Editor's note: Twice a week, NBC Sports Bay Area will look back on biggest "What If?" moments in Bay Area sports history in our "Hindsight 2020" series. The seventh installment: What if the Splash Brothers had been drafted by the Kings, not the Warriors?
For Sacramento Kings fans, that is a particularly unkind question.
What if Vlade Divac’s tip out didn’t land in the hands of a wide-open Robert Horry in the 2002 Western Conference Finals?
What if Chris Webber didn’t take a bad step on May 8, 2003 and do catastrophic career-altering damage to his knee?
What if the Splash Brothers were Kings, and not Warriors?
These are all brutal thoughts for Kings fans. Perhaps the most avoidable of all three issues is the last one.
As the Warriors dynasty took a year off, it’s as good a time as ever to look back at the two drafts that sent one franchise into a different stratosphere and hamstrung another for the last decade.
First and foremost, the NBA Draft lottery is more of a crapshoot than exact science. The fact that the Kings came away with Tyreke Evans in the 2009 NBA Draft, who would go on to win the Rookie of the Year, shouldn’t be looked at as a blemish.
Sacramento did their due diligence that summer. president of basketball operations Geoff Petrie and his staff brought in tons of prospects for both individual and group workouts. Leading up to draft night, the buzz around the league had the Kings selecting Ricky Rubio and not Evans or Steph Curry.
But Rubio shot poorly during his workouts with the Kings and there were concerns about his maturity and NBA readiness in the interview process.
Evans also struggled with his shooting during an individual workout, but Petrie brought in a larger group of point guards, including Curry, Toney Douglas, Patty Mills, Jonny Flynn and Nick Calathes for a pre-draft workout to pit some of the top guard prospects against each other.
It was a different time in the NBA. Agents allowed workouts like this. Now it’s individual workouts for top prospects and maybe a few first rounders participate in group activities. Plenty of players don’t even show up to the draft combine.
The result of the Kings workout was an overwhelming win for Evans. Listed at over 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, and with a 6-foot-11.25 wingspan, Evans bullied the competition and made the decision with the No. 4 overall pick easy for Petrie.
Evans came out hot to open the season and Sacramento built an entire 20-5-5 campaign around him. He ran away with the Rookie of the Year trophy while averaging 20.1 points, 5.8 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game as a 19-year-old and looked like a star in the making.
Curry was no slouch either, but he took longer to find his game in year one. After three years at Davidson, he was also two years older than Evans. After that first season, the Kings looked like the team with the higher ceiling player.
Surprisingly, Evans never came close to his rookie production again. The league adjusted to his bull rush style of play and it took years for Evans to come up with a counter. By that time, he was no longer a young player running a team, but a role player still searching for a natural position on the floor.
The Kings franchise didn’t help either. Under the Maloof family, the team ran the lowest payroll in the NBA for multiple seasons. In his first NBA game, Evans started alongside Desmond Mason and Sean May. Neither player would step on an NBA court after that season.
In his second NBA season, Evans would suit up with players like Luther Head, Antione Wright, Darnell Jackson, Pooh Jeter and Jermaine Taylor. Like May and Mason, none of these players would make it back to the NBA after their season in Sacramento.
It was so bad in that second season that the Kings traded for an injured Marquis Daniels at the deadline just to get to the salary floor. They took cash back in the transaction, giving up a future second-round pick that was never conveyed.
While Evans was dealing with a lack of talent around him, Curry began having a series of ankle issues. In his third NBA season, Curry played just 26 games. Even at this point in their respective careers, Evans looked like the player with a brighter future.
But then the tide shifted. Curry got healthy and by his fifth season, he was named to his first of six Western Conference All-Star teams. He also started leading the Warriors to victories.
Evans’ numbers declined in each of his four seasons in Sacramento and under new management, the Kings decided to move on from him in the summer of 2013. He was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans for Greivis Vasquez, cash considerations and a pair of second-round draft picks.
