A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, which explains why NBA teams continue to ship off future draft assets in exchange for current NBA players that can help them win now. It has happened time and again over the course of the last few years, despite mountains of evidence that unprotected or poorly protected picks really can come back to bite a team in the rear end.
This year’s draft lottery seems to come with an especially high amount of drama with several different scenarios that could play out in ways that do not help the teams that traded their picks.
We already know that the Brooklyn Nets will have to swap their elite selection with the Boston Celtics this summer as a result of a trade that took place four years ago. What that probably means is Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball is headed to what could be the Eastern Conference’s best team next season, and the even worse news is that Brooklyn doesn’t even get to swap first-round picks with the Celtics in 2018. Boston just gets that pick outright as a result of the same deal.
It’s fair to say that when this one is all said and done, Brooklyn fans are going to wish that former Nets general manager Billy King had never existed. They probably think that already.
Of course, they aren’t alone in their misery. The Los Angeles Lakers owe a pick either this year or next as a well, a result of the Steve Nash trade that ruined every NBA reporter’s Fourth of July in 2012, which occurred about an hour before most of the East Coast was preparing to set off fireworks. If the Lakers don’t land in the top three this year, that pick goes to Philadelphia. If they keep the pick this year, it goes to Philly next summer unprotected.
And then, of course, there’s the Sacramento Kings, who dumped a bunch of salary to the Sixers a couple seasons ago for a handful of goodies, including the right to swap picks this year should the Kings end up with a better pick than Philadelphia, which could very well happen.
The 2017 NBA Draft brings an extreme set of circumstances that frankly aren’t common, but that doesn’t mean these types of things haven’t happened before. It’s not that every traded “future draft pick” turns into a stud, but that’s how it happened for the teams on this list. These are “future draft pick” trades that still give fans of certain franchises nightmares:
Los Angeles Lakers “Magic” in the 1970s
In August of 1976, the New Orleans Jazz traded, among other things, a 1979 first-round draft pick as compensation for a trade that landed Gail Goodrich in the Big Easy. As it turns out, the Jazz stayed bad and that 1979 pick ended up being the top overall selection the year that generational talent Magic Johnson left Michigan State University.
After that one went down, no team should have traded a first round pick ever again, but it did not serve as any sort of deterrent. None whatsoever.
Cleveland Sends L.A. a “Worthy” 1982 Draft Pick
That actually wasn’t the last time the Lakers would trade for a future draft pick and end up on the right side of history. Back in February of 1980, before the ubiquity of home computers and cell phones, when the typewriter was king and everything the Los Angeles Lakers touched turned to gold, the Cleveland Cavaliers traded a future 1982 first-round pick and a player to L.A. for Don Ford and a 1980 first-round pick. Cleveland drafted Chad Kinch (not exactly a household name), while the Lakers used that future pick to haul in future Hall-of-Famer James Worthy.
There are seven Lakers jerseys in the rafters at Staples Center, and three-time NBA champion James Worthy is one of them. Kinch meanwhile, was out of the league after a year and unfortunately passed away at age 35 due to AIDS-related complications.
There are no jokes here, but it’s clear the Lakers got the better end of that deal.
Memphis Loses #2 Pick in 2003
The 2003 NBA Draft Lottery had to have been excruciating to watch for Memphis Grizzlies fans. The team, represented that year by Jerry West, was in a really nasty spot thanks to a 1997 trade that shipped away a future first-rounder for Otis Thorpe. It took forever to convey the pick because of the protections that were placed on it, but by 2003 it was only top-one protected.
The tension for that particular lottery was deep-seeded for fans of all lottery teams, mostly because it was the year everybody was hoping LeBron James would fall into their laps. So it was a small miracle when the Grizzlies were one of the last two teams standing while the pick envelopes were unsealed. West was one ping pong ball away from landing James in Memphis, but thanks to that stupid Thorpe pick he couldn’t even settle for Carmelo Anthony.
Thorpe played 47 games for the Vancouver Grizzlies that season and then was traded to Sacramento. James and Anthony have been, you know, way better than that.
John Paxson Fleeces Isiah Thomas in 2005
In one of Chicago’s greatest trades of all time, John Paxson managed to trade Eddy Curry, a player they were not likely to re-sign anyway, for a slew of players and picks that ended up helping them build a future Eastern Conference Finals team. In that deal, the Knicks sent Chicago, among other things, an unprotected first-round pick in 2006 and the right to swap picks in 2007.
While Chicago didn’t keep him, that 2006 ended up being LaMarcus Aldridge, selected second overall, while the following year the Bulls swapped the #23 pick for New York’s #9 pick, and ultimately used it on Joakim Noah. One of the second-round picks in the deal ended up being Omer Asik, and another was used to help trade up for Thabo Sefolosha. All those assets came via trades for future draft picks, and all of them proved miserable for Thomas, who seemed to bail out the Bulls a lot in the mid-aughts.
