Did the decision to not draft Luke Doncic in 2018 cost Vlade Divac his job as the Sacramento Kings’ general manager?
The easy answer might be yes. But it’s a lot more complex than that.
There was a list of missteps and mistakes, dating to his first few months on the job, that Divac had been able to overcome until Friday, when he resigned.
His initial trade that sent Nik Stauskas, Jason Thompson and Carl Landry to the Philadelphia 76ers cost the Kings two draft swaps and their 2019 first-round pick. The payoff was a one-season rental of Rajon Rondo.
From that moment on, Divac made a series of decisions, most of which did not work out in his favor. His free-agent signings of players such as George Hill, Zach Randolph, Dewayne Dedmon and Trevor Ariza all were busts, but Divac was able to Houdini his way out of each of those deals.
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Divac picking De’Aaron Fox No. 5 overall in the 2017 NBA Draft provided the Kings with a young star to build around, but he also selected Willie Cauley-Stein, Georgious Papagiannis, Malachi Richardson, Skal Labissiere, Justin Jackson and Harry Giles in the first round.
The only player remaining on the team from that group is Giles, and even his time with the team likely is up after Divac decided not to pick up the big man’s fourth-year option for next season.
For a small-market team like the Kings to succeed, it needs to hit home runs in the draft, make savvy moves in free agency and get lucky.
Divac found success in free agency with undervalued players such as Nemanja Bjelica and Richaun Holmes. His trades that landed players like Bogdan Bogdanovic, Iman Shumpert, Kent Bazemore and Alex Len all worked out to some degree.
And even with all of these issues, the Kings, under Divac and coach Dave Joerger, were better than they’d been in over a decade last season. They ran teams off the court and were a joy to watch.
The Kings missed the playoffs, but their 39-43 record had them on the right path, although personality conflicts between Joerger and assistant GM Brandon Williams caused a rift behind the scenes.
Known for his ability to bring people together, Divac wasn’t able to mend fences. Instead of making a midseason move to separate one or the other, Divac allowed the situation to become cantankerous.
By season’s end, Divac decided to fire both, but in doing so, he set himself up for the situation the Kings are in now. Divac hired Luke Walton to replace Joerger without interviewing another candidate.
Walton might be a very good coach, but in having him teach a new system, with new terminology, the Kings lost their momentum from the previous season, and the identity of the team went out the window.
Now the Kings sit in a situation where the Memphis Grizzlies have passed them in the incredibly tough Western Conference. The Phoenix Suns also went 8-0 in the NBA bubble this month and look like a team on the rise.
It’s possible that the Kings will improve next season and take a leap in standings, but the road to snapping a 14-year NBA playoff drought looks even more difficult than ever.
All of these items added up, but at the end of the day, there’s still that issue that Divac passed on Doncic.
Allowing Doncic to slip through the franchise’s fingers — regardless of whom the Kings selected instead — was a catastrophic move for a team that’s always had a difficult time bringing in top-tier talent.
Divac had concerns about Doncic’s ability to play with Fox and also his position in the NBA.
His position doesn’t matter: Doncic is a flat-out superstar. Also, Fox would have figured out how to work with him, and the Kings would’ve had two young stars to build around.
The Kings still don’t know what they have in Marvin Bagley, the player Divac selected over Doncic, but that doesn’t matter. Doncic is a generational talent who just destroyed team after team in the bubble, and has his Dallas Mavericks set for a deep playoff run.
Divac is an exceptional human being. He’s funny and gregarious. He meant well, and there’s no question the Kings are in a better place than when Divac took over five years ago.
in the end, that wasn’t enough.