A kiss at the altar. The birth of a child. An unexpected death of a close friend. These are some of the many defining moments in a person’s life: crystal clear, life altering. And just as those singular occasions are the culmination of many millions of decisions, both voluntary and involuntary, so do the successes and failures of NBA franchises often rise and fall on an individual moment: the zenith of a thousand influences.
A tipped ball: a scramble for the rebound, a made three-pointer, championship hopes extinguished.
A tweet: the Kings are saved. Here We Stayed.
A trade: DeMarcus Cousins is gone. Another rebuild has begun.
These are just a few.
Last night was the apex of a a full year of defining instances, some realized in the moment, some completely unknown as they were unfolding.
May 16, 2017: The Kings jump in the lottery for the first time in 28 years. They move to 3rd place, but slide back to 5th due to a previous trade with Philadelphia.
June 22, 2017: Vlade Divac selects De’Aaron Fox with the fifth overall pick.
November 9, 2017: Our rookie point guard hits the game-winning shot to defeat the Sixers 109-108.
January 25, 2018: De’Aaron Fox dunks all over the Miami Heat for his second clutch bucket of the year.
February 22, 2018: The Bulls blow a lead to the Sixers with just a few seconds remaining. Bobby Portis misses a game-winning two-footer. Chicago loses.
March 1, 2018, prime tanking season: De’Aaron Fox once again is the man in the clutch. He sinks an overtime-forcing floater as time expires. The Kings win the game 116-111.
April 11, 2018: Houston rests their starters against Sacramento. The Kings are victorious over the Rockets and the Bulls lose to the Pistons by 32 points. Chicago and Sacramento end the season in a tie for 6th place.
April 13, 2018: A coin is flipped. The Bulls win. Sacramento moves to the 7th slot in the lottery.
These individual drops in the water, as well as many others, have created ripple after ripple after ripple for two ill-equipped organizations. The stage is set. The ping-pong balls rattle in their cage; the combination is read: 14-7-6-8. Sacramento is awarded the second selection in a two player draft. Chicago falls to seventh. Those insignificant waves have transformed from scattered events into a tidal wave of possibilities for a derelict franchise bereft of hope for well over a decade.
That single moment not only changed the Kings’ drafting position, but it also directly affected Vlade Divac’s legacy, the Front Office’s free agency plans and reputation, as well as the ceiling of our young core.
Interestingly enough, the actual decision-making is mostly out of Vlade Divac’s hands. Assuming our GM doesn’t do something foolish and 1) trade the pick outright, 2) trade back, or 3) select someone not named Doncic or Ayton, Phoenix is essentially picking for the Kings. If they take Luka to pair with his old coach, Sacramento can walk away with a smile on their face and the best big man in the draft. If the Suns select the Arizona product, DeAndre Ayton, our Front Office fills their desperate need at small forward with the most prolific European prospect in history. There’s really no unsavory result for Sacramento either way.
The massive jump that the franchise was afforded greatly benefits Vlade Divac in a much more personal way: job security. His favor with the fanbase has continued to slip over the last three years, and while he’s not making the boneheaded decisions of his first year in office, the win column hasn’t grown and mistakes are continue to occur. Last February, Vlade allowed himself two years to significantly improve the roster. While that timeline was never fully believable, nor was the notion that he would step down if the team didn’t reach that goal, our GM was granted a reprieve last night.
Now, instead of adding another core player without much star potential, possibly a Mikal Bridges or Mo Bamba, Divac was gifted top-end talent through nothing other than sheer luck. Assuming our draft pick contributes in the way that many top-2 picks manage in their first couple of seasons, Vlade has likely bought himself a longer leash for his tenure as the leader of the organization. A much more competitive team combined with an uptick in victories may very well allow him to keep his job past next summer.
The lottery gods blessing for a second consecutive year also changes the free agent market for Sacramento. A core of Doncic or Ayton, Fox, Bogdanovic, and Hield looks much more attractive than several rebuilding franchises. Although he doesn’t have control over the Magic’s final decision, someone like Aaron Gordon may see the Kings as much closer to winning with the infusion of a top-2 pick, rather than the Magic with the 6th overall selection and their hodgepodge of young pieces. The big names by no means have Sacramento anywhere on their radar, but up-and-coming players may shift their perspective with someone like Ayton or Doncic on board.
There is also a need for our Front Office to accelerate their timeline with the addition of a potential star player. Max cap space will be available for the Kings, and with the cash-strapped nature of the majority of the market, Sacramento needs to take advantage while they can. Vlade Divac cannot afford to be conservative or to wait for the summer of 2019. With no first round pick coming next year, the time for aggression is now. Clint Capela, Aaron Gordon, Julius Randle, Jabari Parker, or Marcus Smart should be targeted by the Kings, and offer sheets need to be signed as soon as free agency opens.
Gaining five spots on draft night will also provide the team with something they’ve been missing since the departure of Boogie: a possible number one option. There has been some debate that De’Aaron Fox could eventually become that kind of player for the Kings, and all hope isn’t lost in that regard, but the acquisition of a player like Doncic or Ayton alleviates a significant amount of pressure from our young guard to be the guy. Fox can evolve into the playmaker and scorer that his skillset calls for, without the need to carry the team on his shoulders each and every night. Players like Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic can take a step back from being the focal point of the offense to a supporting player for a more balanced attack. Each member of the roster could fall into a more natural role supporting a star, rather than trying to be an inadequate primary option.
Acquiring the second overall selection didn’t solve all of the problems that have haunted this franchise for the past dozen years. There is a very real danger of picking a bust, especially with Vlade’s spotty draft record. An unwise contract could be thrown out in free agency, producing an untenable cap situation or poor chemistry on the team. Harry Giles could turn out to be less than a combination of Kevin Durant and Kevin Garnett. But, many of those question marks could work out as well. Sacramento may very well draft their first star player since Cousins. A young forward might sign with the Kings and increase the overall talent level. Harry Giles theoretically could live up to a certain level of hype.
Winning the lottery didn’t automatically turn the Kings into contenders. There is still a long road to conquer on the path to respectability; however, the climax of events last night gives the Kings the opportunity to leverage one significant moment into many, many more.