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Protected picks, trades and cash: How Kings indirectly helped Jordan Bell become a Warrior

'That's just the NBA life': Jordan Bell reflects on his career path

In the midst of an NBA finals run with the Golden State Warriors, Jordan Bell speaks on his loose ties to the Sacramento Kings, including former teammate Omri Casspi.
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In the midst of an NBA finals run with the Golden State Warriors, Jordan Bell speaks on his loose ties to the Sacramento Kings, including former teammate Omri Casspi.

On June 30, 2011, Jordan Bell was a student at Long Beach Poly just beginning his foray into the world of AAU travel basketball.

That's also the day a deal triggered a series of events that would make the Southern California native, who grew up a Golden State Warriors fan, a member of his favorite team. With an NBA lockout looming, the Kings traded forward Omri Casspi and a protected first-round pick to Cleveland for JJ Hickson, a talented but inconsistent forward.

The rights-protected pick, aided by the Kings' inability to improve over the next six years, passed through Chicago and was eventually bought by the Warriors last June and used on Bell.

"I thought it was crazy how all the picks and trades and all that stuff ended up with me being here, which had nothing to do with the Kings," Bell said. "I think that's kind of funny."

The story of that pick not only lends understanding to how Bell became a Warrior, but to how the Kings fell into the longest active streak in the lottery at 12 consecutive seasons.

Kings' big problems

After the 2010-11 season, the Kings knew they had a young center with star potential in DeMarcus Cousins, who was coming off an All-Rookie First Team campaign and a third-place finish for Rookie of the Year.

They also knew center Samuel Dalembert, who had played well in tandem with Cousins, would be a free agent.

So Kings general manager Geoff Petrie made a move to land Hickson, who many thought had potential to be an impact player after averaging 13.8 points and 8.7 rebounds in his third season with the Cavs.

The pick Cleveland acquired from the Kings was lottery protected for 2012, with the protections relaxing in the following years, from top 13, to 12, to 10. If the pick was not conveyed by 2017, the Kings would owe Cleveland its 2017 second-round draft pick (protected 56-60).

The Kings thought they would become good enough, hopefully thanks to Hickson, that parting with a first-round pick wouldn't be a big deal. In reality, they were bad enough for long enough that it wouldn't matter.

Hickson played in only 35 games with the Kings, shooting a dreadful 37 percent, due in part to his obsession with proving he could be a stretch power forward and command a big contract. Jason Thompson ended up taking his minutes back from Hickson, who averaged 4.7 points and 5.1 rebounds.

Unable to trade him, the Kings agreed to a buyout and waived Hickson on March 19, 2012. He hasn't appeared in the NBA since the 2015-16 season.

The Kings would miss the playoffs and the Cavs would have to wait until 2013 to see if they'd land Sacramento's first-round pick.

The long wait

In the 2012 NBA draft, the Kings passed on future All-Star guard Damian Lillard to select Kansas forward Thomas Robinson fifth overall. Robinson, however, was too small to be a starting power forward and was traded in February 2013.

That offseason, Petrie was high on a forward from Greece, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Pete D'Alessandro, who was brought in to replace Petrie, drafted Kansas guard Ben McLemore seventh overall. Antetokounmpo would be picked 15th by Milwaukee and is now an All-Star. McLemore never panned out with the Kings.

Meanwhile, Bell was entering his senior season with the Jackrabbits as a full-fledged Warriors fan – because he "hates the Lakers," his brother's favorite team – and one of the best preps in the country.

The Cavaliers gave up on getting that lottery pick from the Kings and traded its rights in January 2014 to Chicago as part of a deal to acquire forward Luol Deng.

Now it was the Bulls' turn to wait.

Cashing in

Another losing season for the Kings put them in position to select Michigan's Nik Stauskas eighth overall in 2014.

Stauskas was traded to Philadelphia after the 2014-15 season as part of a salary dump so new general manager Vlade Divac could make a splash in free agency.

Divac signed Rajon Rondo, Kosta Koufos, Marco Belinelli and Caron Butler and re-signed Casspi as part of a shakeup to make the Kings competitive. He also drafted Kentucky center Willie Cauley-Stein sixth overall in 2015.

The Kings, he believed, could challenge for the eighth spot in the Western Conference, which would mean they'd lose their first-round pick. But this season was doomed by the toxic relationship between coach George Karl and his players. The Kings would end up sitting Cousins, Rondo, Rudy Gay and others to lose games down the stretch and preserve their pick.

Bell was proving to be a defensive force at Oregon at that point. In his 50th game for the Ducks, he'd already become the school's all-time leader in blocks. The next season, Bell would win the Pacific-12 Conference Defensive Player of the Year and help Oregon reach the 2017 NCAA Final Four.

The Kings traded Cousins to New Orleans in February 2017 while 1 1/2 games out of the final playoff spot in the West. They lost enough after the trade to hold on to their pick, which would become De'Aaron Fox.

The Bulls would have to settle for Sacramento's second-round pick in 2017, 38th overall. The Warriors acquired that pick for cash considerations and selected Bell.

‘I feel like ... the No. 1 pick’

Casspi, who six years earlier was part of the original deal for the Bell pick, would become his Warriors teammate. Casspi was waived in March so the Warriors could sign guard Quinn Cook as Stephen Curry recovered from a knee injury.

"That's just NBA life," Bell said. "A whole bunch of trades going down. I thought it was funny me and Omri ended up on the same team after the whole thing went down."

Bell couldn't be happier how that trade worked out. He's not too far from Oregon or Long Beach and has a chance to be a part of a championship team.

"I tell people all the time I feel like I was the No. 1 pick in the draft last year just because of the situation I'm in," Bell said.

Here's a ranking of the Sacramento Kings best and worst NBA draft decisions in the lottery since 2007, according to the Sacramento Bee's Jason Jones.

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