The Sacramento Kings have been living in the pit of the Western Conference for the better part of ten years now with no signs of looking up. Just this past weekend, the Kings traded away the only hope the franchise had in DeMarcus Cousins for a rookie in Buddy Hield, the next Stephen Curry in the Kings' eyes. But what if I told you the Kings could have had Curry eight years ago when he came out of Davidson? Instead, the Kings picked shooting guard Tyreke Evans, who just re-joined the team following the trade with the Pelicans.
The Kings are the oldest franchise in the NBA, but have only been in Sacramento since 1985. The team has never made it to the NBA Finals since settling in Sacramento and only saw an extended period of success from 1998-2006. During that time, the Kings made the playoffs every single year, but failed to make it past the Western Conference Finals. Since 2006, the Kings have compiled a record of 302-560, which is among the worst in the NBA.
The blame for such an abysmal record relies mostly on the front office. Every year, it seems the team has gotten it wrong in the NBA Draft, even with multiple lottery picks. The part that makes Kings fans cringe is the amount of great players they have left on board. Let’s take a look back at the last fifteen 1st round picks that the Kings could have done different.
15 Carlos Boozer (2002)
Original pick: Dan Dickau - 28th overall
The Kings were at their best during the early 2000s with the 2001-02 season possibly being their best season in franchise history. Led by Mike Bibby and Chris Webber, the Kings won their first division title since moving to Sacramento. The Kings advanced to the Western Conference finals before losing to the Lakers for the third straight year in seven games.
Carlos Boozer played at Duke before being drafted in the second round by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Boozer is one of very few players to make an All-Star game as a second round pick. During his 13-year career, Boozer never averaged under double digits for a season, and his career totaled out to 16.2 PPG. His ability to score from all ends of the court may have helped the Kings get over their playoff hump.
14 Kevin Martin (2004)
Original pick: Kevin Martin - 26th overall
With no draft picks in 2003, the Kings were forced to wait a year to build around Mike Bibby and Chris Webber, so we will fast forward a year. Most thought that the Kings would fall apart without Chris Webber, who had been out for the majority of the season, but the team managed to go 44-15 without him. The Kings were beaten by the Timberwolves in game seven of the West Conference Semifinals. With another low pick in the 1st round, no one expected the Kings to strike gold.
The Kings selected shooting guard Kevin Martin from Western Carolina with the 26th pick in the 2004 draft. Martin played six seasons with the Kings, proving to be one of the league’s all-around best scorers for the first decade of his career. He struggled a bit during his first two seasons with the team due to limited minutes, but benefitted greatly once given a starting role. From 2006-2009, Martin averaged over 20 PPG and a career-high of 24.6 PPG during the 2008-2009 season. In 2010, he was traded to the Houston Rockets.
13 David Lee (2005)
Original pick: Francisco Garcia - 23rd overall
Without Chris Webber, the Kings saw a quick first round playoff exit against the San Antonio Spurs. With the 23rd pick in the 2005 draft, the Kings chose guard Francisco Garcia out of Louisville. Garcia never stood out with any outstanding statistics, but still managed to stay with the team for eight seasons.
The last pick of the 2005 first round belonged to the New York Knicks and they selected forward David Lee from Florida. Lee averaged a double double in three of his five years with the Knicks, and could have solidified any trouble the Kings may have had in the post. Lee would go on to become a two-time All-Star in 2010 and 2013.
12 Kyle Lowry (2006)
Original pick: Quincy Douby - 19th overall
The 2005-2006 season is the last time anyone has seen the Sacramento Kings in the postseason. The team hasn’t even come close to a winning record since their 44-38 record that year. The acquisition of Ron Artest made them just good enough to lose one last time in the first round of the playoffs. In the offseason, the team selected Quincy Douby with the 23rd pick. Without being too harsh, Quincy Douby was a bust by most standards. He played only three seasons with the Kings and never started a single game.
Just five picks later, The Memphis Grizzlies selected Kyle Lowry from Villanova. Lowry has been one of the rare cases in the league where his career has improved greatly in his later years. In the beginning of his career, Lowry came off the bench for the Grizzlies. After being dealt to the Rockets at the trade deadline, Lowry saw an increase in playing time and was given a starting spot towards the end of his tenure with the team. Just last season, Lowry was named to an All-NBA team while leading his team to the Eastern Conference Finals.
11 Marc Gasol (2007)
Original pick: Spencer Hawes - 10th overall
For the first time in eight seasons, the Kings failed to reach the postseason finishing with a 33-49 record. The front office had not made any blockbuster moves to help rebuild the struggling Kings, as they found themselves in a tough situation in the 2007 NBA Draft. Looking back, there weren’t any superstars remaining in the 1st round which made it hard to criticize the Kings taking center Spencer Hawes. He played sparingly during his three seasons with the Kings and didn’t actually become well-known until he was traded to Philadelphia.
