The autopsy on Vlade Divac’s departure from the Sacramento Kings will take a while. For five years, he tried just about everything under the sun to improve the franchise, but in the end, one decision sealed his fate.
Luka Doncic is a superstar, and he should be a King. It’s that simple.
The 21-year-old out of Slovenia was sitting on the board when the Kings' pick came up at No. 2 in the 2018 NBA Draft, and even before the card was read by NBA commissioner Adam Silver, those in the know had assurances that Marvin Bagley, not Doncic, would be the pick.
This was a franchise-altering decision. We know that because Doncic just carried his Dallas Mavericks into the playoffs after leading the NBA in triple-doubles and averaging 28.8 points, 8.8 assists and 9.8 rebounds per game as a second-year pro.
In a wide-ranging interview with Marcos Breton of The Sacramento Bee, Divac, who resigned as the Kings' general manager Friday, made sure it was known that the Bagley pick was on him, and it caused a rift with team owner Vivek Ranadivé.
“That was my decision,” Divac told Breton. “I still believe Marvin has big upside. But I needed more time to prove it.
"I’m sure Marvin is going to prove everybody wrong. But in this league, you need to produce right now. People don’t have patience, but I’m OK with that.”
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For those who studied that draft, it should be noted that Bagley was rated as a top-five prospect in his class. He was in the running for the top overall selection and someone was going to pick him high, whether it was the Kings or one of the other teams at the top of the draft.
It also should be noted that Doncic wasn’t a consensus No. 1 overall selection. In fact, DeAndre Ayton was taken by the Phoenix Suns before the Kings’ pick was in at No. 2.
During the last two years, Divac has discussed the decision multiple times, both on and off the record. He was concerned that Doncic didn’t have a natural position. He was concerned that Doncic couldn’t defend the point guard, shooting guard or small forward position. He worried about Doncic's impact on De’Aaron Fox, whom the Kings had selected the previous year at No. 5 overall.
These were legitimate concerns, until Doncic stepped on an NBA floor and instantly began dominating the action. He’s a basketball player, which was easy to see from his time in Europe. But plenty of experts had concerns about how good Doncic would be at the NBA level and whether he had the ceiling of some other players.
In the end, Doncic has proven to be a generational talent. Teams should have been lining up to move into the top spot to select him and build their franchise around him. The Mavericks found a pot of gold and what appears to be an instant Hall of Famer.
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Meanwhile, injuries have plagued Bagley in his first two seasons, although he has shown plenty of promise when he’s healthy enough to play. There's still time for him to develop into a star-level player, and he still could be a perfect fit alongside Fox, as Divac intended Bagley to be when he made the pick.
Divac made plenty of other mistakes during his time with the Kings, but his intentions always were pure. Regardless of where Divac's heart was, he did damage to the Kings franchise with this decision, and passing on Doncic will follow him for years to come.