SACRAMENTO - Figuring out this Sacramento Kings front office is impossible. Draft night 2016 had more twists and turns than an amusement park rollercoaster. It started with disappointment after targets Jaylen Brown, Kris Dunn, Buddy Hield and Jamal Murray came off the board before the Kings could select at No. 8.
When Sacramento native Marquese Chriss was staring the Kings in the face, they balked, dealing the power forward to the Phoenix Suns for picks No. 13, No. 28, European prospect Bogdan Bogdanovich and a future second round pick.
“We had our guys at the No. 8, but obviously they were picked before,” general manager Vlade Divac said. “So we made a decision to go down and turn that pick into 3-4, basically and build our team for the future.”
All the stars seemed to align when Vanderbilt’s Wade Baldwin fell in the Kings lap at 13, but once again, they zigged, instead of zagged.
In a shocking move, the Kings passed on major positions of need, instead, selecting center Georgios Papagiannis out of Greece.
“He has everything, he’s just young,” Divac said of his top pick. “He has to learn the NBA style of basketball, but he has a lot of talent.”
You can call him George, or Big George as he known as in Greece.
Big is right. At 7-foot-2, 240-pounds with a 7-foot-6 wingspan, Papagiannis is a monster. But does he fit with the Kings current roster?
That is unknown at this time. The Kings have plenty of moves to make before the start of the 2016-17 season, but it’s hard to see where he fits alongside DeMarcus Cousins, Willie Cauley-Stein and fellow countryman Kosta Koufos.
“It’s still all summer,” Divac said. “We have free agency, we have Summer League, obviously we’ll try to be active in free agency and we are set with the big guys, so now we’re going to go with the small guys.”
According to both Divac and Big George, he’s on his way to the states to play this season. Divac is hoping for a Cauley-Stein rookie year type of production from Papagiannis and he believes the big has All-Star potential.
“I want to play in the NBA as soon as possible, after that, it’s about the team,” Papagiannis told Sacramento media members in a thick accent.
Papagiannis came into the draft with a first round guarantee, but the 18-year-old prospect had no idea it would be so high, or even to the Kings who he met with for the first time at his pro day last Sunday.
“I knew it would be first round,” the big said. “I didn’t know exactly where I was going to get picked, but I believe in myself and I believe it was the best number for me and I’m truly blessed.”
Adding to the intrigue of the evening, the Kings chose to draft another 7-footer with the No. 28 pick in the draft, although this one may have been too good to pass on.
Skal Labissiere was all over the board on most mock drafts, but no one saw him falling all the way to the Kings at the back end of the first round.
Labissiere joins a bevy of Kentucky bigs on the Kings roster, including Cousins and Cauley-Stein. While he doesn’t know Cousins well, the rookie 7-footer has spent plenty of time with Cauley-Stein.
“I know Willie pretty well, he comes back all the time,” Labissiere said. “I’ve played pick-up with him a lot, so I know him pretty well.”
A five-star recruit coming to the Wildcats, Labissiere struggled in his freshman year in Lexington. At one point he was considered one of the top prospects in the draft and his tumble to No. 28 came as a surprise to almost everyone, including the 20-year-old center.
“He’s very talented, he’s probably the best upside in whole draft, he has to work hard to get there,” Divac said.
Labissiere met with the Kings at the Chicago combine, but he had no idea where he would land come draft night. He joins a crowded frontline in Sacramento, including Cousins, Cauley-Stein, Koufos and now Papagiannis.
“I’m just ready to go to work,” Labissiere said. “It doesn’t matter what the situation is, I’m just ready to go to work.”
Rounding out their first round selection, general manager Vlade Divac snatched up 20-year-old freshman Malachi Richardson out of Syracuse with the 22nd overall selection.
While the deal hasn’t officially been announced, the Kings acquired No. 22 for veteran Marco Belinelli earlier in the day. Richardson has a load of potential, but like Papagiannis and Labissiere he is raw and will need time to develop.
Before the night was over, Sacramento selected senior point guard Isaiah Cousins out of Oklahoma. If nothing else, he provides organizational depth at a position of need.
“Isaiah Cousins, it was a surprise for us that he was available at 59,” Divac said. “We tried to improve the point guard position, so it was a no-brainer to take him.”
Two bigs, a shooting guard and a reserve point guard isn’t a bad haul for one night, but don’t forget Bogdanovich. The 23-year-old guard is highly regarded overseas and while he won’t make an appearance this season in the NBA, he is free to join the Kings next season. In effect, Divac moved the No. 8 for Papagiannis, Labissiere and a draft-and-stash player for next season when the Kings may be without a first round selection.
At first look, the draft looks odd. Passing on Baldwin, or even Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine might come back to haunt the Kings, but it’s clear that Divac has his eyes on something different in the backcourt. He saw value in Papagiannis for both the present and the future and so he made the investment.
The draft is only one part of the summer rebuild for Sacramento. Expect them to be aggressive in free agency and in the trade market. They added a major influx of youth, including massive amounts of size and length. In addition, they have roughly $30 million in cap space to fill out the roster with veterans at positions of need.
Step one is in the books. What will Divac and company do next to get this team ready to open the new Golden 1 Center in October?