The 76ers give each young player who joins the team a chance to create his own success. That's great for players, but it could also make keeping them long-term difficult, especially if they gamble on their own talent and sign short deals. Most draftees take the money and run, but the case of K.J. McDaniels poses a reason to move into the first round to ensure the acquisition of an interesting prospect, even if the structure of the NBA means that second round picks might be more beneficial to teams.
Not Me, Never
Recently, my friends and I had a discussion with a friend's younger sibling who rides a motorcycle regularly. While that sibling wears a helmet and portends to be a safe rider, we tried warning him of the additional risk riding a motorcycle can bring, especially knowing that he may not actually be a safe rider. Another friend performed a statistical analysis comparing fatality rates between automobile and motorcycle accidents, showing that while car accidents happen more often, motorcycle accidents are far more likely to result in serious injury or death.
His response: "I know what I'm doing. I won't be reckless and crash."
He crashed exactly three days later.
Luckily, he was not seriously injured. Unfortunately, now said person believes that he's crashed before and survived, so certainly he can survive if it happens again. This person may have been injured more than we believed, now that I write this.
But that "I can beat the odds" mentality my friend's brother exclaimed doesn't always play out. Circumstances and surroundings change. Someone else might make a mistake, or something else may change. Life comes at you fast. Sometimes life is a car you have no control over that hits you unexpectedly.
Second round picks that bet on themselves adopt the same mentality. "I'm better than the odds say and what the teams think." Most second round draft picks do not make a material NBA impact. Signing a non-guaranteed tender instead of a multi-year contract with a guarantee is a defiant act when considering the odds and the guaranteed money rejected.
Show Me The Money
In the NBA, for a collegiate or international player, the team he goes to, unless he is an undrafted free agent (or maybe Kobe Bryant) is largely out of his control. NBA development is some combination of nature and nurture. The Sixers have tried to curb this with their development program, but historically and recently young players, when given the opportunity, almost always opt to take guaranteed money over taking a chance at higher future earnings
Overwhelmingly, young players even here in talent-starved Philadelphia have taken the "Hinkie Special," giving the Sixers four years of team control, including multiple years where contracts are not guaranteed, in exchange for partial guarantees early on or higher salaries throughout a contract.
Robert Covington may have held out for more money initially given league-wide interest in him, but the Sixers eventually signed Bob to a team-friendly deal. Jerami Grant took two guaranteed seasons and well over a million in guaranteed salary for the potential of being shorted compared to what he could earn in free agency in the future. Ditto with everyone the Sixers have signed that has really stuck around.
Players have a hard time turning life-changing money down knowing that it may only come once. A large percentage, maybe even an overwhelming percentage, of NBA players come from poorer backgrounds. Giving up guaranteed cash is hard when it can support families or provide secure futures.
K.J. McDaniels was the exception to the rule. He bet on himself, and for a short time won that bet, as he proved an intriguing defensive prospect with jaw-dropping athleticism and at least a workable three point shot, the type of role players teams try to hit on with their second round flyers.
But because McDaniels bet on himself, and was slated to be a restricted free agent, the Sixers either had to pay up for him or let him go. The Sixers opted out of making a free agency decision, as we all know, by trading him to Houston and getting a draft pick and Isaiah Canaan in return.
McDaniels isn't the only player to bet on himself - Glenn Robinson III did the same this year with the Timberwolves, which for him may have been easier due to his father's NBA career - but given the Sixers' environment, and how they've proven to give any prospect an extended chance to prove his worth, it's the ideal situation for self-betting, especially since the "Hinkie Special" is not an ideal contract for a player who performs well.
The Hinkie Special is a low-risk proposition for the Sixers. The one-year tender is a much larger risk, by comparison, of not being able to realize the benefits of a player's strong performance.
Why Second Round Contracts Are Beneficial, In Brief
- Second round contracts do not count against the salary cap until they are signed, meaning teams trying to expand potential cap space by trading away first round picks for early second rounders.
- Because of this, teams often draft international players late in the first round if they cannot execute a trade. Players can sign a pact stating they will not play in the NBA during the upcoming season in exchange for waiving any cap effects.
- Teams can structure second round contracts however they'd like. The contract structure of a first round contract is set by the CBA. Most notably, the first two seasons of the contract are guaranteed, and team options must be exercised before seasons begin (instead of at the end of the season).
The Opportunity In Moving Up
The Sixers have so many draft picks, and so much flexibility, and are a prime spot for a player to gamble on himself. Thus, it might be beneficial, if Sam likes a player, for the team to trade up and move into the back end of the first round.
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More NBA Draft
For instance, let's look at someone like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, a personal favorite of mine, or Montrezl Harrell. Like K.J., if they slipped to the second round despite being widely considered as top-25 prospects, they are great candidates for self-gambling, as while they may not be likely as second-round picks to succeed, their high pre-draft standing would make them seem to be surer bets.
Instead, let's say RHJ is available at 26 where San Antonio is slated to pick. San Antonio usually doesn't have issues with selecting an international player and stashing them. However, staying at the end of their title window, and with cap space to potentially attract a free agent (on top of re-signing Kawhi Leonard), the Spurs might want to open up some more cap space. Trading 26 for 35, along with maybe 58 or 60, will give the Spurs flexibility and give the Sixers a chance at a prospect that could easily be swiped early in the second round.
The contract is a drawback, but for a player that slipped down draft boards, you can't be greedy. You can substitute any number of players, and most would be worth it. In addition, the Sixers would eliminate the possibility of a player gambling on himself, and the contract for a late first-round pick is hardly material to the Sixers' cap position. It may not be flexible, but the certainty in having a late first can also be an asset.