As draft prep heats up, Kings front office getting respect around NBA

As draft prep heats up, Kings front office getting respect around NBA

It’s all about relationships. The NBA game is not just about who you are, but who you know. The Sacramento Kings have struggled with this issue over the past five or six seasons, but they appear to be turning the corner.

The first major addition was Vlade Divac, a former player known for his ability to bring a room together. But the Kings needed more pieces to the puzzle.

Last summer they added Ken Catanella as an assistant general manager to help support Divac and his growing team. Veteran NBA executive Scott Perry joined the fray following the 2016-17 season to help pull it all together.

Divac, flanked by Perry and Catanella, as well as holdovers Mike Bratz and Peja Stojakovic and the rest of the basketball operations staff, made their way to Chicago for the NBA’s annual Draft Combine for an all hands on deck approach. In past years, the Kings have had trouble getting consideration from elite prospects, let alone an interview with a top tier player. That all seems to be changing.

Not only did Markelle Fultz, the player most believe will go with the top overall pick, sit down with the Kings brass, Sacramento got the first crack at an interview with the guard from Washington. Perry, the team’s new executive vice president of basketball operations has ties to the Fultz camp, which is usually the way this all works.

According to a source inside of Fultz’ camp, the 19-year-old point guard would have no problems joining the Sacramento Kings if that’s how the cards fall. Fultz is a gym rat. His primary focus as a young man is basketball and Sacramento is an environment that allows a player to mature into his roll without the bright lights of the big city.  

“I think Sacramento is a good place to grow,” the source said.

Josh Jackson, another top five candidate out of Kansas, is represented by former All-Star and World Champion, B.J. Armstrong. Armstrong, a former teammate of Divac, isn’t counting out the Kings.

“Vlade and Scott Perry, they are as sharp as anybody in this league,” Armstrong told NBC Sports California. “They’re going to be fine.”

Armstrong spent the 1997-98 season as a member of the Charlotte Hornets with Divac and considers him, “One of the best teammates I’ve ever had.”

As for Perry, Armstrong said, “his track record of success speaks for itself.” Both Detroit natives, Armstrong said that he and Perry have known each other for years.

If the Kings found themselves in the top five, would Armstrong shy away from bringing Jackson to Sacramento for a visit?

“If other people see problems, we see enormous opportunity,” Armstrong told NBC Sports California about Sacramento.

Armstrong was clear - you come in the league as a player, but it is the prospects who strive to become professionals that succeed. Professionals can succeed anywhere.

“If you love to compete, there’s nothing to run away from,” Armstrong said.

Fultz will listen. So will Jackson. But that’s not where it ends.

“We have as a company (CAA), four or five guys that are going in the top 20,” agent Aaron Mintz told NBC Sports California. “They will all be going to Sacramento and we are very hopeful that the Kings will take one if not two of them.”

CAA represents Frank Ntilikina, John Collins, Donovan Mitchell and Luke Kennard, as well as plenty of others in this year’s draft.

“When you have good people who work hard and are passionate and honest, good things usually happen,” Mintz said of the Kings.

Like Armstrong, Mintz has known Perry for years. They have a relationship that is built on decades of trust. The fact that Perry is now with the Kings doesn't change that, either during the draft or when free agency opens on July 1.

“It’s not just the draft, even in free agency this is an organization our clients are going to look at,” Mintz said. “It’s a credit to Vlade, Scott and Ken.”

Sacramento offers a wide open opportunity at most positions. They have a young core in Buddy Hield, Skal Labissiere, Malachi Richardson, Georgios Papagiannis and Willie Cauley-Stein, but the point guard and small forward spots are there for the taking.

Kentucky’s De'Aaron Fox, another player expected to go in the top of the lottery, met with Sacramento over the weekend. He probably won’t make it to picks 8 or 10 where the Kings are projected to select, but even as a 19-year-old college kid, he can see the opportunity.

“They just feel like if they’re able to get a point guard, somebody who can run the team, they feel like they could do something special,” Fox told reporters after meeting with the Kings. “But like I said, that division is really hard. You’re going to have to have a point guard that’s ready to play every night to do something in that division.”

NBC Sports California has learned that there is a very good chance that Fox, Kennard, T.J. Leaf, Bam Adebayo, Dennis Smith and Hamadou Diallo will all visit Sacramento for pre-draft workouts. Ntilikina is still playing in the playoffs with his European team, leaving his draft workout status in flux.

The Kings plan to be aggressive over the next few weeks leading up to the draft. They will know more about where they stand Tuesday night following the NBA Draft Lottery. If the ping pong balls fall their way, the list of potential visitors to Sacrament is bound to expand.

With gaping holes to fill, 2017 NBA Draft offers Kings several options

With gaping holes to fill, 2017 NBA Draft offers Kings several options

The Sacramento Kings walk into the 2017 offseason with gaping holes in their roster. Free agency will play a role, but before they get to spending their $60-plus million in cap space, Vlade Divac, Scott Perry, Ken Catanella and the rest of the front office will try to fill some of their needs via the draft.

While the first batch of draft prospects rolled through Sacramento late last week, Vlade Divac, along with European scout Predrag Drobnjak spent the weekend in Istanbul, Turkey at the European Championships. Sharpshooting guard Bogdan Bogdanovic led Fenerbahçe to its first title, further building the hype around one of Europe’s best young stars.

Divac acquired the rights to Bogdanovic in a draft day trade last summer when the 6-foot-6 Serbian was tossed in along with picks 13 and 28 for the 9th overall selection in the 2016 NBA Draft. Divac would love to entice the 24-year-old wing to play in the NBA next season.

Even if Bogdanovic buys in, the Kings need more.

