SBNation asked each NBA outpost to post about its franchise's most hyped player acquisition, be it via the draft, free agency, trade, kidnapping, or other human trafficking. Tom asked me to handle the pre-technology era of 1985-1998, while Greg will handle 1999 - present, with the lockout of 1998 serving as a tidy little story break.
"Hype" was a lot different back in the day. AOL didn't come along with dial-up internet access until 1995, and by 1996 there were fewer than 40 million people worldwide surfing the ‘net. Today there are over 360 million users viewing well over 600 million active websites. From 1985 - 1993 the Kings were primarily covered by Sacramento's two competing newspapers, the Bee and the Union...none of these writers blogged, of course, as basement-dwelling technology was in its infant stages. As a result, hype was often more singularly driven. Sometimes the hype came from the franchise, sometimes it came from the excitement and enthusiasm of the fan base, and every once in a great while it was the actual event that triggered the hype.
For the period of 1985-1998, the pick for most hyped player acquisition would be, as they say, a layup. So I opted to drop a top ten list on you, which will create an ever-increasing amount of tension and anticipation as you read through the list. Feel free to skip to the end at any time should you find the wait to be too overwhelming for you. We want you healthy for the regular season.
10 - Joe Kleine, 1985 draft pick: Bang, you got me. I had to stretch this list to ten to include Joe Kleine, and there was no way that I was writing this piece without mentioning Joe Kleine. Kleine was the first pick of the Sacramento era, and the brand new fan base understood little of tempered expectations and the crap shoot that is the NBA draft (some 30 years later, little has changed).
One thing that was different about that period was that the draft seemed to be almost exclusively about drafting for need, unless perhaps you had the top pick and there was a "can't miss" prospect. The whole "best player available" thing didn't come into vogue until Michael Jordan started winning championships. The Kings were looking for a big man in 1985. They had LaSalle Thompson and Otis Thorpe, but Mark Olberding had logged the fifth highest minutes on the team in 1984-85, and the Kings were looking to get better up front. The eyes seemed to focus on Kleine, Jon Koncak and Ed Pinckney. Koncak was drafted fifth, and Pinckney wound up going tenth in the draft.
There is a lot of revisionist history about how the Kings "passed" on Karl Malone, but the truth was that Malone was as raw as could be. He also came from a small school, and very few NBA prospects came from those ranks back then. Twelve teams passed on the Mailman before Utah scooped him up.
Kleine was really a victim of circumstance. He did not have the talent to live up to his draft selection slot, and he was traded roughly three and half years after the Kings drafted him, along with Ed Pinckney (the Kings had previously acquired Pinckney from Phoenix for Eddie Johnson) for Danny Ainge and Brad Lohaus. Kleine averaged only 7.5 points and 5.8 rebounds per game as a Sacramento King, but he did go on to have a fifteen year NBA career, and he did inspire the first documented Sacramento Kings drinking game.
9 - The 1995 draft of Corliss Williamson, Tyus Edney & Dejan Bodiroga: A lot of the excitement over this draft was due to the success of the prior year's draft class, which was Geoff Petrie's first. In 1994 Petrie drafted Brian Grant and Michael "The Animal" Smith (he also drafted Lawrence Funderburke, who played international ball for a couple of years before joining the Kings). Grant and Smith both exceeded what by 1995 had become very tempered draft expectations, so interest and enthusiasm was renewed for the 1995 draft. Williamson had been projected as a top four pick in the draft the year prior, but he opted to stay at Arkansas for another year and ultimately dropped to the Kings at the thirteenth pick. And when he gushed about coming to Sacramento (a first!), the fans became even more excited. Edney was fresh off his amazing full court sprint and layup to beat Missouri during the NCAA tourney, so the fans were excited about him as well. And Bodiroga was an international man of mystery - the European Michael Jordan, said some.
