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How the George Hill trade came together and how the Kings got an extra $3.2 million

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And some tidbits on Kings front office operations.

Sacramento Kings v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

NBA fans are often left in the dark when it comes to the specifics of how trades come together. We see the end result and are often left scratching our heads at the result. “Why would they have included that pick swap?” “Why didn’t they figure out a better plan than cutting the 13th pick of the 2016 Draft?” And usually these questions remain unanswered. But thanks to an incredible story from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski we get a peek behind the curtain at how the February 8th trade between the Sacramento Kings, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Utah Jazz came together. We’ll be dissecting the Kings-centric pieces of the report, but I’d encourage you to read the whole thing.

Let’s dive in.

Altman had negotiated the trade with Kings assistant general manager Brandon Williams, who works under GM Vlade Divac. The management structure in Sacramento can make deals dicey, because Divac seldom gets on the phone for the trade-building parts -- and yet he ultimately has decision-making power with owner Vivek Ranadive.

Oh god, let’s dive back out.

At first glance this seems bad, right? “The management structure in Sacramento can make deals dicey” is never a phrase you want to read about your team. But what this also tells us is that Vlade isn’t on the phone getting swindled. It sounds like he’s in a big-picture decision-maker role while Brandon Williams does the leg work.

There’s nothing unusual about this front office structure aside from the titles assigned to the individuals. Woj calling it “dicey” is editorializing at best. Is it “dicey” to make a deal with Detroit just because teams have to negotiate with Jeff Bower and then get Stan Van Gundy’s approval? Is it “dicey” to make a deal a deal with Minnesota because teams have to negotiate with Scott Layden and then have to get Tom Thibodeau’s approval? Is it “dicey” to make a deal with the Lakers because you have to negotiate with Rob Pelinka and then get Magic Johnson’s approval? It’s hardly unusual, and in fact it shows that Vlade understands where his expertise ends and is delegating the technical details of building the team to a qualified guy.

That’s why a 3 a.m. ET deal memo sent from Sacramento to Cleveland left Altman at first incredulous -- and then angry. Suddenly, Kings center Georgios Papagiannis had been included as part of the three-way trade. Cleveland and Utah were adamant that Papagiannis’ name had never been discussed. Williams would later say that Papagiannis or Malachi Richardson were set to be included in the deals and insisted his notes confirmed that.

Again, this doesn’t look good for the Kings at first glance. Was this a bluff by the Kings? A simple miscommunication in the negotiation process? Total incompetence by the Kings? There’s no way to know for sure. But let’s talk about Brandon Williams for a moment. He’s not some random, unsophisticated guy they picked up off the street. He’s been in the league for years, working both at the NBA main office and as an assistant for Sam Hinkie with the Philadelphia 76ers. Williams played in the NBA, went to law school, and then worked his way up through the league. He may have been mistaken about whether Papa was part of the deal, but it’s also possible the other GMs forgot about that part of the conversation because they were focused on other details. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, but there’s no reason to feel any sort of inferiority about Brandon Williams. He’s qualified for the job.

Because Sacramento had the makings for a trade with Toronto for Richardson, rival executives say that the Kings pushed to spare themselves the embarrassment of waiving the No. 13 overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft -- and let someone else do it. In the middle of the night, Altman and Williams vocally disagreed over the insertion of Papagiannis into the trade. Cleveland couldn’t take him into its roster because the NBA’s repeater tax would turn the balance of his $2.3 million contract this year and $2.4 million next year into three times that with the luxury-tax bill.

The article then goes on to detail how Koby Altman salvaged the deal by financing the remainder of the salary owed to Papagiannis. The Cavs threw in the maximum they could pay, and then the Cavs convinced the Jazz to send $1.1 million to the Kings for the difference.

From this we now know that the plan was to unload Papagiannis, and that the Kings were able to get two other teams to foot the bill. The Kings had the leverage in the George Hill situation. A lot of us hoped that the Kings could extract a draft pick, but they were at least able to extract compensation to offset the cost of waiving Papa G. As Woj reports, the Kings wouldn’t agree to the deal without the money, and the money wasn’t worth losing to deal for the other teams.