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Vlade Divac: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

(Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

As Vlade Divac hands the keys of the kingdom over to a new general manager, let’s take a look at his biggest triumphs and mistakes during his time in Sacramento

Five years have come and gone.

Vlade Divac’s tenure as general manager of the Sacramento Kings can be best described as a roller coaster experience.

Divac the player, a center whose slick passing and passionate play helped lead one of the most exciting teams of the 2000’s to the playoffs eight years straight, will always be loved in Sacramento.

Divac the executive, will be someone that Kings fans will have to learn to forget.

Over five seasons, Divac made some under the radar moves for the team that should not go unnoticed. He also made some monumental mistakes.

Here are some good, bad and ugly moves made during Divac’s reign as general manager of the Sacramento Kings.

The Good

(1.) Drafting De’Aaron Fox

This was a pretty easy choice.

Although Sacramento jumped to the third-pick in the 2017 draft and had to swap with the Philadelphia 76ers’ fifth-spot (we’ll get to why later), Divac made his greatest move in 2017 when he drafted De’Aaron Fox

Fox, who had just put on a show in the NCAA Tournament, was looked at as someone who could have been drafted anywhere from number two through number five on draft night.

The Los Angeles Lakers, who brought Fox in for a workout, opted to draft Lonzo Ball with the number-two spot. Philadelphia traded their third-pick to Boston, who went with Jayson Tatum.

Phoenix, who needed a point guard, decided that they couldn’t pass up Kansas forward Josh Jackson with the fourth-pick.

Divac had his man at the five-spot, drafting Fox and bringing a franchise-talent to Sacramento.

Fox is the clear face of the franchise, posting a monster year in 2019-20 where he averaged 21.1 points, 3.8 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game.

(2.) Acquiring Bogdan Bogdanovic

We’ll get to the rest of the horrific 2016 NBA Draft a little later on.

Aside from the painful picks from that June’s draft, Divac made arguably his greatest move as Kings general manager: acquiring Serbian guard Bogdan Bogdanovic.

(Photo credit ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP/Getty Images)

The 28 year-old has been a great find by Divac, who the Kings acquired in exchange for eighth-overall pick in the 2016 draft Marquese Chriss.

Bogdanovic–who is an impending free-agent this offseason–has averaged 13.4 points, 3.2 assists and 3.5 assists per game over three-seasons in Sacramento.

There will be a big market for Bogdanovic this offseason, while the Kings can match any offer that the talented guard signs.

(3.) Signing Nemanja Bjelica

This was move was–on the surface–just an under the radar move by Divac.

Bjelica had just finished playing for the Minnesota Timberwolves in the summer of 2018 when he was closing in on a deal with the 76ers. The Serbian forward backed out of his deal and had intentions of returning overseas before Divac came calling.

In his three seasons with the Timberwolves, Bjelica held averages of 6.1 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists.

Since joining the Kings, Bjelica has had two career-seasons in a row, most recently in 2019-20 when he averaged career-high’s of 11.5 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists while shooting 41-percent from the three-point line.

The 41-percent mark was good enough for eighth in the NBA during the 2019-20 season.

It is unknown what will happen to Bjelica come this offseason, as the Kings hold a $7.15 million team-option for the 2020-21 season.

(Bonus) Signing Richaun Holmes

Like Bjelica, Divac has seemed to have found another diamond in the rough with the signing of center Richaun Holmes.

Before going down with a shoulder injury in January, Holmes was among the league-leaders in field-goal percentage (66-percent). The 26 year-old finished the season averaging 12.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game–all career-high totals.

Holmes has become a fan-favorite in Sacramento with his passionate play, non-stop hustle and incredible family presence.

The Bad

(1.) Declining Harry Giles III’s option

Divac declined Giles’ fourth-year option back in October in a move that has baffled countless people from around the league.

Giles, who was one of the most highly-touted prospects out of high-school before injuring his knees, has played in two seasons for the Kings after being selected with the 20th pick in the 2017 draft.

According to Divac, Giles showed up to training camp out of shape prior to the team’s 2019-20 training camp.

This upset Divac, who later claimed in an interview with Marcos Breton of The Sacramento Bee that declining his option was to teach him a lesson.

My message to him was to be a pro. You have to be a pro. And he responded very well. When we came back [after the NBA shutdown due to COVID-19] he came in shape. I was very pleased. My idea was to keep him around.”

Divac in an interview with Marcos Breton of The Sacramento Bee

Giles has shown that he can be a solid big in this league, scoring 17.1 points and grabbing 10.1 rebounds per 36 minutes of playing time over 46 games this season.

While it’s possible the Kings can retain Giles, it’s seen as unlikely due to the fact that Giles might have played his way into a bigger pay-day after a strong performance in the NBA bubble season restart.

(2.) Trading Iman Shumpert

‘The Scores is here!’

Sacramento acquired guard Iman Shumpert from the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2018 in a move that was looked at as a salary dump by the Cavs.

