How a Kings draft bust nearly derailed the Cavaliers’ trade deadline reinvention

The Cavaliers had one of the biggest NBA trade deadline days ever, dealing six players in the span of an hour to reinvent a lineup surrounding their star LeBron James.

Things look better for the Cavs already. Two games in Cleveland already feels brand new, with smiles and three-point splashes coming down in abundance for maybe the first time all season. George Hill, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson, and Larry Nance Jr. are filling in the roles the previous Cavs roster never could, and there’s a new sense of optimism that surrounds James and his improved roster.

A seven-footer you’ve probably never heard of almost cost James and the Cavs all that happiness.

One of Cleveland’s biggest trades, for both Hill and Hood, nearly didn’t happen because the Kings wanted someone to take one of their all-time draft busts. But nobody wants Georgios Papagiannis on their roster.

A new report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski details how a potentially franchise-saving trade with implications on LeBron freakin’ James’ future was on the rocks because the Kings drafted a bad center No. 13 overall two years ago.

What happened?

Cavs GM Koby Altman was pursuing both Hill and Hood separately until he proposed the idea of a three-team trade with the Jazz and Kings, according to Wojnarowski. All three sides were on board until a 3 a.m. Kings memo on trade deadline day sent a wave of Papagiannis panic.

Sacramento included the Greek big man, who Cleveland and Utah claim wasn’t discussed, in the three-team trade that was to send Jae Crowder and either Dwyane Wade or Derrick Rose to the Jazz, Hill and Hood to the Cavs, and Iman Shumpert to the Kings.

Sacramento’s assistant GM Brandon Willams later elaborated that his notes confirmed Papagiannis was discussed, and expanded to include 2016 first-round pick Malachi Richardson instead.

This was a big problem. The Jazz and Cavs were angry, and Utah considered backing out of the trade.

Why did the Cavs and Jazz care so much?

Money.

With the Cavs so far over the luxury tax, taking on Papagiannis’ contract would’ve cost Cleveland triple his $2.3 million salary because of the repeater tax. So he’d need to go to Utah … except the Jazz also wanted no part of him.

Papagiannis, a surprise pick at No. 13 at the time, played 38 games in two years, registering more turnovers than blocks, assists, or steals. His resume doesn’t exactly impress. Sacramento needed to get rid of him one way or the other.

Cleveland was willing to send cash to the Kings to finance Papagiannis’ buyout to complete the trade, but per NBA rules, the Cavs could only pay $2.1 million of his remaining $3.2 million salary over the next two years. (Teams can only pay $5.1 million cash in trades per year, and Cleveland had already used up $3 million of that in a preseason salary dump trade with the Hawks to get rid of Richard Jefferson and Kay Felder). The Kings wanted enough to cover Papagiannis’ salary, so Cleveland was forced to ask Utah to supply the difference. The Jazz balked. The trade was at a standstill

Imagine a world where Georgios Papagiannis cost Cleveland the chance to land two guards it so desperately needed to stay relevant in this year’s playoffs, and maybe, keep LeBron James. GEORGIOS PAPAGIANNIS!

Why would the Kings do this?

As we’ve learned over the years, Sacramento’s front office is messy.

Wojnarowski notes that Altman was speaking with Sacramento’s assistant GM rather than their GM Vlade Divac because Divac rarely gets on the phone for trade talks despite having the largest authority to make them. This confusion may have been genuine, or at the very least, is just commonplace for a disorganized franchise.

There’s also the chance that this was a failed attempt for Sacramento to stealthily dump its problems onto someone else.

The Kings had motivation to deal Richardson or Papagiannis to clear roster space. They wanted to save themselves the embarrassment of cutting two failed first-round picks.

What was the solution?

Eventually, both Utah and Cleveland agreed that this deal wasn’t worth losing over the $1.1 million difference. Utah supplied the leftover cash, at a cost of the right to swap 2024 second-round picks with Cleveland.

The Jazz and Cavs were also spared a more complicated trade after the Raptors struck a deal with the Kings to trade Bruno Caboclo for Richardson.

Sacramento then waived Papagiannis after the deadline after all, much to the chagrin of his agent. At least cutting one draft bust is better than cutting two.

Then, the three-way trade as we know it was completed. If a 3-1 lead couldn’t stop James from getting what he wanted, a 20-year-old international bust wouldn’t, either.

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