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After Nets’ debacle, teams unwilling to give up firsts

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Indiana Pacers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Deals are few and far apart so far this trade deadline and one reason is that teams, scared off by the Nets’ 2013 Boston debacle, are unwilling to offer first rounders as part of packages.

As Adrian Wojnarowski points out in a series of overnight tweets, no team is willing to offer a first for Julius Randle; Memphis is still holding out for a first in return for Tyreke Evans ... but with little hope of success; and Indiana has been aggressive in offering its salary space to extract a first-round pick. Again, no luck.

It doesn’t stop there. Boston wants a first for Marcus Smart.

The reality, tweeted Woj, is that “first-rounders have never been gripped so tightly in the league.” First rounders, of course, have always been valuable. Getting a star on a stable low-paying contract for four years is a great benefit, particularly when the salary cap has become so tight.

One cautionary tale for GMs is the Nets’ 2013 trade with the Celtics in which the Nets gave up three unprotected first rounders and agreed to swap picks, all in a five-year period. The Lakers willingness to give up two firsts for Steve Nash in 2012 also hamstrung L.A.

Instead, writes Fred Kerber, the NBA “coin of the realm” is now second rounders ... or the “fallen angels,” former first rounders “whose debuts in other cities were less than boffo,” as Kerber put it.

The Nets in the last eight months have picked up D’Angelo Russell, Jahlil Okafor, and Rashad Vaughn, the Nos. 2, 3, and 17 picks in the 2015 NBA Draft as well as Nik Stauskas, the No. 8 pick the year before. They’ve also added three second rounders, the Magic pick in 2018; the Knicks pick in 2019, and the Bucks pick (likely) in 2020. The Nets have great faith in their scouts, coaching, and performance staffs to squeeze value out of whatever they have.

“Second-rounders have value. Either you draft with them or use them for something else,” Kerber quoted a general manager as saying. “All these draft picks have increased financially. If you want to sell them, they’ve increased. If you can get fortunate and get somebody in the second round, it’s huge.”

And that’s the second rule of today’s NBA that the Nets have influenced. Development. Teams see what the Nets have done with second rounders like Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, even Quincy Acy ... or undrafted players like Sean Kilpatrick and Milton Doyle.

“All these draft picks have increased financially. If you want to sell them, they’ve increased. If you can get fortunate and get somebody in the second round, it’s huge,” the GM told Kerber. “The percentage of second-round players making it [drafted] in the 50s is 5 to 10 percent. Then 20-25 percent in the 40s and it gets better in the 30s. It’s still hard to hit on a second-round pick, but if you’re fortunate, great.”

So don’t expect the Nets to come away with a first, as they did in 2016, turning Thaddeus Young into Caris LeVert, or last year, turning Bojan Bogdanovic and Chris McCullough into Jarrett Allen, or this year, hopefully getting value out of their supposed salary dump with Toronto. Maybe they’re willing to take a high second for Joe Harris. Maybe they gauge his value in July.

Also, the Nets have a surplus second rounder themselves that could be used in a deal. They now have, for the first time since 2010, guaranteed firsts and seconds in every draft going forward ... plus the Pacers‘ second rounder, which they get the next time Indiana doesn’t make the playoffs. (If Indy gets into the postseason through 2022, that pick becomes unprotected in 2023.)

Bottom line, though, as Woj tweeted overnight, Thursday is not likely to bring much in terms of big deals.

Then again, you never know.