The morning was July 10th. My brother-in-law was in town, and we decided to try a new breakfast spot about 30 minutes away from our house for the special occasion. I jumped into the driver’s seat, with my wife in the passenger seat, and my brother-in-law in the back and we started on our way. About three minutes later, my phone started blowing up with notifications: the Kings had signed veteran George Hill to a 3-year, $57 million dollar contract. Moments later, the news about Zach Randolph would break as well.
To my wife’s mild irritation, I pulled the vehicle over, and asked her to drive the rest of the way so that I could react to the news and find out more information. That’s how important the signing felt in the moment.
Five months later, that nervous excitement has been replaced with growing annoyance. Our $20 million man is putting up career-lows in most categories, and it’s not just that he’s struggled, it’s that he’s looked disengaged for the majority of his time in Sacramento.
The $57 million offered to George this past summer was the largest sum of money ever given out by the organization. This year, he’s making as much as Willie Cauley-Stein, De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Justin Jackson, Harry Giles, Malachi Richardson, Skal Labissiere, and Frank Mason III combined.
That large investment creates certain expectations for a player, and Hill hasn’t been able to meet those hopes. No one thought that Hill would make the All-Star Team, or lead us to the playoffs, but being regularly outplayed by two rookies has slowly eroded the franchise’s confidence in Hill, while also creating an awkward situation on the court.
Hill’s play hasn’t been the only concern within Kings’ fandom. Recently, some pro-Hill, anti-Kings rumors have been floating about through a couple of different reports, which could be interpreted as George preparing his exit. There isn’t any way to confirm that those messages are coming from Hill directly, but adding an overpaid, underperforming veteran to whispers of dishonesty on Sacramento’s part makes an uncomfortable situation even more untenable.
It would be remiss to leave out the unknown impact of personal issues going on with George as well. Throughout the year, he’s missed a few games due to personal reasons, and it was discovered recently that he unfortunately lost a family member. Everyone can understand the concept of serious personal issues impacting work, so that’s another layer in the mystery of his drop-off from last season.
Hill’s contract is both a burden and a potential benefit, depending on a team’s current cap position. His $20 million salary this season is certainly a large pill to swallow, especially considering his lack of production; but he’s only the 40th highest paid player in the league, and his contract is helped by the low guarantee in the final year. Compared to the likes of Bismack Biyombo, Evan Turner, Ian Mahinmi, and Loul Deng, his deal is much more palatable.
With only $1 million owed on the last season of his contract, Hill’s deal essentially becomes a giant expiring contract in the summer of 2019, which could be useful to many mediocre teams who overspent two years ago, and who have longer term monetary commitments. His base salary of $20 million this season, and $19 million next year, could also become much more sensible if he can pick up his play and return to his numbers from last season.
After drafting two point guards in June, it was assumed by the masses that Sacramento could look to move on from Hill at the trade deadline if the kids were ready to take over. A mid to late first rounder was the assumed bounty for a player of Hill’s stature, and that theory helped to settle the nerves for such a large investment.
However, Hill’s erratic play, large contract, and possible unhappiness have all managed to tank most of his value in a spectacular way. The hopes of easily sending him off for a first rounder have all but vanished, and there are now three things that could have a huge impact on the return he requires.
First, there is a matter of Hill’s perceived distrust and frustration with the Kings organization. If a trade request comes down the pike, Sacramento will be forced into an uncomfortable position to try and move him as quickly as possible, and that scenario would remove any veneer of value that Hill currently possesses.
Another factor will be the kinds of contracts being sent back in exchange for Hill. If a cap-strapped team is looking at him more as a way to shed salary, rather than as a potential asset, the Kings can eke out a bit of value through that exchange. The danger of that approach is the likelihood of a trinket asset being attached, rather than something of true value, and longer-term salary being added to the books.
The best case scenario would be a team needing a point guard like Hill, that believes they can resuscitate his production, and happens to have a bad contract or two hanging over their head. This is the only situation that will return something of actual value to the Front Office.
