Growing up, my intermediate family and I would make the eight hour trek up to Omaha, Nebraska – my parents' hometown – in order to visit family. My relatives have a deep connection to the city, with my ancestors ranging from brick layers for the downtown market area to hot-shot lawyers in the Douglas County courthouse.
My grandfather (or "Papa" as my siblings and I call him) loves this sub sandwich place called Little Kings, so we go nearly every time we go to Omaha. The food is pretty special – think of a Subway on steroids with a much better spokesperson, Little Kings' cartoon Monarch vs. Subway's Jared. When we first went there in the early 2000s, the place was a bit of a dump. Poor lighting, ripped booths, dingy looking flooring were all deterrents.
However, the food and the history always kept us coming back for more. In the last couple years, Little Kings has upped their game: updated decor and color scheme, a spruced-up logo, and across-the-board new management. The Little Kings and their external aspects have finally started growing up to the level of the food.
There are a lot of parallels to draw to the NBA's Sacramento Kings. For years in the 2000s and 2010s, Sacramento was a dingy franchise. Lacking continuity of any sort, Sacramento has been mired in a playoff drought that makes most other franchises feel great about themselves, a string of 12 straight playoff misses.
Their incompetent front office has hampered what is truly a great product: Sacramento fans are among the most fiercely loyal in the entire league. Outside of drafting DeMarcus Cousins in 2010, their draft history of the past decade looks like a nightmare row of busts and disappointments: Jason Thompson, Tyreke Evans, Bismack Biyombo, Thomas Robinson, Ben McLemore, Nik Stauskas, Willie Cauley-Stein.
The likelihood of being able to string that many misses in a row together again is astronomically low, yet the Kings in normal Kings fashion found a way to do so. Like a few other teams that tried to bottom out but just couldn't (see: Magic, Orlando), it's not entirely Sacramento's fault. Consensus stars are typically picked in the top three, and Sacramento hasn't a single such pick. After dumping Cousins for a decent haul, the Kings are back to square one, but after jumping to the number two pick in the 2018 draft, the Kings, like Little Kings, are showing signs of doing things right for the first time.
For a team that struggles to attract big free agents like Sacramento, being able to hit on draft picks makes all the difference, and having more shots at the draft helps. The Kings, after seemingly taking a sharp blow to the head, decided to hand expensive multi-year deals to veterans George Hill, Zach Randolph, and Vince Carter instead of using the cap space to absorb other teams' bad contracts and take on extra draft picks in the process.
Most importantly, the Hill addition blocked the Kings' 2017 top pick and top current asset, De'Aaron Fox, from valuable reps. Fox showed some great flashes and a killer instinct, and could very well be a number two option on a contending team in the near future. Elsewhere on the roster, the Kings have some intriguing options. Buddy Hield, while definitely not the next Steph Curry, projects to be a dynamic sixth man off the bench who can score in bunches and bury threes in a hurry. Bogdan Bogdanovic possesses similar flame-throwing ability, and could be a great building block as a floor spacer.
I would love to see the Kings be able to sort out their big man log jam. Willie Cauley-Stein is pretty much what he is: a 10 point, 10 rebound big man who will roll to the basket and play pretty good defense.
The power forward battle going forward will be the most exciting part, if either prospect will seize control. Skal Labissiere and Harry Giles III were both top prospects coming out of high school before various issues (Labissiere's confidence issues and Giles' double ACL tear) lead to their respective falls down draft boards.
They both have shown tantalizing potential in the present and past, but someone needs to take a leap it seems. Skal is the smoother player, who seems he could be a transcendent post passer with a faceup mid-range game. Giles, meanwhile, has post moves for days and was a truly explosive athlete before the injuries sapped some of his bounciness.
Last year's 15thpick, small forward Justin Jackson, often looked out of place even though he was supposed to step in as an NBA-ready wing from the get-go. With the point guard spot figured out, filling the rest of the roster with star wings will be key moving forward. The Kings have taken some shots at the lottery, but just need a couple to hit.
The ping-pong gods finally shined on Sacramento, allowing them to move from the seventh best odds, to the number two pick. Most experts are declaring this draft a two-player draft, with Deandre Ayton likely going first to the Phoenix Suns and Luka Doncic being the second best player.
Doncic makes perfect sense for the Kings, sliding in a position of need (combo guard) that can provide shooting and a steady presence. Reports (that could be smokescreens to get teams off their scent) have come out that the Kings' front office, and specifically their key decision maker Vlade Divac, isn't keen on Doncic. This could be a massive mistake, but as long as the Kings capitalize on their prime draft position, Sacramento could be escape the lottery sooner rather than later.
Sacramento needs to get this pick right. Expediting their rebuild, while remaining patient, will be key. The Kings can't expect their fans to remain loyal forever. Accumulating young assets and building through the draft, and sprinkling in a little time, will allow this team to thrive and get back to being a respectable franchise. Soon enough, these Princes will have the chance to grow up to be Royalty.