During the summer of 2011, with an NBA lockout looming, the Kings made a second franchise-altering decision on draft night. Armed with the No. 7 overall selection, the Kings dropped down three picks to No. 10, where they selected BYU’s Jimmer Fredette.
Fredette was a flamethrower at the NCAA level, leading the nation in scoring at 28.9 points per game as a senior. The hope was that his ability to shoot from anywhere on the court would open the spacing for both Evans and DeMarcus Cousins, who the Kings had drafted No. 5 overall the season before.
When Jimmer showed up for his workout in Sacramento, a woman jumped out of the bushes with a sign to greet him. When he played in the American Century Golf Tournament in Lake Tahoe during the lockout, there was a group of female fans holding up signs that read, “Jimmer can we be your sister wives?”
JimmerMania had swept the nation and the Maloof family wanted in on the action. It was a poor fit from the start and by mid-season, Fredette had all but lost his spot in the rotation to Isaiah Thomas, the No. 60 and final pick in the 2011 NBA Draft.
During the draft process, the Kings also brought in Washington State’s Klay Thompson for a look. While his workout wasn’t horrible, Thompson was described by one source as “aloof” during the interview process. Whether he was uncomfortable with the setting or exhausted from a series of workouts, the Kings had concerns.
In addition, Thompson had been cited for marijuana possession in his final year at Washington State and suspended for a game. Sacramento had both a player and an assistant coach cited for DUIs the previous season, which might have played at least a small part in the decision.
The Warriors were more than willing to overlook the transgression of a young college athlete and selected Thompson with the No. 11 overall pick.
Midway through the 2013-14 season, the Kings were already done with the Jimmer experience. They waived the guard on Feb. 27 and he would play just 72 total games in the league after that date.
By his third NBA season, Thompson had developed into one of the better shooters in the league. In his fourth NBA season, he began a stretch of five straight All-Star appearances.
The rise of the Golden State Warriors began with these two draft selections, both of which could have been made by the Sacramento Kings.
While one franchise is mired in a 13-year playoff drought, the other has three NBA championships and five NBA Finals appearances over the last six seasons.
Sacramento also drafted Thomas Robinson with the No. 5 overall pick in the 2012 draft, which allowed Harrison Barnes to fall to Golden State at No. 7. Golden State’s selection of Draymond Green with the No. 35 overall pick of the 2012 NBA Draft, just one selection before where the Kings chose Orlando Johnson, was a stroke of genius.
The Warriors built their core through the draft, which allowed them to add major pieces through free agency. Sacramento’s miscalculations, both on the court and off, sent the franchise deeper into a tailspin.
It’s easy to look at the decisions now with the gift of hindsight, but even a perfect scenario might not have played out as planned for the Kings.
There is a chance that Cousins’ personality wouldn’t have meshed well with Curry and Thompson, especially as a young player. There is also a chance that both Curry and Thompson would have developed differently under the instability of the Kings’ franchise during the time.
There are too many variables to just move stat lines over and point fingers. But there is also a chance that the trio would have made an incredible on-court grouping and that the Kings, not the Warriors, would be the team with a trophy case full of hardware.
[RELATED: Where Curry goes in 2009 re-draft]
The scenarios are endless, but at the end of the day, both Curry and Thompson are headed to the Hall of Fame when they decide to hang up their sneakers. Curry has a pair of NBA MVP trophies, they have 11 All-Star appearances between them and the duo will likely hold both of the top spots on the all-time 3-point makes list when they walk away from the game.
Evans and Fredette never came close to franchise player status and they were out of the league before the age of 30. Evans is currently serving a two-year ban and Fredette has found success playing in the Chinese basketball league.
Mistakes happen all the time in the NBA Draft, but this is a pretty big ‘what if’ for Kings fans. Unfortunately, it’s not the only series of bungled draft picks the team has made in the last decade that could have turned around the franchise.
More from Hindsight 2020
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- What if Dwight Clark never made "The Catch"?
- What if the Warriors didn't trade Vince Carter for Antawn Jamison?