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.