The Sacramento Kings held the first non-lottery pick of the absolutely stacked 1996 NBA Draft.
Former Kings executive Geoff Petrie was trying to plug a fill a long-term need at the small forward position with the No. 14 pick. Starter Billy Owens was dealing with an injury, leaving the team with Isiah Simms at the 3-spot.
According to NBA analyst Hubie Brown, Sacramento targeted three players with the 14th pick: Kobe Bryant, Lorenzen Wright and Stojakovic. Wright went off the board at No. 7, while Bryant was selected one pick earlier.
Petrie took Stojakovic, knowing they would have to wait for his contract to expire with his club team in Greece. The wait was worth it.
The timing of Stojakovic’s jump to North America was perfect. With the Kings acquiring All-Star forward Chris Webber and signing follow Serbian Vlade Divac before the 1998-99 season, Petrie had set the core for what turned into the greatest stretch in franchise history.
Stojakovic averaged 10.1 points per game over his first two seasons, shooting 34.7% from the 3-point line and helping Sacramento make back-to-back postseason appearances for the first time in 20 years. In the 2001 playoffs, Peja showed his potential by going off in Game 4 of the first-round series against the Phoenix Suns.
Stojakovic scored 37 points to lead Sacramento to a series-clinching win. Although the Kings would lose in the second round, the organization and its fans knew Peja was on the cusp of becoming a star.
In his third year, Stojakovic made the leap and became one of the best forwards in the NBA. He played 38.4 minutes per game, and his scoring averaged rocketed up to 20.4 points a night. Peja made the first of three straight All-Star appearances during the 2001-02 season and won the 3-point contest.
Sacramento rolled to a league-high and franchise-record, 61 games in the regular season. Unfortunately, the downside of Stojakovic’s season came in the playoffs.
He hurt his ankle in the third quarter of Game 3 in the Kings’ second-round matchup against the Dallas Mavericks. He missed the next six games, including the pivotal Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers. Stojakovic was a shell of his former self when he returned for the final three games of the series, shooting just 30% from the field and never playing more than 25 minutes due to the injury.
Take away the brutal officiating in that series: If Stojakovic doesn’t get hurt, Sacramento wins the NBA championship in 2002.
Peja and the Kings bounced back the following season to win the Pacific Division. He captured his second consecutive 3-point contest at the 2003 All-Star Weekend.
Sacramento would advance to the second round in 2003, but after a devastating injury to Webber, the team lost a hard-fought seven-game series to the Mavs,
In 2003-04, Stojakovic had the best season of his NBA career. With Webber sidelined until late in the season, head coach Rick Adelman ran the offense through Peja, and he stepped up to help keep the Kings among the league’s elite.
Stojakovic averaged a career-high 24.2 points, finishing second in scoring behind Tracy McGrady. His 43.3 3-point percentage was the sixth highest in the league, and he had a ridiculous eFG% of 56.6.
After another heartbreaking Game 7 loss in the playoffs, Petrie decided it was time to rebuild the team. Stojakovic was traded to the Indiana Pacers for Ron Artest during the 2005-06 season, ending his time in Sacramento.
Peja returned to the organization as an executive in 2015. Stojakovic was hired as the Kings director of player personnel and development by the Vlade Divac regime. He was promoted to assistant general manager in May of 2018 but ultimately stepped down less than two years later alongside Divac.
Stojakovic averaged 18.3 points and 5.0 rebounds over 7.5 seasons with the Kings. He is one of the greatest shooters in NBA history and will always be remembered as one of the best players ever to wear a Kings uniform, and his No. 16 will forever hang in the rafters.
What is your favorite Peja memory?