Instead, Shumpert picked up his 2018-19 player-option and became a fan favorite for an exciting Kings team that had its best start to a season in over 14 years.

The Kings held a 28-25 record on February 4, 2019 after a blowout win over the San Antonio Spurs. Fully involved in the playoff race, Sacramento had a talented team with impeccable chemistry heading into the trade deadline.

Just a matter of hours later, Divac had traded Shumpert to the Houston Rockets in a three-way trade with the Cavaliers that send guard Alec Burks to Sacramento.

Burks was buried on the Sacramento bench and Shumpert played big minutes for the Rockets during their playoff run.

The trade visibly shook the Kings, with multiple players reportedly being upset by Shumpert’s departure from the team. It wasn’t the fact that the team was hurt without Shumpert’s talent, in a sense–but that the team was hurt without their team’s voice and leader.

The 2018-19 Kings were exciting, fast and most importantly, winning–more games than usual, at least.

After the trade, the wheels came off on Sacramento’s path to the postseason. The team finished the season with an 11-18 record following the trade and missed the playoffs for the 13th season in a row.

Since the trade, Sacramento has compiled a 42-59 record over one-and-a-half seasons.

(3.) Letting Seth Curry walk

Undrafted guard Seth Curry signed with the Kings back in 2015 after only six games of NBA experience.

Curry got his first real chance with Sacramento during the 2015-16 season once guard Rajon Rondo went down with an injury. Then-head coach George Karl had some interesting things to say about Curry once the 25 year-old cracked the rotation:

“I think Seth will be a combo guard, play both 1 and 2. I think usually those guys when I look at them, I see them probably trying to score a little bit too much and I think he probably should become more of a playmaking point as much as a scoring point,” Karl said. “But he’s going to be around for a couple years. He’s definitely going to have a few more years of someone; I think we have him for one more year. I think he has a tenacity to him and a good basketball feel to him. Now he’s just got to be confident and consistent.”

George Karl on Seth Curry (March, 2015)

Curry played in 44 games for the Kings, averaging career-high’s in points per game (6.8), assists per game (1.5) and shooting a blistering 45-percent from beyond the three-point line.

Kings fans got a big dose of the talented guard over the final 11 games of the season, where Curry averaged 15.2 points, 2.7 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game while shooting 48-percent from three-point land.

Curry delivered a 20-point, 15-assists double-double on April 11, 2015 in his best game with the franchise.

Following the season, Divac opted to rescind Curry’s qualifying offer, making the sharpshooter an unrestricted free-agent. Curry inked a deal with the Dallas Mavericks and nearly doubled his 2015-16 points per game totals in 2016-17 (12.8).

Since leaving the Kings, Curry has solidified himself as one of the better bench scorers in the league, averaging 11 points per game while shooting 44-percent from three-point land over the last three seasons.

Like Karl said, he just needed to show confidence and consistency.

He has. Now there is no questioning in if Seth Curry belongs in the NBA.

The Ugly

(1.) Passing on Luka Dončić

Are you really that surprised.

I’m guessing that you aren’t.

In 2018, the Sacramento Kings miraculously jumped up to grab the second-overall pick in the NBA Draft. For the first time in over a decade, it seemed like the pendulum had swung our way, for once.

Sacramento Kings employees celebrate winning the second-overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft Lottery

It was a very fun and exciting time to be Kings fan. Well, it was fun for about a month.

On draft night, Divac opted to select athletic forward Marvin Bagley III out of Duke, passing over 19 year-old Slovenian guard Luka Dončić. Bagley was looked at as an athletic forward that the team could pair with Fox and Hield, giving Sacramento an inside-outside presence.

The rest is history.

Dončić has shown that he is a generational talent over the past two seasons, especially after a 2019-20 campaign that saw him average 28.8 points, 9.4 rebounds and 8.8 assists per game. The 21 year-old has the looks of a perennial MVP candidate, much to the dismay of Kings fans.

Divac recently stuck by his pick of Bagley, mentioning that there wasn’t enough time to show that his number-two selection was worth the pick.

“That was my decision,” Divac said. “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.”

Divac in an August 2020 interview with Marcos Breton of The Sacramento Bee

Bagley could still turn out to be a great player, one that could help propel Sacramento towards respectability once more. But for now, the daunting reality of passing over Luka Dončić will sting the open wounds of Kings fans for the foreseeable future.

Enjoy watching those Luka 40-point triple-doubles and playoff game-winners this summer, Kings fans… (sigh)

(2.) The dreaded 2015 salary dump

A ‘win-now’ move by Divac in his first summer as general manager might have been his worst move during his time with the franchise (at least until the 2018 draft).

On July 1, 2015 the Kings were involved in a massive salary dump, as Divac sent Nik Stauskas, Carl Landry, Jason Thompson and future picks to the Philadelphia 76ers.

