Count Your Lucky Stars
Why teams should think twice before moving top players for Draft picks.
by Leo Sepkowitz / @Sepkowitz
First-round picks are often looked at as extremely valuable assets. They represent the opportunity to bring in a young guy who can potentially change a franchise, and, for the first few years, do so for pennies on the dollar.
In the NBA, quick turnarounds aren’t rare, and they usually start through the Draft. From 2007 through 2009, the Thunder had three consecutive top-five picks in the Draft. Those picks netted them Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Not to mention Serge Ibaka, who they nabbed toward the end of the first round in ’08 with a pick acquired via trade.
In the three seasons between 2006 and 2009, the Sonics/Thunder won a combined 74 games. In the ‘09-10 season, the team leaped all the way to 50 wins, and followed it up with 55 the next season. They have the Draft to thank.
So it’s no surprise that picks are so highly coveted when it comes to trades. If a team is moving a star in order to rebuild, naturally it will want the type of young talent and favorable contracts that can only come via Draft picks. Teams typically know they won’t be getting face value for their big-name player, but picks are thought to at least bring in nice building blocks.
Of course there are loads of talent to be found in the Draft, but historically teams have had trouble cashing in with first-round picks acquired via big-time trades. Don’t believe me? We’ve compiled 10 of the biggest trades—which included a star player and at least one first-round pick—over the past eight years to back us up. The level of mediocrity—or sometimes utter uselessness—that these picks have turned into is just amazing.
A few notes before we begin. First, of course, most of the guys drafted are at the very least mediocre role players. They’re not all horrible busts, but, considering the talent that they were traded for, no teams ended up receiving equal value (not yet, anyway). Secondly, extraneous players involved in trades have been ignored for this article’s purposes. Thirdly, the recent Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony trades aren’t included on the list because the picks haven’t been used yet.
Let’s begin with the most recent deal and work backward.
Trade 1—Year: 2011
Nets Receive: Deron Williams
Jazz Receive: Two first-round picks, Derrick Favors, Devin Harris and cash
Like a few of the deals on this list, this trade wasn’t only about the picks. Utah picked up Derrick Favors, a very promising young player, as well as Harris, a capable guard.
So far, Utah has used one of the picks they got from the Nets. That was the third overall pick in this year’s Draft—Enes Kanter. Obviously Kanter (19) has a long time to prove himself, but he’s failed to really make an impact this year, averaging about 5 points and 5 boards a game. Clearly it’s way too early to make a decision about his career, though, so the jury is most definitely still out on him. The proof for this theory gets more convincing as we go further back, I promise. Moving on.
Trade 2—Year: 2009
Rockets Receive: Ron Artest
Kings Receive: One first-round pick, Donte Greene (more on him later) and Bobby Jackson
Keep in mind that the Kings were sending away the real Ron Artest here (not his Metta World Peace look-a-like), who averaged over 20 points and 2 steals per game in his final season in Sacto. Add in 1.5 threes, 6 boards and 3.5 assists, and he was totally an All-Star-caliber player.
What Sacramento got in return was hardly face value. Jackson was included to make the money work, and Greene has been a mediocre bench guy for the past few years. The pick the Kings received turned into Omri Casspi. In two seasons with the team, Casspi averaged a shade under 10 ppg to go along with 4 boards and a three. Not terrible, but, like most of these guys, not a game-changer either.
Trade 3—Year: 2008
Mavericks Receive: Jason Kidd, Malik Allen and Antoine Wright
Nets Receive: Two first-round picks, Devin Harris, Gana Diop, Trenton Hassell, Maurice Ager, Keith Van Horn
We can ignore six of the names here and call this the Kidd trade. Of course, for the Nets, it was about bringing in Harris—the same guy they shipped away in Trade 1—and the two picks.
Those two picks were used to take Ryan Anderson in 2008 and Jordan Crawford—swapped for Damion James on Draft day—in 2010. Anderson has caught fire this year playing alongside Dwight Howard in Orlando, but he wasn’t nearly this good for the Nets. In his lone season with New Jersey, he played less than 20 minutes a game and shot under 40 percent from the floor. He was sent to Orlando along with Vince Carter for Courtney Lee after his rookie season.
As for James, he’s been a decent contributor when healthy, but has battled serious foot injuries throughout his young career. He’s out of the remainder of this season, and as the New Jersey recently declined his option for next year, his Nets career will likely end having played in only 32 games in two seasons. Those two for Kidd—who was averaging two boards short of a triple-double when traded—probably isn’t what the Nets had in mind when they made the deal.
Trade 4—Year: 2008
Lakers Receive: Pau Gasol, second-round pick
Grizzlies Receive: Two first-round picks, Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Aaron McKie and Marc Gasol
When this trade happened, it was immediately viewed as possibly one of the worst and most unfair in NBA history. The lack of talent that the two picks went onto produce hasn’t changed any minds (though Marc’s success in Memphis probably has).
In 2008, the Grizzlies used the first of L.A.’s two picks to take the aforementioned Donte Greene. He was then flipped in a three-way deal that landed Memphis forward Darrell Arthur. In 2010, they took Greivis Vasquez with the other pick obtained from the Lakers. After a pretty quiet rookie season coming off the bench, Vasquez was moved to New Orleans for Quincy Pondexter. Arthur, when healthy, is an efficient rebounder and Pondexter is a decent guy to have around, but they’re not first-round talents.