Currently, the deepest position in the NBA is probably at point guard, which doesn’t bode well for the George Hill trade market. Tanking and non-competitive organizations won’t have any interest in a low-production veteran who is turning 32 this season, which only leaves teams fighting for a playoff spot in the mix.
Twenty teams are in a position to make a run at the postseason, and most of those organizations are already settled at the lead guard spot:
*Note: Sacramento cannot trade with New York due to the trade restriction from the Perry compensation.
And that list is where trade hopes go to die. Theoretically, only Cleveland, Detroit, Los Angeles, and Denver could possibly have a slight amount of desire to trade for our unhappy guard. The Cavaliers are still waiting for Isaiah Thomas to return, and could use a backup guard upgrade even when he does, Detroit has recently fallen back to earth and has never been satisfied with Reggie Jackson, the Clippers lost Patrick Beverley for the season, and Denver is running a young combo guard as their current starter.
The good news for each of these teams is that they have one thing that Sacramento is lacking: additional talent. It’s clear that Hill performs best when he’s surrounded by superior players, and every one of these groups has players that fit that criteria. Cleveland has Lebron James and Kevin Love, Detroit has Andre Drummond, the Clippers have Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, and the Nuggets have Paul Millsap (currently injured), and Nikola Jokic.
Can these better players awaken the Hill of last year, or was last season the pinnacle of his career, and his Kings tenure the beginning of the demise of his effectiveness?
That’s the question opposing GMs will have to answer when inquiring about the availability of his services.
Many rebuilding teams opt to leave a roster spot open to help facilitate trades between teams, or to possibly pick up some fringe player who may get released during the year. When the Kings signed Vince Carter, they elected not to give themselves that flexibility, which could cause difficulties if another team wants to try to reanimate George Hill’s career.
Due to his large contract commitment, there are three possible scenarios for a Hill trade: either the receiving team sends back a single player with a similar salary, the receiving team has extra cap space to absorb the difference in a single player swap, or the receiving team sends back multiple players to make the deal legal under the CBA.
That last scenario is the most likely and the most troubling for our Front Office. For example, if Cleveland had interest in pairing Hill with Lebron until Isaiah Thomas is ready, they could send a combination of Iman Shumpert and Channing Frye, along with a small asset, in exchange for Hill.
Although that exchange works salary-wise, the Kings don’t have enough slots available on the roster, and they cannot waive or buy out a player if they don’t initially have space for him. Vlade Divac would need to include another person, and with the veterans all making $8 million or more, that means a young prospect like Malachi Richardson gets thrown into the discussion.
While I don’t mind swinging one of our inexperienced players for a different asset, being forced to include one just to make roster spots coincide is a terrible use of someone like Malachi or Papa G.
A Few Possibilities
There are additional avenues for trading Hill in complex, three or four team exchanges, but for simplicities sake, let’s take a look at what could happen only between the Kings and one of the teams listed above.
Right off the bat, the Los Angeles Clippers can almost be eliminated from any discussions. They won’t be trading Danilo Gallinari, DeAndre Jordan, or Blake Griffin, which leaves a hodgepodge of players who hold no interest for Sacramento. A swap of Austin Rivers and Wesley Johnson for George Hill and Malachi Richardson is technically legal, but that trade doesn’t make sense for either team. The Clippers also don’t have the ability to trade a first round pick until 2021.
The Cavaliers may be able to put together a more attractive package for Vlade Divac, but their interest hinges on Isaiah Thomas’ health and ability to make an impact after returning. Assuming Cleveland actually wants Hill, something like this might make sense:
CLE: George Hill, Malachi Richardson
SAC: Channing Frye, Iman Shumpert, CLE 2018 first (lottery protected)
This swap wouldn’t add any long-term salary to either team’s books, and would give the Cavs another shooter and defender to employ against the Warriors. The Kings get an expiring contract in Frye, a just-fine bench wing with Shumpert, and they swap the #22 overall selection from 2016 for a pick in the mid to high 20s in 2018. While that pick carries only a moderate amount of value on its own, it could come in handy if the Kings want to move up in the 2018 draft.
