George Hill on going from the Kings to the NBA Finals: 'You couldn't write it up'
It's easy for George Hill to differentiate his past NBA life from the present.
"You're competing for an NBA Finals (with Cleveland)," Hill said, "in Sac we were just playing. I feel like my teammates in Sac, I love them to death. ... But it's a whole different feeling when you're playing for something, totally different. We're playing for something and that's why we're here today."
Hill reflected on his "roller coaster" of a season during an NBA Finals media session at Oracle Arena on Wednesday, the eve of Game 1 against the Golden State Warriors.
He signed a three-year, $57 million deal with the Kings last July to be the team's starter and help groom rookie point guard De'Aaron Fox. But it was an uneasy union as Hill was averaging 26.6 minutes, the lowest since his rookie season.
He accepted his role with the Kings until he was traded Feb. 8 to Cleveland as part of a three-team deal also including Utah.
"I had to change everything from preparation, your mentality, everything," Hill said. "To come in from being a mentor, let the young guys go, to we want you to compete for the NBA Finals, there's a whole different mindset that you have to go with."
Hill's race to an offseason vacation suddenly turned into a playoff race – familiar territory as he spent the previous nine seasons on playoff teams with Utah, Indiana and San Antonio.
"It took a while but it was something I've always done," Hill said. "I've always been in the playoffs and played in big games. ... Relaxing and letting the game come to me is the biggest thing that had to change."
The adjustment hasn't been smooth. Hill was shooting 46.9 percent with the Kings, including 45.3 percent from 3-point range, in 43 games and averaged 10.3 points. That dipped to 44.4 percent and 35.1 percent from 3 in 24 games with the Cavs. Hill averaged 9.4 points for Cleveland.
Hill was part of a major midseason shakeup for the Cavs, who rebuilt the roster to make a run at a fourth consecutive trip to the Finals. Hill said LeBron James and the coaching staff led by Tyronn Lue had a clear vision and helped the new players fit in.
He said he had to clear a mental hurdle.
"Confidence was the biggest thing," Hill said. "I kind of feel like sometimes your confidence is zapped away a little bit when you have different outlooks and what you're trying to accomplish."
With the Kings, Hill struggled to balance playing aggressive and deferring to young players who were the franchise's priority. By mid-January, the Kings turned over the starting backcourt to Fox and Bogdan Bogdanovic, and said veterans like Hill would take turns sitting out games to ensure the youngsters played enough.
The trade brought "mixed emotions," he said.
Even though the situation wasn't ideal on the court, Hill had forged strong friendships. He became close with Bogdanovic and Sacramento. His daughter, Zoe, was born in January during his time with the Kings.
"You have a newborn, you have to go here, you have to leave the teammates that you liked and was building everything with for 50 games," Hill said. "To give that all up to learn a new city, a new team, a new style of play, new friends, it's a tough situation on top of moving your family."
Hill said the situation has been a "blessing."
That the Cavs are underdogs against the Warriors doesn't matter to Hill, who is playing in the Finals for the first time. He was on course for the worst season of his pro career, in terms of team success, before the trade.
"Now I'd say it's been a phenomenal year thus far," Hill said. "It's not done. We have a lot of things that we've got to do but to be put in a situation to be playing for the NBA Finals when you started out in Sacramento. Like I said, it's like a dream come true."