Many people thought that the Sacramento Kings would be a dumpster fire heading into the 2018-2019 season. Outside of Sacramento, fans in Philly and Boston are paying close attention to how the Kings wind up because a first round draft pick is at stake. Of course this pick first came into play in 2015 when then-GM Sam Hinkie absolutely swindled Vlade Divac and the Kings. The image below is not photoshopped:
Infamously, of course, the picks swapped in the 2017 draft lottery giving the Sixers a third overall pick instead of a fifth overall pick. The 76ers then traded that future first round pick to the Celtics along with their 2017 third overall pick for the Celtics 2017 first overall pick. The Sixers took Markelle Fultz overall this year while the Celtics took Jayston Tatum third. The pick did not come into play in the 2018 draft due to protections, but by 2019 it will completely be out of the King’s protection. The Sixers however have a number one overall protection, meaning that if the Kings win the NBA Draft Lottery, the Sixers keep the pick. That is the only circumstance where the Sixers can keep the Kings pick while any other scenario means the Celtics get it.
It is a bit worrisome as a Sixers fan with the possibility looming of the Celtics getting even better with a high draft pick, but the chances of the Kings being the worst team looked decent heading into this year. They are a really young team, with no star presence and the only veteran presence being a 37 year old Zach Randolph. Tanking seemed inevitable in Sacramento, but they have a better record than the Sixers right now at 5-3. If the season ended today, the Kings would be the 8th seed in the West. Everyone who was written off is stepping up in a big way. Young players like Buddy Hield, De’Aaron Fox, Willie Cauley Stein and Rookie Marvin Bagley are all playing extremely well. Adding insult to injury for Sixers fans, Nemanja Bjelica (who backed out of a deal with the Sixers this summer) is playing incredible right now with 15.1 PPG and 6.5 RPG while shooting 51.9% from three. Dario Saric is shooting 20% from three-point range. The teams they have beaten include the Thunder, Wizards, Grizzlies, Heat and Magic. They have won four games in a row and are probably the biggest surprise in the NBA right now more so than the Bucks or Nuggets.
What are realistic expectations of where this pick will end up. Well, the biggest question is how long can the Kings keep a record above .500. They have been known to do that in the past. In 2014, Kendrick Perkins hyped up his Thunder team against a red-hot Sacramento by telling them “these motherfuckers are still the Sacramento Kings.” He was right as the Thunder won that game and the Kings finished with a 29-53 record, easily missing the Playoffs. It will be interesting to see how long the Kings can hold off the teams below them in the standings that coming into this year were better than them on paper. Teams like the Thunder, the Timberwolves, the Clippers, the Rockets and LeBron’s Lakers.
The most realistic scenario for this pick is that it ends up in the hands of the Celtics. This team is showing signs early on that they are just too good to be even in the running for the lowest pick in the draft. They are a lot better than the Cavaliers, Hawks, Nets, Suns and Mavericks, all of which will have an incentive to tank at some point early on this season if they haven’t already. Obviously the Kings want to make Playoffs, but even if they don’t there is no incentive from management to tank. They don’t have a first round pick this year, so there is no incentive for management to stack their roster with underachieving players. It is in the Kings best interest to win games this year not only for ticket sales, but to gain confidence in the young players that are essential to the King’s future. Unlike the beginning of the season, I’m not getting my hopes up for this Kings pick as it will probably end up in the hands of the Celtics. If that happens, let’s hope the Kings make the playoffs and the Celtics don’t get yet another lottery pick. Still, it is crazy that a move that Sam Hinkie made in 2015 could greatly impact the future of the league some four years later.