Williamson went on to be solid in his first run in Sacramento, becoming really the first "other" guy willing to take the big shot during the Mitch Richmond era. He fetched Doug Christie in trade and went on to win sixth man of the year and an NBA championship with the Detroit Pistons. He returned to Sacramento as part of the 2005 Chris Webber trade, and was a pro's pro for the duration of his tenure. He is now back as part of the Kings coaching staff. Edney was actually second on the team in minutes in 1995-96 (Williamson was actually ninth in minutes that season), and was instrumental in getting the Kings to the playoffs for the first time in ten years. Unfortunately, injuries shortened Edney's career. Edney left the NBA for international ball in 1998, and was done for good after a brief stint with Indiana in 2000-01. Bodiroga never came to the States.
8 - Jason Williams and Peja Stojakovic, 1998: This marked the first time that I can recall the franchise hyping their draft picks. The Kings had drafted Stojakovic the year before, but he did not come over until 1998. Meanwhile, the Kings had drafted Williams, a kid that was under most radars due to the fact that he had been kicked out of Florida's basketball program for smoking weed. Shortly after the drafting of Williams, the Kings shipped out VHS tapes to all of their ticket holders. The first 2/3's of the tape was a compilation of Jason Williams highlights, and it was pretty breathtaking. The kid looked like the second coming of Pete Maravich on that tape. The last 1/3 of the tape was some very grainy, third-world tape of Peja shooting the lights out of every gym in the European theater. Both players went on to be heavy contributors to the golden age of Sacramento Kings basketball.
7 - Ralph Sampson for Jim Petersen, 1989: This one is a double hype. First we were excited that we had somehow obtained the one and only Ralph Sampson. Upon the realization that he arrived with no knees, he went on to be hyped as a contract that broke the back of ownership. The truth is that Petersen's contract was worth $4.9m over the next four years (and average of $1.2m per), while Sampson clocked in at 3yr./$7.6m ($2.5m per). The fact that such a minor difference in contract amount could allegedly have such an impact on the franchise told you all you needed to know about the empty coffers of Kings ownership. Sampson and Petersen were both out of the league after the 1991-92 season.
6 - Bobby Hurley, 1993 draft: Hurley was basically hyped for two reasons: He came out of a very successful and high profile Duke program, and Magic Johnson loudly sang Hurley's praises when he scrimmaged against the Olympic Dream Team. The horrific auto accident that Hurley suffered took his career, but thanks in part to Mike Peplowski (who pretty much kept Hurley from drowning in a ditch), Hurley is alive today. Fun fact: Peplowski was drafted in the second round in 1993...sometimes these things happen for a reason. Funner fact: Evers Burns was a second round pick that year, too. EVERS BURNS!!!
5 - Pervis Ellison, #1 draft pick, 1989: This does not appear higher on the list primarily because the fan base had a sense that this was a weak draft and that a Patrick Ewing or David Robinson was not in the draft. But no one saw the tire fire that was to be Pervis Ellison. "Out-of-service" Pervis played a total of 34 games for the Kings, averaging 8 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. He was traded a year as part of a three-team trade - the Kings received Bobby Hansen, Eric Leckner, the 1990 draft pick that would become Anthony Bonner, and three second round picks that didn't even amount to Eric Leckner(!). Ellison would go on to play eleven years in the NBA, but only managed to eclipse the 70 game mark once.
4 - The Derek Smith trade, 1986: If this list was about trades that set a franchise back five or more years, here's your number one pick. But this is about hype, and when the Kings traded solid core rotation players Mike Woodson and Larry Drew along with their 1988 first round draft pick (Hersey Hawkins was selected with that pick) Derek Smith (Junior Bridgeman and Franklin Edwards were throw-ins), Kings brass crowed about the acquisition of an elite talent. And Smith was certainly on the cusp of becoming such a player, averaging over 22 points a game in 1984-85, and over 23 points a game in 1985-86...before missing the last 71 games of the season with a knee injury. Apparently the Kings had no access to medical files or x-ray machines or newspapers back then, because they traded their third and sixth biggest minutes guys from their 1985-86 team (along with that unprotected first round pick) for a guy that would play a total of 116 games over two and a half years in a Sacramento uniform before the Kings finally waived him. Yeppers. This is going to wind up being the third most hyped trade on the list, and the Kings return on investment was the equivalent of about a season and a half. Yeesh!
