Draft picks, draft picks, draft picks. The Nuggets reportedly want the Nets to use five first rounders in a 'Melo deal. That would be all but one of the first rounders the Nets have in the next three years.
Even with those reports, the Nets have dispatched scouts throughout the known world looking for talent. Thursday night, a Nets scout was on hand in Buffalo to watch BYU's Jimmer Fredette, a likely second rounder, go for 34.
Of course, it's a long time between now and when David Stern calls the roll of teams on June 23 in Newark. But assuming the Nets keep the picks, (at least some of them anyway), can fans expect a better outcome than in recent years when every first round pick between Nenad Krstic in 2002 and Brook Lopez in 2008 proved to be a bust? Not one first rounder taken by the Nets in that period is still in the league and only second-round pick is still playing...but not with the Nets. And we're not mentioning Terrence Williams, taken in 2009.
We take a look at what can be expected if the Nuggets don't get their way..what's changed with scouting, with the personnel who will make the selections...and prospects for buying a pick or two.
Two former NBA general managers, Bob Ferry (Bullets) and Garry St. Jean (Warriors), have been hired as scouts along with a Billy King favorite from the 76ers, Danko Cvjeticanin. The Croatian Olympian,a long time teammate of Drazen Petrovic, is the Nets new international scout, filling a role that hasn't been quite full-time since the departure of Rob Meurs in 2008. Maury Hanks, who pushed for Brook Lopez's selection in 2008, was recently promoted to director of scouting and scouts Khalid Green and Jordan Cohn were retained. Green handles East Coast scouting, Cohn the West. The Nets director of player personnel Gregg Polinsky remains in place with overall responsibility for scouting. He scouts college games as well. Bobby Marks' assistant, Matt Ricciardi, acts as an administrator for the scouting staff. That's a first.
The Nets will also have expanded video capabilities in sorting out picks, using the resources of their East Rutherford tenant, Hoop1 Video. Hoop1 has a vast archive of college and international videos. Patrick Spurgin, the Nets' video coordinator, was formerly with San Antonio, where he also served as an assistant coach for the Spurs' summer league teams. Scott McByrne, who was the Nets' video intern last season, has been hired as the Video Assistant. It's the first time the job has been full time. The Nets also have acquired state-of-the-art editing equipment.
Every GM makes mistakes in the draft, of course, even Joe Dumars, but a review of King's time in Philly indicates he did well when picking in the lottery, found solid NBA players at the end of the first round and discovered value deep into the second. He also signed at least one undrafted player who became a top-notch defender.
As one of his former players in Philly, Eric Snow, told Al Iannazzone back in July, "He’s got a great feel for the unseen."
So, let's review…an incomplete but telling list:
—1999: drafted Todd MacCulloch with the 47th pick.
—2000: drafted Speedy Claxton with the 20th pick.
—2001: drafted Samuel Dalembert with the 26th pick.
—2002: traded Claxton to the Spurs for Mark Bryant and the draft rights to John Salmons, taken with the 26th pick.
—2003: bought the Nets' second round pick, the 51st pick, and used it on Kyle Korver. Cost: $140,000; Traded the draft rights to guard Paccelis Morlende to the Sonics in return for rights to Willie Green, taken at #41.
—2004: drafted Andre Iguodala with the 9th pick.
—2005: drafted Louis Williams with the 45th pick.
—2006: drafted guard Thabo Sefolosha (13th pick), then traded his draft rights to the Chicago Bulls for the draft rights to guard Rodney Carney.
—2007: drafted Thaddeus Young (12th overall pick), Daequan Cook (21st overall pick), then traded the draft rights to Cook, a 2009 second-round pick and cash to the Miami Heat for the draft rights to Jason Smith, taken with the 20th pick.
Beyond the draft, King gave Raja Bell his first opportunity. He first signed the undrafted 24-year-old to a 10-day contract, then a multi-year deal at the end of the 10-day, just as the 76ers started their 2001 run to the NBA Finals.
A GM who can find any value after #40 (MacColluch, Green, Korver and Williams...Green and Korver in the same draft); get solid NBA talents in the late first round (Claxton, Dalembert and Salmons); use lottery picks to get players like Iguodala and Young, and find an undrafted gem in Bell deserves respect.
To suggest that Iguodala and Young were no-brainers ignores what other teams around King's pick wound up with. Iguodala was taken between Rafael Araujo and Luke Jackson; Young was taken between Acie Law and Julian Wright. Same with his second round gem, Louis Williams. Williams was taken after Roko-Leni Uric, Chris Taft, Mile Ilic (by the Nets) and Martynas Andriuskevicius. Of all those players only Julian Wright is currently under contract in the NBA, but just barely.