In hindsight, the Kings should have selected 2nd round pick and 48th overall out of Spain Marc Gasol. Gasol has proven to be one of the greatest steals in Memphis Grizzlies' history. Even though Gasol wasn’t on anybody's radar at the time, he could've been the pick to save the Kings' franchise. The three-time All-Star has averaged double figures in every season since being drafted. He is also known to play his best ball in the postseason. There is no doubt the Kings would have been much better off with Gasol playing center instead of Hawes.
10 DeAndre Jordan (2008)
Original pick: Jason Thompson - 12th overall
The Kings improved their record from last season finishing 38-44, but failed to reach the postseason for the second consecutive year. Sacramento’s front office refused to make any major improvements to the team in the offseason. With another year to build upon the draft, the Kings selected forward Jason Thompson 12th overall. Thompson showed promise early as a big man, but peaked in only his second year of the league averaging 12.5 PPG and 8.5 RPG
DeAndre Jordan was the center that the Kings should have had their eyes on heading into the draft. After spending only one year at Texas A&M, Jordan was projected by the experts to land all over the 1st round but teams passed on him. He was noted for having poor fundamentals and high bust potential. The Los Angeles Clippers selected Jordan 35th overall in the second round. Jordan has played with a chip on his shoulder since, constantly showing every team in the league why they should have picked him. In 2016, he was named to the All-NBA first team.
9 Stephen Curry (2009)
Original pick: Tyreke Evans - 4th overall
The city of Sacramento witnessed an all-time level of disappointment when it came to their basketball franchise’s 2008-2009 season. The team finished last in the Western Conference with their worst record in franchise history at 17-65. Even with the worst pick in the West, the Kings still only managed to receive the 4th pick in the draft. With that pick, the team selected guard Tyreke Evans. Evans proved to be a fantastic scorer averaging over 20 PPG in his rookie season. However, Evans only spent four seasons with the team before being traded to New Orleans.
The Kings must still be kicking themselves for not taking Stephen Curry out of Davidson. Curry has already solidified himself as one of the greatest point guards of all time. He completely revitalized Golden State into a championship contender in just a few short years. The Kings can only wonder what could have been if they had taken Steph instead of Tyreke Evans, who is now on his second-stint with the team.
8 Danny Green (2009)
Original pick: Omri Casspi - 23rd overall
As a result of a trade with the Houston Rockets, the Kings also owned the 23rd pick of the draft. How great does of a backcourt does Stephen Curry and Danny Green sound? Casspi played just two seasons during his first stint with the Kings before being traded to the Cavaliers in 2012. Upon his return in 2014, he made his presence known off the bench sparking the offense in quick spurts.
Danny Green was drafted in the second round 46th overall by Cleveland. He spent just one season with the team before being waived and picked up by the Spurs. Like most players on the Spurs, Green was able to find his suitable role. He has never been relied on to be a main scorer but when the team has needed a three-pointer in a clutch moment, he has been their guy. The Kings have come to know in recent years that without role players like Green, there won’t be any continuous success.
7 DeMarcus Cousins (2010)
Original pick: DeMarcus Cousins - 5th overall
Even with the sour taste of last weekends’ trade by Kings still in everyone’s mouths, DeMarcus Cousins has been a superstar for the team since being drafted 5th overall in 2010. Leading up to the draft, the Kings finished last in the Pacific division for the second consecutive season. A large majority of the team’s makeup of this point were previous draft picks who were not panning out. Once the Kings drafted Boogie, he immediately separated himself from the rest of former 1st round picks and blossomed into a superstar.
During Cousins' seven seasons with the Kings, he averaged a double-double in five of them. Cousins has also been selected to the last three All-Star Game. The only accomplishment awaiting Cousins is taking a team to the postseason. With the talent he had around him, it is difficult to put that burden on him.
6 Kawhi Leonard (2011)
Original pick: Jimmer Fredette - 10th overall
Now four years in a row, the Sacramento Kings have finished in the basement of their division and are now looked at as one of the laughing stocks of the NBA. Finishing with a record of 24-58 gave them the 7th pick in the draft, but traded it away to the then Charlotte Bobcats. They proceeded to trade with the Milwaukee Bucks to select guard Jimmer Fredette 10th overall. Fredette was regarded as one of the best shooters from the NCAA in recent memory. Like most Kings' draft choices, he flopped rather quickly and was off the team after just three seasons.
