At the last minute before the trade deadline something almost interesting happened. Two teams, the 76ers and the Pacers, both extremely desirous of getting rid of two players but finding no one else who wanted anything to do with them met eyes, and like the last two people at a bar on last call, and hooked up more out of loneliness than desire.
I gotta be honest, you guys, you're adults, you deserve it. I wanted to write a column about how nothing WAS going to happen at the trade deadline but then I figured you'd be mad at me for naysaying. So I decided to write a column afterwards telling you WHY nothing happened.
And the major reason is that every one in the NBA currently wants the same thing, and only that one thing: draft picks.
We'll remember this period in NBA history as the absolute apex value of the draft pick. We won't feel this way in a few years. It's the prerogative of all intellectual revolutions to feel like they're the last ones, but so far it's never happened and it's not going to this time. When only three of the approximately 48 teams currently tanking have anything to show for it in four years, we'll think differently.
Not because people are wrong. Draft picks are indeed the only source of cheap, impactful labor in the NBA. But because they just don't pan out all that often. And because you're talking young players, it basically always takes the third guy longer to develop than the length of the first guy's rookie contract, and then off he goes...
I mean I've said this before, nobody's ever done this better than the Thunder, with their Durant-Westbrook-Harden-Ibaka drafts. But, of course, they had to part with Harden before they ever won a championship. And two, if you were to make a team out of the players drafted just before the Thunder four, high picks all, you'd start with Greg Oden, O.J. Mayo, Hasheem Thabeet, Kosta Koufos. It's not that it's not a science, in the sense that some teams really are better than others at this, it's that it's not SO MUCH a science.
I've been giving the Mavs' front office a hard time for a few years now, not because they're bad but because they're not really good. But this, at least, they're one of the only teams smart enough to understand. If everyone is in line for draft picks, getting in that line has increasingly bad odds. While if no one's trying to get sort of old but still pretty good players anymore, you can corner that market.
In short, nothing happened because everyone was calling everyone else offering players for second round picks but all anybody wanted was second round picks. I predict for this reason that the week before the draft will be a lot busier than the trade deadline was for a few years to come.
I also predict that it will be a while before the front office trades a first round pick with this kind of protection. After all, it's not actually the case that they don't have any first rounders until 2018, as of now they have every one but one. But for trading purposes they don't, because they can't trade any of ‘em until they know which one is going.
Since the Mavs still seem to care less about the draft than anyone else -- witness Cuban's recent comments about how they definitely want to unload their first round pick to OKC this summer instead of later -- who knows what they might have done, for good or ill, if they'd had those picks to trade?
But they didn't and nobody else wanted to trade them and nobody else wanted anything else. So it went.