The NBA draft lottery was supposed to be deleted from the Kings’ spring schedule, replaced by the organization’s first playoff appearance in a decade.
But here it is. Four weeks remaining in the season. Another postseason absence a near certainty. The NCAA Tournament is underway, with March Madness holding an entirely different meaning for Kings fans and the Sacramento community.
The only benefit derived from an immensely disappointing season – other than the fact that the end of Sleep Train Arena means the beginning of a new era inside the Golden 1 Center – is the strong likelihood that the Kings will retain their first-round draft choice. So, please, don’t stop now, the pleas of the boo birds notwithstanding. Keep trending downward. Every defeat increases their prospects for retaining their first-round pick and enhancing their draft position. The Kings’ motto should be this: Lose today and win tomorrow.
▪ If they finish with one of the league’s 10 worst records they very likely will keep their pick. The first-round pick the Kings traded along with Omri Casspi to Cleveland in 2011 (and the Cavaliers later sent to Chicago) is top-10 protected, meaning if the Kings go on a winning streak and finish outside the bottom 10 their pick will go to the Bulls.
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▪ In last summer’s trade that moved Nik Stauskas, Jason Thompson and Carl Landry to Philadelphia, the 76ers also received the option of swapping first-round picks if the Kings fell into the bottom 10 and retained their 2016 pick. Since the 76ers have the league’s worst record and overwhelming statistical odds of winning the lottery a swap is highly improbable. Even if the Kings defy the long odds and win the lottery and are forced to swap with the 76ers, the pick would be no worse than No. 4 if Philadelphia finishes last.
Confused yet? There’s more. The situation remains at least somewhat fluid until the May 17 lottery, which will determine the first three picks. All 14 nonplayoff teams with a first-round pick will have a chance at finishing in the top three, with their prospects weighted heavily and decreasing based on their record. The remainder of the draft is in inverse order of regular-season ranking.
I would give (the 2016 NBA) draft a B. There are a couple guys who could be really, really good. And it’s interesting because in today’s NBA it’s so much about projection. The first five picks seem pretty sure-fire guys, then you get seven, 16, 22. Are they going to be solid or are you going for the home run? And if you go for the home run there is always the possibility of a strikeout.
Longtime NBA executive
For the Kings, a worst-case scenario would be if they went on a winning streak, improved their current status, and the ping pong balls bounced them out of the bottom 10, sending the pick to Chicago. The odds, say, of being No. 14 and winning the lottery are astronomical. But strange things have been known to happen. The Orlando Magic finished 11th in 1993 and won the lottery. Two years ago the Cavaliers were ninth and leaped to No. 1.
While the Kings have never been accused of tanking, there are plenty of reasons general manager Vlade Divac and members of his front office are attending NCAA Tournament games this week. They are wistful and hopeful, and they want that pick. They should pass a sign-up sheet around to the one-and-done college standouts and the elite overseas talent: Sacramento seeks skilled, unselfish players with high basketball IQ’s. Problem children need not apply.
One longtime executive, who asked that his name not be used because his team has not been eliminated from the playoffs, characterized the draft quality as good but not great.
“I would give this draft a B,” he said. “There are a couple guys who could be really, really good. And it’s interesting because in today’s NBA it’s so much about projection. The first five picks seem pretty sure-fire guys, then you get seven, 16, 22. Are they going to be solid or are you going for the home run? And if you go for the home run there is always the possibility of a strikeout.”
After another tumultuous season, the Kings will take their chances. They want a bat in their hands and a chance to swing. For all of their chronic problems, the draft at least offers some comfort and an asset to develop or trade.
Divac can cite last year’s success. The selection of Kentucky center Willie Cauley-Stein at No. 6 snapped the Kings’ four-year streak of poor drafts overseen by two previous front-office regimes.
The Kings acquired Jimmer Fredette after he was picked 10th in 2011, ahead of Klay Thompson and Kawhi Leonard, and long before Isaiah Thomas was plucked with the final pick of the night (60th overall). Thomas Robinson was a bust at No. 5 in 2012, and fellow Kansas Jayhawk Ben McLemore, who was regarded as a raw athletic wonder when he was taken No. 7 in 2013, hasn’t become a consistent player. Stauskas was No. 8 in 2014, but he was traded a year later to the 76ers.
While Cauley-Stein hasn’t played as much as or put up the numbers of rookies Myles Turner, Devin Booker, Justise Winslow or Emmanuel Mudiay, each chosen later in the opening round, the 7-footer has proven he can play. He might not be a star, but he can help a team, particularly on defense.
But once again it’s back to the lottery, and it’s back to the beginning.