Just five picks later, the San Antonio Spurs acquired Kawhi Leonard following a trade with the Indiana Pacers. Leonard has kept the Spurs a top contender in the Western Conference, as Tony Parker and Tim Duncan continued to age. Leonard has accumulated many accolades during his short time in the league, including a Finals MVP, two-time All-Star, and two-time Defensive Player of the Year. Although it seems like most Spurs seem to exceed expectations, Leonard has gone above and beyond to become one of the top stars in the league.
5 Damian Lillard (2012)
Original pick: Thomas Robinson - 5th overall
Another year, another last place finish for the Sacramento Kings. It has almost become too easy to predict their season outcome before even looking at it.The Kings finished the 2011-2012 campaign with a record of 22-44 during a strike shortened season. With yet another lottery selection, the Kings selected Kansas Jayhawk, Thomas Robinson, with the 5th overall pick. Robinson had a stellar junior year at Kansas totaling 17.7 PPG and 11.9 RPG. With statistics like that, it is hard to blame the Kings for taking him in that spot. Unfortunately, he turned out to be a major bust and left the team after just one season.
Just one pick later, the Portland Trail Blazers would find their point guard for the foreseeable future. Damian Lillard went sixth overall from Weber State and made an immediate impact on the Portland franchise. He won the 2013 Rookie of the Year award and has been one of the main contributors to the Blazers recent playoff success. It would only be the King’s luck to miss out an All-Star point guard by just one pick, and instead grab a guy who barely lasts one season with the team.
4 Giannis Antetokounmpo (2013)
Original pick: Ben McLemore - 7th overall
Finally in the 2012-2013 season, the Kings were able to climb out of last place in the Pacific division. However, they still finished in 4th with a record of 28-54 and landed the 7th pick in the 2013 draft. The team selected Ben McLemore from Kansas, expecting him to hit open shots with DeMarcus Cousins' ability to draw attention inside. In three plus seasons, McLemore has failed to reach his potential.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, also known as the “Greek Freak”, went 15th in the draft to the Milwaukee Bucks. His first couple years with the team were pedestrian, but since signing a four-year, 100 million dollar contract last offseason, his numbers have skyrocketed. He is a Sportscaster highlight every night he’s on the court and was even selected to the 2017 All-Star game. It just goes to show sometimes patience is key with developing young talent.
3 Zach LaVine (2014)
Original pick: Nik Stauskas - 8th overall
The 2013-2014 season showed no improvements, but also no regression from the Sacramento Kings. They finished with the exact same record as the 2012-2013 season much to the displeasure of the Sacramento fanbase. It must truly be painful to watch your team continuously put a bad product on the court each and every night. With their 8th pick in the 2014 draft, the Kings selected guard Nik Stauskas. Stauskas played just one season with the team before finding a successful role coming off the bench for the Philadelphia 76ers.
In three years with Minnesota, Zach LaVine has improved each year. Unlike most shooting guards the Kings have drafted, LaVine has consistently knocked down jump shots and proven to be a leading scorer when called upon. He has even won the Slam Dunk Contest twice, showing he can put on a show while playing the game as well.
2 Devin Booker (2015)
Original pick: Willie Cauley-Stein - 6th overall
With little change to the roster, the Kings did not see any improvement on the court. The team finished with 4th in the division again and a record of 29-53. The Kings decided to draft a big this year, taking Willie Cauley-Stein from Kentucky. It is difficult to say that Cauley-Stein is a bad pick or anyone should be taken over him at such an early stage in his career, but we have seen other talent progress faster in the same amount of time.
The third place team in the Pacific Division, Phoenix Suns, selected shooting guard Devin Booker 13th overall. Booker has made a strong impact on a rebuilding team and has shown the front office they can build a team around him. This season, Booker has averaged 21.1 PPG and continues to impress as the season goes on.
1 Marquese Chriss (2016)
Original pick: Marquese Chriss - 8th overall (Traded)
The Kings finished their 2015-2016 season with their best record since the 2007-2008 campaign. The team racked up a record of 33-49 while missing the playoffs for the 10th straight year. On draft night in 2016, the Kings made a deal that would send 8th overall pick Marquese Chriss to the Suns in exchange for 13th overall pick Georgios Papagiannis, Skal Labissiere and a 2020 second round pick. Papagiannis has struggled to stay on the Kings main roster and spends most games with the D-league affiliate Reno Bighorns.
Marquese Chriss, on the other hand, has shined greatly for the Phoenix Suns during his rookie season, winning the Western Conference Rookie of the Month in January. It is hard to argue who won the early stages of this trade with the immediate success of Chriss. For now, Kings fans need to stay hopeful for a brighter future even if isn’t for what seems like many years down the road.
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