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The Ghost of Lottery Past: The Early Years

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Few fanbases know the intricacies of the NBA lottery as well as Sacramento Kings fans.  The Kings have participated in the draft lottery 19 times in their 30 seasons in Sacramento, with this May 19th marking the 20th time.

The Kings have been far from lucky despite so many chances in the lottery, improving their draft position just once in 19 tries, and even then, the Kings have bungled quite a few lottery picks simply by drafting the wrong player.

Let's take a look back at Sacramento's lottery picks through the years, starting with the team's arrival to Sacramento up until their ascent to relevance and contention.  Tomorrow we'll take a look at our more recent, and some might say more painful, history.


Lottery Position: Tied for 6th

Chance to win: 14.3%

Actual Position: 6th

Draft Pick: Joe Kleine

The year 1985 was a special year for Kings fans because it was the first year of the Sacramento-era, and it was also the first year that the NBA held a draft lottery.  The Kansas City Kings had finished in a three-way tie for the 6th worst record but unlike today's lottery rules, each of the 7 lottery teams had an equal chance to win any of the top 7 picks as they were simply picked at random.  The Kings actually managed to land a pick on par with their record and used it to select Joe Kleine ahead of players such as Chris Mullin (7th), Detlef Schrempf (8th), Charles Oakley (9th), Karl Malone (13th) and Joe Dumars (18th).  Kleine would go on to have a 15 year NBA career as a roleplayer, which is more than most NBA draft picks can say, but he never lived up to his lofty draft position.


Lottery Position: 5th

Chance to win: 14.3%

Actual Position: 6th

Draft Pick: Kenny Smith

The NBA lottery system changed once more in 1987 as only the top three picks could be determined through the lottery, with every other team being decided in reverse order.  However each team still had an equal chance at those top 3 picks.  In this case, the Kings were a bit unlucky, with the Phoenix Suns leapfrogging them in the lottery to pick 2nd, pushing the Kings to 6th.  Then Kings-GM Jerry Reynolds was reportedly very enamored with one Scottie Pippen, who ended up going to Seattle one pick ahead of the Kings (a.k.a. the pick the Kings would have had if nobody leaped them).  The Kings settled on Kenny Smith ahead of hometown product Kevin Johnson (7th), Horace Grant (10th), Reggie Miller (11th), and Mark Jackson (18th).  Smith proved to be a valuable player over his career, particularly on the Rockets teams that won back-to-back titles.


The Kings were bad enough to participate in the 1988 Draft Lottery but had actually traded their pick the season prior in the disastrous Derek Smith trade.  If the Kings would have kept this pick, they would again have drafted 6th, although in a very weak draft.  Hersey Hawkins was picked 6th by the Clippers and was probably the best player available at that point with only Dan Majerle (14th) and Rod Strickland (19th) coming close.  The Kings did get into this draft through trade and might have ended up selecting a very good player in Ricky Berry at 18th, but unfortunately we will never know as Berry tragically took his own life after a promising rookie season.


Lottery Position: 7th

Chance to win: 12.5%

Actual Position: 1st

Draft Pick: Pervis Ellison

Yay, the Kings won the lottery... in one of the worst drafts to have the #1 pick ever.  Pervis Ellison was a consensus pick and the Kings were happy to have him but unfortunately injuries derailed his career from the start.  He had a disastrous first couple years with the Kings before finally showing his potential with Washington, averaging 20 points, 11.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 2.7 blocks in his third season.  Injuries struck Ellison yet again however, and he never again averaged more than 7 points or 6.5 rebounds after his fourth season.  This was not a great draft, with notable players including Sean Elliott (3nd), Glen Rice (4th), Tim Hardaway (14th), Shawn Kemp (17th), Vlade Divac (26th) and Cliff Robinson (36th).


Lottery Position: 6th

Chance to win: 9.1%

Actual Position: 7th

Draft Pick: Lionel Simmons

The lottery format was changed to a weighted system in 1990 with each team getting as many ping pong balls as how bad their record was.  For example, the 11th worst team in the lottery (which would be the worst team in the league) got 11 chances out of 66.  The Kings, as the 6th worst team, got 6 chances.  Even still, they dropped one spot in the lottery and selected Lionel Simmons, one of their better picks.  Simmons was on track to become a star but unfortunately had the knees of an octogenarian who used to run marathons.  Simmons only was able to play four solid seasons before his knees caught up to him.  He retired after 7 seasons, all with Sacramento.  The only players selected after Simmons that made at least one All-Star team include Tyrone Hill (11th), Jayson Williams (21st), Antonio Davis (45th), and Cedric Ceballos (48th).


