December 3, 2017, 5:29 pm
What a difference a few months makes.
During the NBA draft and free agency all of the buzz surrounding the Kings was that they had turned a page and one of the league’s dysfunctional franchises was on the road to recovery.
That buzz was aided by the contrast of doing ‘not terribly crazy things’ and that being so very different than the Kings’ moves of the last decade or so.
Never mind that the Kings’ No. 10 pick had been split into a low-upside grab in Justin Jackson at No. 15 and a guy at No. 20 in Harry Giles that has a very low chance of being a usable piece. Or the fact that Dave Joerger – who struggles with overplaying veterans – was given an excess of veterans in inadvisable, logjammed situations.
This Kings team was sold to the public as needing these veterans to show the young players how to play.
What we’ve seen so far is how that bit of marketing only goes so far, and how the realities of the NBA demand a more sober viewpoint when it comes to minutes, shots and how they are distributed.
And then there’s this tweet following Saturday’s loss to the Bulls.
— INDIANA GEORGE HILL (@George_Hill3) December 3, 2017
Update: Hill discussed his tweet at practice on Monday. Video courtesy of NBCS California’s James Ham:
And also this story from The Ringer.
Still, Joerger knows that playing Fox—who is averaging 26.6 minutes—and some of the other relative newbies is a means to multiple ends. According to someone familiar with the conversation, Joerger recently sat down with Randolph and fellow free-agent signee George Hill and told the two vets that he might siphon off some of their minutes and funnel them to younger players. (When I asked the same person how that went over, the reply was “How do you think it went over?” That’s the PG version of the account.)
Hill hasn’t always been a lock to produce the way folks want him to. The talk about him needing to engage more has followed him from Indiana to Sacramento, with a brief pit stop in Utah where he was very good and very aggressive.
It was clear in Utah that he was a primary weapon for the team, though, and that sort of clear game-planning out of Quin Snyder certainly helped him.
Even when he’s good he’s destroying the team on defense and as he patrols the lane on offense, the system tilts toward him in ways that don’t benefit the other players and would-be drivers are seeing too much traffic.
While it’s easier to picture Randolph jawing at Joerger for an attempt to take his minutes, it sure looks like Hill was the guy if Saturday night’s tweet is any indicator. That tweet is still up on Twitter as of mid-day on Sunday, with no clarification or excuse or whatever (update: as noted above Hill discussed the tweet on Monday).
The team already knows it’s out there and Hill knows that until he says something, the assumption will be that he is not happy and wants out.
Hill’s production has been one of the big disappointments of last summer’s free agent class, when many folks (including this writer) were confused about the need to add Hill to a backcourt that already had too many players and not enough minutes.
Early on this season it was clear the slow-rolling timing plays and big man driven system that Joerger installed wasn’t going to mesh with Hill. Hill is best coming off a dribble handoff or in pick-and-roll with the ability to drive, rise-and-fire or dish – but those opportunities are rare when bigs execute the reads and clog the lane.
Then there’s the bad stuff that’s vintage Hill – passing up open shots because he has lost his edge or meandering around the perimeter without trying to probe for an advantage.
Randolph, for his part, still has the team’s worst net rating at -15.0 and Hill is right there with him at -14.4.
We’ve arrived at a point in the season where the veterans have not been good, they’re still dominating in their influence of on-court situations and complaints have gone public.
Hill can be traded after December 15 and that’s typically a time we see movement around the league but the big question is whether the Kings can get anything of a reasonable return. Hill is owed another $19 million in 2018-19 and then the following year only $1 million of his salary is guaranteed, effectively making his current deal a two-year deal.
Is Utah’s version of George Hill worth what is effectively a two-year, $39 million deal? Yes, assuming the oft-injured player can stay on the floor. Is another team going to give anything to risk that type of money to see if he can get on the right side of those assumptions?
If anything, they’re going to ask for assets in order for the Kings to get out from underneath the situation.
This, of course, begs the question of what the Kings will need to do next.
They can continue to bench Hill and not cater to his strengths as a player – or more succinctly – they can continue to build this team in the mold of Randolph.
This will continue to erode his value but eventually they can find a team who looks at Hill as an expiring deal with some upside. That might be around next year’s December 15 deadline or at the 2018-19 trade deadline.
They can hope he gets better but with the rotations constantly changing and the team probably trending toward going younger as the year goes on, it’s hard to bank on Hill restoring his value in that sort of wobbly environment.
What the Kings have been unable to do in recent years and what they need to do in order to salvage this situation is have a hard look at what they’ve done and how they got there.
Bringing Hill in to be a veteran playmaker for a losing team with a big name draft pick in De’Aaron Fox behind him was always an optimistic situation at best. But if you’re going to do that – and knowing that Hill is playing for his next contract – one should assume some sort of planning for him as a foundational piece from a system perspective.
Getting him the ball in places he likes and letting him put his stamp on this team.
It’s not too late for the Kings to start doing that, which means more pick-and-rolls and getting Zach Randolph into a low-minute, high-usage role against backup competition — which is the best way to minimize the negative impacts he brings.
The Kings front office, who have allowed bad basketball decisions to play out for entire seasons in the past, have to exert any pressure that they can in order to protect their $19 million per year asset.
Whether it’s Vince Carter, Randolph or Hill there appears to have been some sort of quid pro quo to get them in the door as free agents. Whether that has been promises of playing time or overmarket deals, they’ve been brought in as a counterbalance to the team’s youth with the hopes that ‘veteran leadership’ would pay off.
Instead, the Kings have slipped hard numerous times, key players like Fox and Skal Labissiere have experienced uneven developmental environments throughout the season, and veterans have been rewarded for bad play with even more minutes.
Except for Hill, who gets benched and is now publicly airing his laundry.
Now, it’s the front office and coach who have to determine how the second act of this drama plays out.
A lot of things sound good on paper. Bring some veterans in, show the kids how to play, keep the coach happy and everything will go right.
As usual, the devil is in the details and the Kings will need to figure out what to do with Hill before he capsizes as an asset.
Looking long-term, they also need to figure out how to not put themselves in these positions and how to steer the ship when things – as can happen with any plan – start to go off track.