Editor's note: This is the tenth installment of NBC Sports California's "20 questions facing Kings" series that will look into pressing matters for the team once the NBA returns.
Vlade Divac came back to Sacramento to help rebuild a franchise that he held near and dear to his heart. After almost five years on the job, there are plenty of pluses and minuses to digest.
Nothing is cut and dry in the NBA and there has never been a general manager who has had a 100 percent clean record of drafting, signing players and making trades. Divac has made some gutsy moves that have panned out, but he’s also swung and missed on multiple occasions.
Are the Sacramento Kings in a better place today than when Divac took over the team in 2015?
Nuts and Bolts
Divac officially took over as the head of the Kings’ front office just weeks before the 2015 NBA Draft. Over his five seasons at the helm, he’s completely reshaped their roster and not a single player remains from the one he inherited. He’s also on his third head coach over that span.
During his tenure, the Kings are 159-233, a win percentage of 40.6 percent. That isn’t great, but when compared to the previous five seasons, it’s not bad either. Between Geoff Petrie and Pete D’Alessandro, the Kings ran a 131-263 record (33.2 win percentage) from 2010-15.
Since the Kings last made the postseason in 2005-06, the Kings have just three 30+ win seasons. All of those have come with Divac running the show and they were well on pace for a fourth 30+ win season when the NBA went on hiatus.
The standard for success in the NBA is not 30 win seasons, but the fact that the Kings are trending upwards is a good sign.
Through five seasons, Divac hasn’t been afraid to swing for the fences. His initial selection of Willie Cauley-Stein didn’t work out as planned, but he had been on the job for just a few weeks before making the selection and Cauley-Stein has the fourth-highest win share total of his draft class through five seasons.
On draft night in 2016, Divac took the ninth pick and turned it into the No. 13 and No. 28 selections in the draft. He also picked up a European prospect named Bogdan Bogdanovic in the transaction. Bogdanovic has become one of the core players on the team. Divac used the No. 13 pick on Georgios Papagiannis, which proved to be a bust. Skal Labissiere didn’t work out either, but Divac still won the trade by picking up Bogdanovic.
The decision to trade DeMarcus Cousins in February of 2016 is Divac’s most significant move and it completely changed the direction of the franchise. Not only did the Kings acquire Buddy Hield, the No. 10 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft and an early second-round selection, but the move also cost the Kings wins down the stretch of that season and had them fall out of playoff contention. Sacramento retained their draft selection that year, which was top ten protected and they were able to move up in the lottery where they selected De’Aaron Fox.
Hield has turned into one of the best 3-point shooters in the NBA. Divac and his staff turned the No. 10 pick into the 15th and 20th in the 2017 draft, where they selected Justin Jackson and Harry Giles.
Divac packaged Jackson, along with Zach Randolph to acquire Harrison Barnes in 2019. They were able to re-sign Barnes to a new four-year contract last summer.
While Divac struck out in 2019 with a pair of veteran free agent signings in Dewayne Dedmon and Trevor Ariza, he found strong rotational players in Cory Joseph and Richaun Holmes. Holmes is perhaps Divac’s best outside free-agent signing during his five years in Sacramento.
It’s hard to judge Divac harshly on the Cauley-Stein pick, especially when the players around him in that draft class haven’t been much better. Miles Turner, Devon Booker and Kelly Oubre all went between picks No. 11-15, but there were plenty of other misses around that selection.
Where Divac made a huge mistake early in his career as a GM was when he traded Jason Thompson, Carl Landry and Nik Stauskas to the 76ers in a salary dump that cost Divac a future first-round selection, as well as two pick swaps. While the trade didn’t end up crushing the Kings as it could have (they landed Fox instead of Jayson Tatum and their 2019 first-round selection ended up being the 14th overall selection), the optics of the trade were bad from the start.
Divac used the savings to sign Kosta Koufos, Rajon Rondo and Marco Belinelli. Only Koufos lasted more than a season with the club. Belinelli yielded a first-round selection, but Divac used that pick on Malachi Richardson, who played a total of 70 games over three seasons and is currently out of the league.
The Papagiannis selection was not good by any measurement, but 15 of the next 17 picks have also proven to be not worthy of first-round selections.
In the summer of 2017, Divac handed massive amounts of money to George Hill (three-years, $57 million) and Zach Randolph (two-years, $25 million). Hill was supposed to mentor Fox, but didn’t make it to the trade deadline before Divac shipped him to Cleveland. Randolph had one solid year in Sacramento and was part of the Barnes trade in year two. Both of these signings were misses.
Perhaps the most haunting transaction in Divac’s tenure came in 2018 when the Kings shockingly landed the No. 2 overall selection in the draft but passed on Luka Doncic. Marvin Bagley has tremendous potential as a player, but injuries have limited him to just 75 games over two seasons. Doncic is already a superstar in his second NBA season.
Lastly, Divac went into the summer of 2019 with a war chest and he came out of it with Dedmon, Ariza, Joseph and Holmes. Somehow he was able to Houdini his way out of the Dedmon and Ariza contracts, but both signings yielded poor results.
Divac has made plenty of miscalculations during his time with the Kings. We don’t know the full extent of what those mistakes will cost the team long term, but that doesn’t mean that the team isn’t in a better position now than they were in 2015.
When Divac took over the team, the cupboards were pretty bare. The Kings had a star player in Cousins, but they couldn’t win. Divac took a gamble and the move to deal away Cousins yielded the franchise centerpiece that we see today in Fox. Cousins has struggled with injuries since leaving Sacramento and the Kings are lucky they didn’t sign him to the $200 million extension they intended to give him.
While the roster isn’t perfect, the Kings walked into the 2019-20 season with the deepest team they have had since the golden age of the franchise from 1998-2006. They have a few major decisions coming up with regards to Bogdanovic this summer and Bagley the next, but moving forward, the team has all of its own draft picks, a bevy of second-round selections and barring a complete collapse of the NBA salary cap structure, they have financial flexibility.
It’s hard to look past the salary dump trade that cost the team a first-round selection and a pick swap. There is also the Doncic situation that through the first two seasons looks like a huge error.
The Divac era isn’t a masterpiece, but it far outshines the previous 5-7 years of Kings basketball. The team is in the postseason chase and they continue to show improvement. They also have a potential star in Fox and more talent on their roster than they have had in over a decade.
Throughout his five years at the helm, Divac has shown an ability to recover from most of his mistakes, even if luck was involved. The argument could be made that the Kings selected the best player in the top 5 of the 2017 NBA Draft even after the pick swap. He’s found ways to bail out of Hill, Randolph, Dedmon and Ariza contracts without having to attach huge assets.
Could someone else have done better? Maybe, but the fact is, the Kings are better today than when Divac stepped in and took over the team. How much better is still in question, but there is a lot to like about the collection of talent that Divac has assembled and there is plenty of room for growth.