With the Kings flying out of the gates to start the season 5-1 and then 9-6, it seemed all but certain that this year would finally be the year in which Sacramento gave up the first round pick that they owe to the Chicago Bulls. For those of you that don't remember, the Kings sent a future protected first round pick to Cleveland back in 2011 (along with Omri Casspi) for half a year of uninterested J.J. Hickson. Then that pick got traded by Cleveland to Chicago for half a year of uninterested Luol Deng. However, given Sacramento's recent struggles, the possibility that Sacramento could retain the pick this year has become more likely.
Sacramento's draft pick is protected only for the top-10 selections, meaning that if Sacramento finishes anywhere between the 1-10 spots after the draft lottery, they get to keep their draft pick.
Here's how the lottery standings look right now:
1. New York Knicks 5-35
2. Minnesota Timberwolves 5-31
3. Philadelphia 76ers 7-29
4. Los Angeles Lakers 12-26
5. Boston Celtics 12-23
6. Orlando Magic 13-27
7. Detroit Pistons 13-24
8. Utah Jazz 13-25
9. Indiana Pacers 15-24
10. Charlotte Hornets 15-24
11. Sacramento Kings 16-21
12. Denver Nuggets 17-20
13. Oklahoma City Thunder 18-19
14. New Orleans Pelicans 18-18
The realistic range that I think we can expect the Kings to fall in is somewhere between 9th and 12th. I don't see the Kings catching either the Thunder or Pelicans in the standings (barring a huge trade and/or injuries), and I also don't see Utah (or any of the teams below Utah) catching Sacramento.
Ideally, the Kings will be able to keep the pick this year, given that they also do not have a second round pick and could still use some more young and cheap talent, especially with Cousins' extension having kicked in. They'll probably need a couple Eastern Conference teams to start playing better, particularly Charlotte. The Hornets have underperformed expectations so far, while Indiana is without their star Paul George all season. Charlotte's the more likely candidate to jump the Kings in the standings. If they do, Sacramento will also have to hope that Brooklyn and Miami don't falter either, as they both currently have the same record as the Kings but because they are in the East, are seeded in the playoffs.
If the Kings do end up 11th when all is said and done, there's still a remote chance they can keep their pick if they somehow land in the Top-3 of the lottery. However the odds of that are not good, at about 2.9%.
There's just over half a season remaining, so there's plenty of time for standings shakeups during that time. Personally, I feel that there's a very good chance that Sacramento will keep their pick, even if they play a little more consistently than they have been. If they do keep the pick, that will be a nice consolation prize to yet another season that ends in early April.