Decision Time Looms for the Sacramento Kings

Sacramento Kings 2021 Free Agency Cap Space (Photo by Ben Green/Getty Images)
Sacramento Kings 2021 Free Agency Cap Space (Photo by Ben Green/Getty Images) /

The Sacramento Kings are facing their most crucial decision since drafting Marvin Bagley 2nd overall in 2018. 

The Sacramento Kings approach the 2022 NBA Draft with the 4th overall pick. This draft has been described by most pundits as being a three-man affair at the top. Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren, Auburn’s Jabari Smith, and Duke’s Paolo Banchero are universally predicted as being the first three players selected… Of course Sacramento ended up with the 4th pick.

However, the Kings should still consider themselves lucky. The Western Conference’s 12th-seeded team entered the draft lottery with the 7th best odds of selecting first. This made their leap to pick 4 the largest of any lottery team.  A break from tradition, as the ping-pong balls have historically been a cruel mistress for the Kings.

Many project the draft to “really begin” at number 4 with the Kings, once the top-3 picks are all off the board. Who should Sacramento select with that pick? And more broadly, WHAT should Sacramento do with that pick?

Logic would tell you that the Kings, a team well-traveled down the beaten path, and with several glaring needs, should go with the prospect who provides most upside. However, Kings Owner

(and root cause for the franchise’s failures for the past decade)

Vivek Ranadive has reportedly issued a decree to General Manager Monte McNair and the rest of the Kings Front Office to make the playoffs at any cost in the 2022-23 NBA season.

The Kings enter the offseason with no cap space, a homely trade exception ($4 million) and the Mid-Level Exception (MLE) worth roughly $10 million. Assuming the Kings don’t dip their toes into the luxury tax (HAHA!) there is realistically only enough money to make a few modest tweaks to the roster, acquiring your Otto Porter Jr.’s of the world. With the current roster, a few decent role players and a rookie at pick 4, is a leap to the postseason even realistic?

A likely (and potentially terrifying) scenario could see the Kings packaging the 4th overall pick and a contract (Harrison Barnes at $18 million/year or Richaun Holmes at $11 million/year) for a “star.” This will depend of course on one’s definition of a star. Rumored possibilities that can also be classified as realistic would be the Detroit Piston’s Forward Jerami Grant on the low-end, and Atlanta Hawks Forward John Collins on the high-end. Both players cause trepidation but can offer something to the Kings. (Grant offering far less than Collins)

The Kings primary needs this offseason are 3PT shooting and defense, both perimeter and interior. Jerami Grant (28) is a decent scorer

(can loot in blackout)

but does not provide the knockdown shooting, or defensive upgrade the Kings so sorely lack. John Collins is a versatile, uber-athletic player, who’s age (24) better fits the timeline of the Kings’ core players; De’Aaron Fox (24) and Domantas Sabonis (26). More importantly, the potential is there with Collins to develop into an effective inside-outside defender, utilizing his size and lateral quickness.

John Collins, who is most likely the “best-case scenario” trade piece the Kings could acquire for pick 4, is owed roughly $75 million over the next three years, before a $26.5 million player option kicks in for the 2025-26 season. A starting lineup featuring De’Aaron Fox, Davion Mitchell, John Collins and Domantas Sabonis (featuring an MLE guy at the Small Forward Position) would be formidable at the middle fringes of the Western Conference.

But is putting all of your eggs into the “lets make the playoffs and get destroyed in the first round basket” really worth not taking a swing at a kid like Kentucky’s Shaedon Sharpe? The 6’5 Shooting Guard represents the great unknown of this year’s draft.

The former #1 ranked player coming out of high school, Sharpe had offers to play collegiate basketball all over the country, before committing to Kentucky. Following injuries and a myriad of other issues that have been left murky at best, Sharpe left Kentucky and declared for the NBA draft without ever playing a second of college basketball.

Sharpe completed individual workouts at the NBA Scouting Combine last week and left many scouts tantalized by what they saw. While agreeing that his lack of body of work and potential averseness to competition left much to be desired, his length, ballhandling, explosiveness, and soft shooting touch makes him as promising a prospect as anyone in this year’s draft.

The Kings famously missed out on drafting a franchise-altering star in 2018, when they didn’t select Luka Doncic. Shaedon Sharpe isn’t necessarily Luka… but he could be close. The fact is, had Shaedon Sharpe played to his abilities this past NCAA season, he would at least be in the discussion for first overall selection, and minimum, top three consideration. He seems to have nearly unlimited untapped potential.

The Kings rarely find themselves in position to land a transcendent talent. A John Collins-like trade involving the 4th pick makes the Kings a better team, but still not a contender in the West. Far from it, in fact. The Kings already traded Tyrese Haliburton (age 22) in order to improve their roster in the here and now, acquiring Domantas Sabonis from the Indiana Pacers. Haliburton went on to average 17.5 PTS and 9.6 AST with the Pacers.

The Kings famously never truly tanked a season away during this entire run of futility. Historically, Sacramento has always had mismatched teams of veteran players, bad contracts and youth in a stumbling effort to make the postseason, before ultimately falling flat on their faces. This has resulted in the precious few chances the Kings have had to strike in the draft, securing an elite prospect.

It may be time for the Kings to stop seeking the quick fix. Maybe that is the key to ending their nightmarish SIXTEEN season playoff drought. Taking a swing at massive upside may be the Kings best course of action.