Denver offers a far more interesting partner in possible three-team deals, with Kenneth Faried or Wilson Chandler headed elsewhere, but they also have a couple of young guys stuck at the end of their bench, all of their own future first rounders, and multiple second rounders as well. Kings fans are becoming desperate to shed Hill, and it seems as though Denver fans are beginning to desire his services.
A few days ago, Denver stiffs posted a George Hill trade piece, and here were the offers included:
DEN: George Hill, Kosta Koufos
SAC: Mason Plumlee, Darrell Arthur, Emmanuel Mudiay, 2019 lottery protected 1st
DEN: George Hill
SAC: Mason Plumlee, Emmanuel Mudiay, 2019 lottery protected 1st
Both of these deals would need to be modified due to the roster restrictions mentioned above, but that could be solved by including Malachi Richardson or Georgios Papagiannis, and maybe reducing the protections from lottery to top-10.
At first glance, both proposals look very desireable, but the Mason Plumlee contract is no joke, and Mudiay isn’t good. The Plumlee clone is owed $41 million over the next three years (this season included), and he hasn’t played up to that contract. Meanwhile, Mudiay would be another young guard that Dave Joerger would have to find minutes for. However, if this was the best offer on the table for the Kings, I would understand the deal.
Finally, we have the Detroit Pistons, and this is the potential deal that scares me the most. The Pistons have been shopping Reggie Jackson almost from the moment they signed him to that large contract, and their recent 7-game losing streak may spur them to make a deal.
There are two possible trades that would make sense for both organizations, and both of them excite and terrify me.
CLE: George Hill, Malachi Richardson
SAC: Reggie Jackson, Stanley Johnson
CLE: George Hill
SAC: Reggie Jackson, 2018 DET first round (top-10 protected, top 7 protected in 2019, top 1 protected in 2020)
Reggie Jackson does not have a good reputation in the league. He’s a score-first point guard who also has caused some locker room issues in the past. He’s also owed $51 million over the next three years, which would mean the Kings are shelling out $18 million to Jackson compared to the $1 million buyout for Hill in the 2019-2020 season.
Hill vs Jackson
Due to those factors, the Kings need to require quite a bit in return. Normally, Hill and Richardson, or Hill by himself, wouldn’t command that sort of bounty, but the additional salary of Reggie, and his reported attitude problems, increase the value of the Kings offer.
Van Gundy would get a veteran point guard who can defend at a high level when he’s engaged, while Sacramento would gain a significant asset in either Stanley Johnson or a first round selection. While this deal is the most worrisome, some version of it is also the most likely to happen of the possibilities above.
If, and it’s a big if, George Hill doesn’t request a trade in the next week or two, the smartest thing for the Kings to do is absolutely nothing. While December 15th marks the date that teams can move players signed in the offseason, the usual trade conversations don’t begin until closer to February.
From everything being reported, Hill hasn’t been an issue in the locker room, he’s still mentoring the youth in practice and when they’re on the court, and the Kings aren’t going to be competing any time soon anyway. There’s no need to rush a potential deal unless George forces the Kings to do that.
There are still two months until the trade deadline, and a lot can change in 60 days. Hill could begin to play like his old self and either stick around for the entire year, or increase his value enough to make him an attractive asset. Competitive teams could lose a point guard to injury and need a fill-in to keep up with the pack.
If those things don’t happen, Sacramento can always keep Hill around and offer him as a large expiring contract on draft night, or any time next season, which could bring back a better asset than the current situation.
It’s not a stretch to say that every party involved would probably rather move George Hill to a different situation. If the Kings can find a palatable deal which doesn’t sacrifice any current assets to simply send our $20 million guard to another team, they should pull the trigger as soon as possible. In the case that a fair trade doesn’t come along, it’s perfectly okay to wait and see what deals can generate over the next couple of months, or even into next year.