Let’s turn back the clock to May 19, 2009. I was on my honeymoon in San Francisco, CA. My new wife was a little upset with me though, because I made her hit pause on the trip so I could watch the NBA Draft Lottery. The Kings had a 25% shot at the top pick, and I hoped that the team’s rotten lottery luck would finally change that night.
Well, as it turns out, that was hope sung in the key of madness. The Kings fell all the way to fourth, costing the team a chance at Blake Griffin, who would go to the Clippers and help to finally turn that franchise around. The 2008-09 season was when the Kings finally hit rock bottom after failing to reload, and so it’s where I’ve chosen to begin our look at how draft mishaps have caused this franchise to miss the playoffs for almost a decade.
Draft Mistakes Continue To Haunt the Sacramento Kings
2009 – I think I speak for most Kings fans in saying that when Griffin broke his kneecap and missed the entire season, it felt like they’d won the draft. Considering Tyreke Evans, whom Sacramento took fourth overall, became just the fourth rookie in history to average 20 points, 5 assists, and 5 rebounds per game, fans were right to feel good about the team’s future. Maybe it wouldn’t be such a long rebuild after all. Well, six years later and Evans has long since moved on to New Orleans. All the pre-draft reports said that team management loved a skinny sharpshooter from Davidson named Stephen Curry. Evans’ immense physical gifts caused the Kings to pass though, and as Curry leads the Warriors to the best record in the Western conference, I’m sure he can hear the collective sigh of regret coming from an hour and a half up the road in Sacramento.
Also Could Have Taken: Ricky Rubio, PG; DeMar DeRozan, SG; Jrue Holliday, PG; Ty Lawson, PG: Jeff Teague, PG. There were seven starting point guards taken in the 2009 Draft; the Kings took the one who wasn’t really a point guard. The position continues to haunt them. The Kings selected Jon Brockman in the second round, ahead of Jodie Meeks, Patrick Beverley, Danny Green, and Chase Budinger, all useful NBA players.
2010 – Again, the ping pong balls saw fit to damage the Kings, dropping them from third to fifth in the draft order. However, the Kings landed DeMarcus Cousins, so all is forgiven. BOOOOOOOGIE!!
Also Could Have Taken – No one. Cousins is the best player from this draft, no matter what John Wall & Paul George try to tell you. The Kings drafted Hassan Whiteside in the second round, who promptly was run out of the league. Five years later he has reemerged with Miami as a defensive force, but the Kings can’t be blamed here. He was a 7 footer with immense upside. It just didn’t work out. At this point, Kings fans thought the future may be bright with Evans and Cousins on board.
2011 – Holy crap, these draft decisions were so incredibly wrong. This is where the mistakes really started to kick in. Firstly, again, the Lottery Gods chose to smite the Kings, dropping them from fifth to seventh. As Kings fans know, Sacramento has a long, complicated history with the 7th pick, and being back in that spot didn’t fill fans with confidence. Then, on draft day, came word that the team had agreed to trade Beno Udrih and the seventh pick as part of a three team deal that brought back John Salmons and the tenth pick, which was spent on media darling (but not actual NBA player) Jimmer Fredette. Salmons had a longer, more expensive contract that Udrih, and at that point, wasn’t even as good as Udrih, whom the club had pulled off the waiver wire to shore up the point guard spot, which was again shaky after it was finally learned that Evans wasn’t a true point guard. The Kings believed that Jimmer could be a quality NBA point guard, as well as sell a whole lot of jerseys. I’m not sure there has been a more wrong line of thought in recent NBA history.
Also Could Have Taken – The trade was a disaster, even more so when you remember that Sacramento passed on Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, the Morris brothers, Nikola Vucevic, Iman Shumpert, Tobias Harris, Kenneth Faried, Nikola Mirotic, and Jimmy Butler. The Kings drafted Tyler Honeycutt early in the second round, passing on Chandler Parsons. The only thing that saved the 2011 Draft from being an F minus, was a short, explosive point guard taken with the sixtieth pick, Isaiah Thomas.