While the move to get rid of those three contracts looked good on the surface, the trade would have aftershocks on the franchise in the coming years.

With his fresh slate of cap space, Divac inked several veterans to contracts that summer:

  • Rajon Rondo (One-year, $9.5 million)
  • Marco Belinelli (Three-years, $19 million)
  • Kosta Koufos (Four-years, $32.8 million)
  • Omri Casspi (Two-years, $5.8 million)
  • Caron Butler (Two-years, $3 million)
  • Quincy Acy (Two-years, $2 million)
  • James Anderson (Two-years, $2 million)

Out of all of those contracts, only Koufos remained on the roster throughout the following season.

Sacramento dealt the rights to a 2019 unprotected first-round pick and a future pick-swap in the deal, something that hurt them during the 2017 draft. The Kings jumped to third in the draft lottery, while the 76ers were slated to pick fifth.

Philadelphia (obviously) exercised their option to swap with the Kings, giving Sacramento the fifth-pick in the 2017 draft. The 76ers then negotiated a trade with Boston (that included the Kings’ 2019 first-round pick) to secure the number-one pick in the draft.

Boston, in Sacramento’s place, drafted Jayson Tatum

While the Kings are beyond pleased with their selection of Fox with the fifth-pick, having a top-three selection could have meant more negotiations or deals for assets that could have helped the franchise pave its way back to the postseason.

Instead, Divac’s trade secured a 2015-16 season full of one-hit wonders and ensured a painful pick-swap in 2017.

The one positive–if there were any–was being able to watch Rondo toss some dimes during Kings losses, which was cool, I guess.

(3.) The 2016 NBA draft

In the summer of 2016, Kings All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins had just finished a monster season that saw him average 26.9 points and 11.5 rebounds per game.

During the 2015 NBA Draft, the team selected center Willie Cauley-Stein to aid Cousins in the post and play the role of backup-center.

For some reason, Divac decided to draft two centers in the 2016 NBA Draft.

Sacramento held the eighth-overall pick in the draft. With the pick, they selected Marquese Chriss and traded him to Phoenix in exchange for the rights to Bogdan Bogdanovic (good), along with the 13th and 28th picks in the draft.

With the 13th pick, Divac made a move that still makes absolutely zero sense, taking Greek center Georgios Papagiannis with the selection.

Papagiannis wasn’t even listed on several mock drafts, and on the ones that he was featured on, he was projected to be a late-second round selection. Instead, Divac nabbed the seven-footer with the 13th selection, ahead of players like Pascal Siakam, Caris LeVert, Furkan Korkmaz and Dejounte Murray.

Even his stats with his Greek team Panathinaikos weren’t that impressive, as the then-18 year-old averaged 5.6 points and 2.3 rebounds over 24 games in 2015-16.

With the 28th pick, Divac selected Kentucky center Skal Labissière.

Labissière never got a full opportunity with the Kings, even though the 24 year-old showed promise in sample sizes. Sacramento traded Labissière to Portland in 2019 in exchange for Caleb Swanigan, who was dealt back to the Blazers back in February.

The other selection made by Divac during the 2016 draft was the selection of Syracuse guard Malachi Richardson.

Divac traded Marco Bellineli–whom he signed to a three-year deal the summer prior–to the Charlotte Hornets in return for the 22nd selection in the draft.

Richardson, who had just put on a show for the Orange in March Madness, never found his footing in the league, averaging 2.8 points per game on 30-percent shooting from the three-point line over his four-seasons of experience.

It’s unclear what vision Divac had going into the 2016 draft.

The Kings traded Cousins to New Orleans a matter of months later, leading to speculation that the team was loading up on centers to find a replacement following the All-Star’s departure.

None of Cauley-Stein, Labissière or Papagiannis would be able to fill the void Cousins left behind, as all three players’ combined contributions were still short of Cousin’s averages:

  • 2017-18 totals for Cauley-Stein, Labissière and Papagiannis: 23.6 points, 13.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists per game
  • 2017-18 totals for Cousins: 25.2 points, 12.9 rebounds, 5.4 assists per game

Filling the DeMarcus Cousins-sized hole in the Kings lineup was not going to be fixed by any of the centers Divac drafted in 2016 or 2015.

The 2016 draft is looked at as a weak class in retrospect, but Divac and the Kings were arguably the biggest losers of the summer for the second-season in a row.

(4.) 2020–…?

The current roster that Divac has constructed will need some restructuring.

Last summer, Divac inked Harrison Barnes to a massive four-year, $85 million deal and Buddy Hield to a four-year $106 million extension. The team is looking at financial binds in the near future, especially with Bogdanovic’s impending free-agency and Fox’s rookie-scale contract nearing its end.

Will the massive salary commitments to Barnes and Hield hamstring the Kings in future endeavors? Will the team look to shed one or both of those two going into next season?

The new general manager of the Sacramento Kings will have a full plate of things to deal with going into the offseason.


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