Let’s get this out of the way: none of know jack shit about basketball. Not you, me or your favorite Twitter personality and podcaster. And to be perfectly frank: the general managers likely know less than you do, except they were born rich and with the proper connections to ascend the bureaucratic ladder.
If you’re still reading I’d like to tell you that the NBA has become a dystopian league mired by faux-intellectualism. I can confidently there are only four front offices worth a damn in this sorry league. Toronto, Miami, Boston and Philadelphia. Every other team is run by egomaniac, entitled freaks.
But if you plugged yourself into the inane and constant chatter of the media they’ll sniff the thrones of David Griffin and Sam Presti for compiling a comical amount of first round picks after trading away their star player. “It’s just like Ainge’s haul for Pierce and Garnett!” they say. Ignoring the fact the Celtics were given lottery picks from Brooklyn people suspected would amount as such at the time the deal was consummated.
For Jrue Holiday the New Orleans Pelicans traded the All-Star point guard to Milwaukee for five first round picks believing the Bucks franchise star Giannis Antetokounmpo was abandoning ship after this season. Giannis signed a five-year extension three weeks later. With an over abundance of picks the Pelicans have what I consider a war chest that is all quantity and no quality. Meanwhile they turned their noses up at a simple Gordon Hayward and a first.
Picks late in the first round are more important for the team dealing them than the one that is receiving them. Look at the Celtics. Kemba is out with an injury, Danny Ainge signs 32-year old Jeff Teague and drafts a guard out of Oregon named Payton Pritchard to fill the void. Teague has not panned out. But the Celtics stand a top of the conference due in no small part because the 26th pick has bared fruit from the jump. Obviously Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are reasons one and two for the hot start, but Payton’s role cannot be minimized.
What would Pritchard have meant if the team he landed on ultimately sucked? Part of why he’s good is the talent around him is good.
But the Pelicans aren’t compiling these draft picks because they have faith in their scouting. They’re doing this for the same reason Sam Hinkie held on to all those picks during his time in Philadelphia: it’s to be the first in line when a disgruntled star hits the market.
For the life of me I don’t know why people take the wrong lessons from how the Raptors and Lakers molded their championship teams. For Toronto they benefited from the fact San Antonio undersold and didn’t want to tank. Picks were a non-factor for them. For Los Angeles it was the three Ls: location, location, location.
People point to the Celtics stash, but those were lottery choices. It was Ainge profiting off of teams unaware of various factors the Celtics brass were. Now not every team is going to get four lottery picks for their superstar, but when when I read hypothetical trades centering around Washington Wizards superstar Bradley Beal I usually see a fuck ton of picks involved. “With all those picks the Wizards can jump start the rebuild and maybe draft a player just as good as Beal!”
Or maybe they should just keep Beal and figure it out? Maybe the Pelicans should have just kept Anthony Davis and not give in to the Lakers bullying efforts? Maybe the Spurs shouldn’t have been so spiteful towards Kawhi and let calmer heads prevail? Maybe we should shop overvaluing first round picks if they are in the late twenties and the team getting them is heading towards a long and arduous rebuild?
Life is a delicate balance between Occum’s Razor and the timely phrase “It’s complicated”, in short context matters and picks lose all their appeal when a name is attached to them for a reason. Treating the “treadmill of mediocrity” like death sometimes is the fastest way to landing on one.