Lottery Position: 3rd

Chance to win: 13.6%

Actual Position: 3rd

Draft Pick: Billy Owens

At first glance this looks like another bad pick by the Kings, especially with a Hall of Famer like Dikembe Mutombo (4th) and future All-Stars Steve Smith (5th) and Dale Davis (13th) still on the board.  But in what is probably the greatest trade in Kings history, the Kings swindled the Golden State Warriors by trading this pick to them for a young star by the name of Mitch Richmond.  Now, the Kings were never able to surround Richmond with the best talent which is unfortunate, but this trade set up Sacramento's future success and the eventual Richmond for Webber trade.  As Jerry Reynolds likes to say, Mitch Richmond made the Kings better both coming and going.


Lottery Position: 6th

Chance to win: 9.1%

Actual Position: 7th

Draft Pick: Walt Williams

Another awful draft outside of the top few picks.  While Shaquille O'Neal and Alonzo Mourning were fantastic top two picks, the only All-Star drafted outside of the top 6 picks was Latrell Sprewell (24th).  Walt "Wizard" Williams was a solid selection for the Kings, averaging 17.0 points in his rookie year.  Other notable picks in this draft include Robert Horry (11th) and Doug Christie (17th).


Lottery Position: 4th

Chance to win: 12.1%

Actual Position: 7th

Draft Pick: Bobby Hurley

Talk about more bad luck.  This is the lottery that ended up changing the system even further, as the Orlando Magic won the lottery despite having just a 1 in 66 chance (1.5%) to do so.  The Kings also managed to be dropped a full three spots in the lottery.  Could you imagine if the Kings were able to pair up Mitch Richmond in his prime with a young Chris Webber.  Ah, well.  The Kings actual pick, Bobby Hurley, a college star at Duke, got into a horrific car accident early in his career and was never able to recover.  The Kings also missed out on guys like Vin Baker (8th), Allan Houston (11th), and Sam Cassell (24th).


Lottery Position: 8th

Chance to win: 2.7%

Actual Position: 8th

Draft Pick: Brian Grant

This is the first year that the lottery took the form that we know it today, with even more weigh given to the worse team and less of a chance of the best non-playoff team winning.  This was also the first draft overseen by Geoff Petrie, and he got off to a good start by selecting Brian Grant with the 8th pick.  The only players that you could say the Kings might have missed on include Eddie Jones (10th) and Jalen Rose (13th).  Grant ended up finishing with the 6th most win shares in this draft class, and that's with a career derailed by injuries.


Lottery Position: 13th

Chance to win: 0.5%

Actual Position: 13th

Draft Pick: Corliss Williamson

Another good pick by the Kings who had finally started to see some success, barely missing out on the playoffs for the first time since their inaugural season.  Williamson would end up having a long and productive career, winning 6th man of the year and an NBA title in Detroit.  The only guy that could potentially have been a better pick for the Kings was Michael Finley (21st), but given that the Kings had Mitch Richmond, it was hard to see them drafting a shooting guard.


Lottery Position: 11th

Chance to win: 0.96%

Actual Position: 11th

Draft Pick: Tariq Abdul-Wahad

One of Petrie's few flubs in his early years, this pick can be easily explained by how terrible this draft was outside of the top picks.  Tim Duncan (1st), Chauncey Billups (3rd) and Tracy McGrady (9th) were the only All-Stars selected in the entire draft.  Abdul-Wahad showed potential and had a lot of athleticism but he was never able to bring it all together.  He was traded soon in his career with another future first rounder to Orlando for Nick Anderson.


Lottery Position: 7th

Chance to win: 6.32%

Actual Position: 7th

Draft Pick: Jason Williams

This might seem like a bad pick if only because Williams never ended up living up to the hype of his first few years and the fact that future Hall of Famers like Dirk Nowitzki (9th) and Paul Pierce (10th) were taken soon after, but Williams still proved to be a good player and helped bring the Kings onto the national stage.  Williams made the Kings fun and contributed to the early camaraderie of those teams.  He also ended up being traded for Mike Bibby, which helped the Kings turn from pretender to contender.


As you can see, some hits, a lot of misses, and a whole bunch of bad luck for the Kings in the lottery.  Williams ended up being Sacramento's last lottery pick for almost ten seasons before we entered into the current period of Kings history, which we will take a look at tomorrow.