The Sacramento Kings received another undeserved lifeline during Tuesday night’s NBA Draft Lottery in the form of a three-pick bounce from their projected slot at 7th to the 4th overall pick. Cue the PTSD. The 2022 Western Conference Finals is a testament to how badly the Sacramento Kings have bungled their past blessings and earned their rep as black sheep of the Western Conference. You could make a compelling case for the Philadelphia 76ers as the most traumatizing NBA franchise of the past decade. However, at least The Process was sensible enough to pin down a transcendent star to stabilize them.
When Commissioner Adam Silver read Marvin Bagley’s name aloud as the second pick in the 2018 draft instead of Luka Dončić’s, ESPN’s Jay Bilas should have been raving about the new Kings forward over stock footage of Sam Bowie. Rumors persisted that then-general manager Vlade Divac despised Luka’s father, but unless he was worse than Lavar Ball, that never made much sense.
Dončić was a high-usage, playmaking prodigy who could create his own offense off the dribble with X-Ray passing vision. As the youngest EuroLeague MVP ever by the time he was 18, his potential was more tangible than Bagley’s. And he proved it during a rookie campaign that culminated with him receiving 98 out of 100 Rookie of the Year votes. Bagley started his career as a serviceable defender off the bench and projected as a premier scoring threat if he developed his offensive toolkit.
Bagley is mostly the same player now as he was then. All promise, but an uninspiring presence in game action. Yet, as late as 2020, Divac was still living in denial, telling Marcos Breton of The Sacramento Bee, that the 6-foot-11 forward’s sputtering career would hit 100 MPH eventually.
“I still believe Marvin has big upside. But I needed more time to prove it,” Divac told Breton. “I’m sure Marvin is going to prove everybody wrong. But in this league, you need to produce right now. People don’t have patience, but I’m OK with that.”
Sacramento finally punted Bagley at the 2022 Trade Deadline in a trade that sent him to Detroit, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t dig the knife in a bit deeper as Sac-Town’s postseason drought heads towards its 17th season. Dončić is a brutal reminder of how inadequate talent evaluations have been a blight on the Kings. Divac’s botched pick was Darko Milicic over Melo times 100. Dončić was the only player under 25 to lead the EuroLeague in a stat called PIR, essentially the European answer to player efficiency ratings. He was the international community’s King James.
The only thing that should give the Kings solace in never having Luka is that there’s no telling if Sacramento’s smooth-brain trust would have been successful in building a contender around him. Somewhere in the Luka multiverse, a version of Sacramento Kings Luka is held hostage to the whims of Ranadive and Divac’s blundering leadership. Dallas has experience constructing champions. The Kings have been imploding on themselves for an entire decade.
Between 2012 and 2014, Sacramento Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro drafted Thomas Robinson, Ben McLemore and Nik Stauskas. The teams that picked after the Kings those years took Dame Lillard in 2012, CJ McCollum in 2013 and Zach Lavine in 2014. Any one of those perimeter stars paired with DeMarcus Cousins could have prevented the Kings from driving further into the sinkhole that now constitutes their organization.
Sac-Town discovered Isaiah Thomas with the final pick of the 2011 Draft. Three years later he was shipped away after capping off his third season with averages of 20.3 points on 45.3 percent shooting, 6.3 assists, 2.9 rebounds and 1.3 steals in 72 games. In exchange for their one-of-a-kind thermodynamic scoring point guard, the Kings received second-round heap guard Alex Oriakhi, who never played a regular season game in the NBA.
This is the same organization that just continued their streak of sticking their fingers into sockets by trading Tyrese Haliburton during the second year of his rookie deal for a handsomely paid, fringe All-Star power forward in Domantas Sabonis. Unleashed as a starter in Indiana, Haliburton averaged 17.5 points on shooting splits of 47.5 percent from the field, 41.6 percent behind the arc, 9.6 assists and 1.8 steals while Sacramento’s sorry ass win percentage after the deadline (.588) nearly equaled their pre-deadline record(.571).
Owner Vivek Ranadivé, whose basketball pedigree peaked at coaching his daughter’s middle school basketball team, proposed the Kings run a 4-on-5 defensive strategy involving a cherry picker remaining behind the half-court. One of those daughters, Anjali Ranadivé, is reportedly joining the Kings G League affiliate in an entry-level role as assistant general manager.
The Mavericks and Warriors Western Conference Finals series will occur during the 20th anniversary of the Kings organization’s preeminent moment in the 2002 Western Conference Final against the Kobe and Shaq Lakers. Kings fans have tasted the worst flavors of disappointment between narrowly losing the most electric Western Conference Finals series ever played and removing their brains to avoid making a no-brainer.
Fortunately, Luka was saved from being the NBA’s Mike Trout and The Association is better off for it.