Both Darren Collison and Ty Lawson are unrestricted free agents, leaving Langston Galloway as the only point guard on the roster. Rudy Gay has already informed the team that he intends to opt out of his $14.3 million player option for next season, opening a massive need at the small forward position.

The needs are clear. Sacramento has to find a point guard and small forward of the future. They also need a point guard and a small forward of the right now. If a player fits both now and in the future, so be it.

Lady luck shined brightly on the Kings during the draft lottery. A move from No. 8 to No. 3 would have guaranteed a point guard, but a pick swap to No. 5 still has Sacramento in the running to fill one of their biggest voids.

While plenty of mock drafts have a variety of players in the top five of the 2017 NBA Draft, there is a clear group that Sacramento will likely focus on. Barring a major trade, point guard Markelle Fultz out of the University of Washington is projected to go with the first overall selection, but then it’s wide open how the next four picks will unfold.

UCLA’s Lonzo Ball is projected to go to the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 2 in most mocks, but nothing is a sure bet. Small forwards Josh Jackson and Jayson Tatum are top five selections as well, while Kentucky point guard De’Aaron Fox is an early draft climber.

Sacramento would love nothing more than to see Fox sitting on the board when they select at five. He’s slight of build, but the 6-foot-3 speedster is a high character player with tons of potential. He would step in and instantly compete for a starting job with the Kings’ young core.

There are concerns that Fox won’t make it to five and the Kings have a few options if they want to move up, but the real question is, should they?

If Fox is gone, Sacramento will still have a player on the board at a position of need. Be it Ball, Jackson or Tatum, the talent pool is rich. Finding a floor general is important, but finding a star should be the top priority. All five have potential to become more than just a starter in the league and all five fit one of the team’s two most glaring weaknesses on the current roster.

Drafting either Jackson or Tatum would instantly bump the talent level of the team. Both are considered top tier prospects and for Sacramento, likely starters on Day 1.

Jackson is a catalyst type player and personality that brings energy, as well as a tremendous skill set. He can pass, rebound, play defense at a high level and score above the rim. He’ll be an instant fan favorite wherever he lands.

Tatum has potential as a two-way player, but his offensive game should instantly translate to the NBA level. A polished scorer, Tatum would step in and give the Kings a scoring option to fill the shoes of Gay, who is on the verge of becoming an unrestricted free agent.

The Top 10 has plenty of other high end prospects. Sacramento could chase a shooting big in Lauri Markkanen. The 7-footer out of Arizona would help to stretch the floor at the four, but their other needs are more obvious.

Fox’s backcourt mate at Kentucky, Malik Monk, is also an intriguing player, but with Buddy Hield, Garrett Temple, Malachi Richardson and the potential for Bogdanovic to join the team, the Kings are heavy at the shooting guard spot.

Point guard Dennis Smith has a high ceiling and would likely challenge for top five consideration if it wasn’t for a torn ACL in high school and some questions about his attitude.

If Sacramento selects a small forward with the fifth pick and Smith was still available when they choose again at No. 10, he becomes a lower risk proposition the Kings might have to consider.

Point guard Frank Ntilikina out of France would fit the bill as well in the right situation. If the Kings land Jackson or Tatum at five, they could come back with Ntilikina at 10. He’s young and inexperienced, but he also stands at 6-foot-5 with a 7-foot wingspan. His defensive potential at the point is tremendous, but he is a project on the offensive end, not a polished player like the four point guards expected to go ahead of him in the draft.

Combo forward Jonathan Isaac is an appealing prospect, but he’ll need plenty of time to develop and he’s a better target if he somehow slips to 10. Like Smith and Ntilikina, this would be a nice addition if the Kings fill their other need with the fifth overall selection.

Regardless of how they got to No.’s 5 and 10, the Kings are in a good spot. They have options and plenty of players at positions of need and there is potential to land a future star. Once the draft rolls around on June 22, the focus will quickly shift to shoring up the remainder of the squad. With two high picks, the potential addition of Bogdanovic and plenty of cap space, the Kings are primed for a big time roster overhaul this summer.

Joerger: Rebuilding Kings hope to make the playoffs in...

Joerger: Rebuilding Kings hope to make the playoffs in...

The Kings' playoff drought is at 11 years and according to head coach Dave Joerger, it's going to last a few more years.

Speaking on Sirius XM NBA Radio on Tuesday, Joerger was asked about the differences between his coaching gigs with Sacramento and Memphis, and outlined the Kings' timeline for reaching the postseason.

"It's different. It's been a great learning experience for me. It's going to be an interesting process. You know, three years from now we hope to be in the playoffs. And so how do we do that? We were just talking about Memphis and it's the same thing. So if you're management, there's a couple times a year, two or three times that are really hot. Trade deadline, draft, free agency, boom, boom, boom. We're in Memphis sitting there getting 50 wins a year. Okay, maybe the trade deadline came and went, maybe we got a guy, maybe not, not too stressful. Get the 23rd, 24th pick in the draft," Joerger said.

"It's different now. In this situation, it's a higher pick, now free agency has a little bit more focus on it. So how we execute in free agency, how we execute our draft picks and how we execute at the trade deadline as this thing builds, you try to go too fast, you can make mistakes. But I think slow and steady wins the race," Joerger concluded.

So Kings fans can look forward to the 2019-20 season when the team returns to the playoffs.

Joerger is at the helm of a Kings team that is in full rebuild mode. The team traded center DeMarcus Cousins during the All-Star break and turned the team over to several first and second-year players. They posted a 32-50 record during the 2016-17 season, good for a third-place finish in the Pacific Division.

The Kings hold the No. 5, 10 and 34 picks in the upcoming 2017 NBA Draft and will add to their stable of young players.