3 - The draft class of 1990: This was to be the turn of the page, the dawn of a new era in Kings basketball. Derek Smith was gone. Pervis Ellison was gone. Kenny Smith was gone. Reggie Theus was gone. LaSalle Thompson was gone. The only real core rotation players on the roster were Antoine Carr, who was obtained from Atlanta for Smith just a few months back, and Wayman Tisdale, who had been obtained the year prior for Thompson. The Kings were going to draft five rookies (four in the first and one early in the second), and they were going to play.
I'll never forget that draft. I was working out of town for NAPA Auto Parts at the time, and I was staying at the Golden Pheasant Best Western Inn in Willows. I got off work just in time drive through Kentucky Fried Chicken (because he puts an addictive chemical in his chicken that makes ya' crave it fortnightly, smartass!) and make a beeline for my room, arriving just in time to get turn on the TV and crack open that bucket of extra crispy. Lionel Simmons at seven! Travis Mays, a steal at fourteen!! Duane Causwell, the answer to our woes at center at eighteen!!! Anthony Bonner at twenty three (OK, I've never heard of him, but !!!!). And then we snagged Bimbo Coles in the second round, and subsequently traded him for former Sports Illustrated Sportsmen of the Year Rory Sparrow. What-a-day! Playoffs, here we come!!!
Simmons wound up being a solid pick, but knee injuries impacted his productivity and shortened his career. He played all of his seven NBA seasons with the Kings. Mays played one year for the Kings before being dealt to Atlanta for Spud Webb and the second round pick that would become Lawrence Funderburke. He was out of the league two years later. Causwell played seven seasons for the Kings and four more for Miami. Not bad for a number eighteen pick. Bonner had three seasons with the Kings, and was out of the league three years after that. Sparrow played one season for the Kings and retired after one more season. Simmons and Causwell were both members of the 1995-96 playoff team.
2 - The rights to Billy Owens traded to Golden State for Mitch Richmond, Les Jepsen and a second round draft pick that ultimately becomes Tyus Edney, 1991: The hype around this one started when the Kings drafted Owens, who had made it pretty clear that he didn't want anything to do with Sacramento (so clear, in fact, that his holdout extended into the regular season). The trade was actually made the opening day of the season for the Kings, and Richmond did not join the team until their third game of the season. But the Kings went from wringing their hands over a petulant holdout to obtaining one of the league's bright young stars.
Richmond would go on to become the face of the franchise for the Kings, becoming the first Sacramento King to make an all-star team 1993-1998 and winning the all-star game MVP in 1995, being named to the all-NBA team five times, leading the Kings to the playoffs for the first time in ten years in 1995-96, and earning the respect and praise of his contemporaries - Michael Jordan named Richmond as his toughest assignment in the league.
Richmond logged seven seasons for the Kings. Due to a bad agent and lousy timing when it came to the collective bargaining agreements, Richmond averaged a paltry (by NBA standards, even back then) average salary of less than $2.9m a year. He made a total of $20 million during his seven years in Sacramento. He would make $30m in his next three years in Washington. And how did he get to Washington?
1 - Mitch Richmond and Otis Thorpe to Washington for Chris Webber, 1998: This was the perfect hype storm. In Richmond you had a tenured star that wanted out. In Webber you had a star-crossed man-child that Washington determined they could no longer handle. The internet was catching its stride as a news source, and ESPN was in full swing to report on such events. It was really Sacramento's first introduction to a true national stage. Sprinkle in the drama of Webber initially refusing to come to Sacramento (drama that was prolonged by the ensuing lockout), and you had a story that really lived up to the hype. In fact, it was a story that needed no hype - it was self-hyping.
I think that Webber finally decided to come to Sacramento and then some other things happened and stuff, but it's kind of hazy and Greg is going to cover it anyway, so, yeah.
There you have it. Ask an old coot to summarize one lousy hyped moment and you get his life story.
We now return you to your regular programming.