben McLemore, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Trey Burke and C.J. McCollum were drafted ahead of Michael Carter-Williams, the eventual Rookie of the Year. In 2012, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Dion Waiters and Thomas Robinson were plucked ahead of Damian Lillard. In 2011, Derrick Williams, Enes Kanter, Tristan Thompson, Jan Vesely, Bismack Biyombo, Brandon Knight and Jimmer Fredette went ahead of Klay Thompson and Kawhi Leonard. And on it goes, with more misses than hits.

During the festivities in the City Hall courtyard before Tuesday’s lottery and the City Council’s vote on a private-public partnership for a proposed downtown sports and entertainment complex, the immensely popular Thomas was asked if he could offer any suggestions.

“I don’t,” he told the crowd, laughing. “I was the last pick (No. 60 in 2011), so I got no love.”

Well, there was plenty of love for Thomas and his team Tuesday. Fans began milling around the courtyard in the early afternoon, and spectators eager to get seats in the council chambers formed a line. They chanted “Sac-ra-men-to” as the Kings’ drum corps marched into the courtyard.

“This is a big day for every team in the NBA, especially the Sacramento Kings,” said Thomas, who reiterated his desire to re-sign. “It puts you in place for another step forward in the future.”

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