He may have made some mistakes in the draft and certainly in other areas--like doling out mega contracts to mediocre players, but in the critical area of getting value for lower picks and not blowing lottery picks, few have a better record...and that includes the guy who hired him and the guy who replaced him, Rod Thorn and Ed Stefanski.
Buying a Pick
Okay, suppose the Nets do trade some or all of their picks. Does that mean no picks in the first round? Not necessarily. Teams with rich owners can buy picks, maybe not lottery picks, but mid first round picks and certainly second rounders.
Straight cash deals often happen on Draft Night…and a lot of time they’re a Euro-stash deal: cash for a pick that's used to take an international player. The player is expected to stay overseas until the NBA team is ready for him and/or he’s ready for the NBA. It’s a money-saving deal long term, but costly upfront. First round picks can cost up to $3 million, the maximum allowed in any NBA transaction.
Over the last few years, cash deals have become more common. Many cash-starved teams are looking to pick up spare cash by selling their picks.
The Blazers, owned by billionaire Paul Allen, have bought first round picks on five occasions in the past eight drafts, once from the Nets. In at least four of those deals, the price tag was that $3 million max.
--On Draft Night 2004, the Blazers sent $3 million and the expiring contract of Eddie Gill to the Nets and got a Nets’ first round pick (#23 – Viktor Khryapa of Russia). The Nets then cut Gill.
–On Draft Night 2006, the Blazers sent $3 million to the Suns and got a Suns’ first round pick (#27 – Sergio Rodriguez of Spain)
–On Draft Night, 2007, the Blazers sent $3 million to the Suns and got a Suns’ first round pick. (#24 – Rudy Fernandez of Spain).
--On Draft Night 2007, the Blazers sent an undetermined amount of cash and the rights to second round pick, Derrick Byars to the 76ers and got a 76ers first round pick (#30 pick Petteri Koponen of Finland). Byars was later cut by the 76ers.
–On Draft Night, 2008, the Blazers sent $3 million in cash to the Hornets and got their first round pick (#27 – Darrell Arthur of Kansas). Arthur was immediately sent to the Rockets, with a smaller amount of cash, in return for draft rights to Nicolas Batum of France, taken at #25.
So at least $12 million--and probably closer to $15 million--of Allen's cash hoard was used to pick up Rudy Fernandez, Nicolas Batum, Sergio Rodriguez (later traded) and a good European point guard, Petteri Koponen. He's still stashed overseas. Khryapa was later used as filler in the Tyrus Thomas - LaMarcus Aldridge trade. (He then left the NBA and ironically went back to CSKA Moscow, Prokhorov’s team).
Allen isn’t the only billionaire owner who feels this way about the value of cash on Draft Night. Here’s what Mark Cuban wrote back in 2008 defending his decision to trade first round picks in 2008 and 2010 to the Nets in the Jason Kidd trade: "There are almost always teams willing to sell a pick in the 20s for 3mm dollars." Translation: I got the money. Don't worry. In fact, Cuban spent a reported $3 million to buy the Grizzlies' first round pick, at #25, in 2010. The Mavs used the pick to take Dominique Jones of South Florida.
Chuck Dolan shelled out more than a million dollars to the Lakers on Draft Night 2009 to sweeten the deal with the Lakers that brought the Knicks Toney Douglas. In 2010, New York bought the rights to Jerome Jordan, a second round pick, from the Bucks.
Beyond a straight purchase, cash can have another benefit on Draft Night. The Nets have two first round picks in 2011 and three in 2012. If they wanted to move up in the lottery on either of those nights, and a cash-starved team has a pick they covet, the Nets could offer not just their picks, but also a cash sweetener to the deal.
In the past, the Nets have discussed buying picks, but none of them turned into anything. In 2005, they discussed buying a pick early in the second round when Monta Ellis unexpectedly dropped. They couldn't get a deal done and Ellis went to the Warriors at #40. They claimed they were willing to move in 2008 to take Chris Douglas-Roberts in the late first round but decided to wait til the second round. Later in the second round, they thought about buying a pick to take Jaycee Carroll and similarly in 2010, they thought about buying a late pick in the second to grab Brian Zoubek or Ben Uzoh.
The Nets seem better prepared for the 2011 draft, no matter how many picks they have.