In tomorrow night’s 2019 NBA Draft, the Philadelphia 76ers have the 24 th overall pick, along with four picks in the second round. For a team on the short list of true title contenders, it’s exceedingly unlikely that the Sixers will enter the 2019-20 season with five rookies on the roster. Still, one thing they should absolutely not do is sell any of the picks, something which Elton Brand distressingly brought up as a possibility.
When I recently expressed outrage about this possibility, there were two main counterarguments brought up. One, the idea that those picks don’t matter anyway, and two, the notion that if owners are going to go into the luxury tax to field a competitive team, they deserve some concessions in these “largely meaningless” situations to help recoup some money. Let’s address the latter point first.
Philadelphia’s current ownership group purchased the franchise in 2011 for $287 million. In February 2019, Forbes calculated the team was worth $1.7 BILLION. The idea that ownership needs to cut corners anywhere when it has already received a 6x return on investment is preposterous. It’s the same type of thinking that leads people to think local taxpayers should publicly finance stadiums, a practice that is fortunately being called out more and more and becoming less prevalent.
The NBA continues to grow in popularity. The Sixers led the league in attendance last season. Ownership can afford to do whatever it needs to do to field a winner. It doesn’t need to reach around in the couch cushions and sell a pick for an extra $2 million or so.
Now, let’s discuss the perception that those mid- to late-second-round picks don’t matter. Here’s a short list in no particular order of players who were drafted with the 40th pick or later (I’m probably forgetting a few prominent ones, but this is enough to suit our purposes):
Manu Ginobili (57), Marc Gasol (48), Nikola Jokic (41), Isaiah Thomas (60), Paul Millsap (47), Monta Ellis (40), Stephen Jackson (43), Michael Redd (43), Kyle Korver (51), Josh Richardson (40).
You have valuable starters, All-Stars, and even future Hall-of-Famers. These guys are outliers, though, you might say. They’re the exception that proves the rule. Well, for argument’s sake, let’s say there’s only a 5 percent chance that pick nets you a useful player, with a 1 percent chance it winds up being an All-Star-caliber player (I’d argue it’s higher, but let’s be conservative). Those slim probabilities are still better than the 0 percent chance if a pick is only used to add an extra couple million dollars to the team’s revenue column.
Do you want a more concrete example? You need look no further than two summers ago. Of the many terrible moves made by Bryan Colangelo during his tenure with the Sixers, how he just punted on multiple second-round picks in the 2017 NBA draft is something that has always stuck in my craw. Colangelo traded the 39th pick (Jawun Evans) to the Clippers for $3.2 million, then traded the 46th pick (Sterling Brown) to the Bucks for $1.9 million.
Sure, Evans and Brown aren’t some great difference-makers (although Brown certainly had nice moments for the Bucks last season). But the point isn’t that you’re going to get a valuable player with those picks, it’s that you have the chance to get a valuable player with those picks. Plus, if a team does hit a player in the second round, the value of having a rotation player on such a cheap contract for a few years is exceptional.
In that 2017 draft, here are players the Sixers could have drafted: Thomas Bryant who went 42nd overall, Dillon Brooks (45), or Monte Morris (51). Brooks has shot 36 percent from 3 in his two NBA seasons. Morris would have made for a terrific backup point guard option, having shot 41.4 percent from 3 last year. Bryant would make for a very serviceable backup center, something that might have swung the Raptors series, and who knows what happens then.
But no, instead of taking a shot at getting somebody that could help the team (or, acknowledging a roster crunch, at least obtaining some sort of future asset), Colangelo traded those picks for cash, money that went straight into the owners’ pockets. Josh Harris has a net worth of $3.7 billion, but I sure am glad he got a piece of that $5.1 million from selling those picks.
To circle back to the near-certainty that the Sixers aren’t entering the season with five rookies, you know what you can do instead? Trade for a future pick. Trade for a future pick swap. Draft an international stash player. Package a late pick to move up with one of your earlier picks. Other moves which I’m sure I’m missing. Anything to produce an asset that can be used to better the team in the future.
To be fair, the team did those sorts of things last summer in both their trade with the Pistons, and then the deal with Dallas to grab Shake Milton. Most of the same front office team is around for this year’s draft, so hopefully they at least take a similar approach.
You know who never straight-up sold a pick? Sam Hinkie. He was too busy innovating more creative pick swaps and top-55 protections. As Hinkie once wrote, “in some decisions, the uncertainties are savage.” For me, though, there is no uncertainty in this decision. Elton and company, don’t sell a pick.