2012 – Well, this draft was nice in the sense that the lottery didn’t knock the club down any rungs. The Kings had the fifth worst record, and got the fifth pick. This draft was a disaster for who was selected. If you don’t remember Thomas Robinson from Kansas, I wouldn’t blame you. He was traded to Houston midway through his rookie season. Shock of shocks, the undersized power forward didn’t fit in alongside emerging star Cousins, and his work ethic was being questioned. Trading him was the right move, as three other teams have also given up on him since then. He currently toils for the Philadelphia 76ers.
Also Could Have Taken – Hoo boy, here’s where things get ugly. The Kings took Robinson fifth. Damian Lilliard went sixth. For a franchise on a seeminglly endless search for a long-term answer at PG, they’ve passed on a shocking number of all-star level talents. Harrison Barnes went seventh. Andre Drummond went ninth. Barnes could have been an answer at the small forward position, and Drummond is a natural fit alongside Cousins. Neither are Kings. The second round was a story of a huge near miss. The Kings picked thirty-sixth overall, drafted Orlando Johnson, and traded his rights to Indiana for some desperately needed cash. Who went one slot ahead as the thirty-fifth pick? Defensive Player of the Year candidate Draymond Green. This has gotten depressing.
2013 – Welcome to one of the worst drafts in recent memory! The five best players (in no particular order) from this draft so far were drafted at 2, 15, 27, 6, and then a bunch of guys for the fifth spot, including the Kings pick, Ben McLemore! An athletic marvel of a shooting guard, he’s taken a big step forward in year two. There is hope here. No one from the second round has really distinguished themselves, so getting a kid who can handle minutes in the backcourt in Ray McCallum is a win.
Also Could Have Taken – When McLemore fell to the seventh pick, it was a huge shock. There was some talk that he might have even gone first overall to Cleveland. The players who have distinguished themselves weren’t really in consideration as early as the top ten. Giannis Antetokounmpo went fifteenth, and Rudy Gobert went twenty-seventh. These were real lottery tickets that just happened to pay off.
2014 – The Lottery Gods strike again! Knocking the Kings from seven to eight. That doesn’t sound like much, but it meant the difference between a really strong prospect like Julius Randle and picking from the second tier. Management settled on shooting guard Nik Stauskas, The King of the North, Sauce Castillo. Critics will say we took another athletically challenged “best shooter in the draft”, the second in four years. In Stauskas’ defense, not many top ten picks have to deal with three coaches in their first season. It’s starting to look like Coach Karl has rebuilt some of that confidence, which can only help the Kings, be it for next season or in a trade.
Also Could Have Taken – It’s really too soon to get super judgemental about this draft. Lots of experts love PG Elfrid Payton, but I am nervous about the long term viability of a point guard who can’t shoot. Doug McDermott would have been an interesting option as a stretch four for the Kings, as would have Adrien Payne. Let’s give it another year before we openly mock the 2014 Draft.
Of course, hindsight is 20/20, and when a butterfly flaps it’s wings, etc. If the Kings drafted Curry in 2009, then maybe they aren’t in a position to draft Cousins in 2010. Or if they took Lilliard in 2012, then they aren’t in a position to trade for Rudy Gay, etc. But for fun (or to make myself miserable), let’s just look at what the roster could have been:
PG – Steph Curry (’09), Isaiah Thomas (’11)
SG – Ben McLemore(’13) Danny Green (’09)
SF – Kawhi Leonard (’11), Chandler Parsons (’11)
PF – DeMarcus Cousins (’10), Jason Thompson (’08)
C – Andre Drummond (’12) Hassan Whiteside (’10)
Of course, keeping that much young talent is not financially realistic, but wow. Even if they identified Cousins, Curry, Leonard, and Drummond as the core, that’s a team that would contend for championships. The point of all this is to highlight how critical making the right decision at the draft is to a franchise like Sacramento. The Kings’ Golden Age was built on one incredible trade, one big free agent, and a ton of savvy drafting. But Chris Webber and Vlade Divac wouldn’t have done anything in Sacramento without Jason Williams, Peja Stojakovic, Hedo Turkoglu, and others. Similarly, the team will waste the career of DeMarcus Cousins & Rudy Gay unless they start nailing these draft picks.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again – it’s hard out here for a Kings fan.