The Clippers Dump Their Way Out of Kyrie Irving in 2011
The 2011 trade deadline was maybe the greatest trade deadline of all time, with Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups and Deron Williams all getting shipped off to new teams in February. The trade that has resonated most in the six years since, however, has been the one that sent an unprotected pick and the salary-dumped Baron Davis to the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for Mo Williams and Jamario Moon.
It saved the Clippers a boatload of cash, and as then-Clippers GM Neil Olshey explained after the fact, the team felt like they were heading in the direction of playing like a perennial playoff team and felt the cap space was more valuable than entertaining “a kid that’s 19 years old with one year of college experience.”
So L.A. ended up with the 8th-worst record in the league, giving them only a 2.8 percent chance at landing the top pick, which they of course did. That pick then went to Cleveland, who drafted Kyrie Irving, who many may recognized as “a kid that’s 19 years old with one year of college experience.” Today, Irving is a bona fide superstar and NBA champion, while Davis has been out of the league for years. Los Angeles survived the blunder, and it clearly didn’t rattle Olshey’s confidence as he moved onto Portland, but that one’s gotta sting, no matter how much Olshey may want to justify it.
The Nets Gift-Wrap Damian Lillard for Portland in 2012.
In a similar salary dump, the Nets sent Mehmet Okur, Shawne Williams and a 2012 first-round pick (top-three protected) to Portland in exchange for Gerald Wallace. The Nets wanted to be good, and they wanted to clear cap space to make a run at Dwight Howard, so they used the pick to clear out the funds.
That pick was the sixth one in the deep 2012 NBA Draft and landed the Blazers one of the league’s elite scorers, and all Portland had to do was pay a little extra money that summer. Totally worth it.
So how will this year’s owed lottery picks pan out for the teams that traded them away? Chances are that at least one of them will regret it deeply, but that’s the way professional sports go. Many owners and front offices are much more concerned with players that can help them win immediately rather than the possibility of a future draft pick panning out. Draymond Green, for example, came as a result of a toss-in second-round pick in an old Troy Murphy trade, but how many second-round selections have anywhere near that impact in the NBA?
It’s not a guarantee that even first-round talents will be immediate contributors. When that draft pick ends up being a high one, though, it stings, and it stings for a long time.
You know what they say, though: that which does not kill you, only makes you stronger. Unless, you know, that thing comes in the form of LeBron James. Then he’s going to kill you over and over and over again.
NBA Daily: Tyronn Lue is the Right Coach for the Clippers
Is Lue the right coach for the Los Angeles Clippers? David Yapkowitz thinks so.
When Doc Rivers was first hired by the Los Angeles Clippers in 2013, the expectation was that he would be the one to guide the franchise into respectability. A laughingstock of the NBA for pretty much their entire existence, marred by bad coaching, bad management and bad ownership, Rivers was supposed to help change all of that.
For the most part, he did.
Rivers arrived from the Boston Celtics with the 2008 championship, and he helped the Celtics regain their standing as one of the NBA’s elite teams. The Clippers were a perennial playoff contender under him and were even in the conversation for being a possible championship contender. The Lob City Clippers led by Chris Paul and Blake Griffin certainly were talked about as being a title contender, and this season’s group led by Kawhi Leonard and Paul George were definitely in the mix as well.
Not only did Rivers steady the team on the court though, but he was also a very steadying presence off the court. He guided the franchise through the Donald Sterling controversy and he was a positive voice for the team as they navigated the bubble and the ongoing charge for social reform in the country.
But when things go wrong with a team, the coach is usually the one who ends up taking the fall. While Rivers did bring the Clippers to a level of respectability the franchise has never known, his record was not without blemishes. Most notably was his team’s inability to close out playoff series’ after holding three games to one on advantages two separate occasions.
In 2015, the Clippers had a 3-1 lead over the Houston Rockets only to squander that lead and lose Game 7 on the road. In Game 6, their shots stopped falling and neither Paul nor Griffin could do anything to halt the Rockets onslaught.
This season, in an incredibly similar fashion, the Clippers choked away a 3-1 lead over the Denver Nuggets and ended up getting blown out the second half of Game 7. Just like before, the offense stalled multiple games and neither Leonard nor George could make a difference.
There were also questions about Rivers’ rotations and his seeming inability to adjust to his opponents. In the end, something had to change, and whether it’s right or wrong, the coach usually ends up taking the fall.
Enter Tyronn Lue. Lue, like Rivers, is also a former NBA player and has a great deal of respect around the league. He came up under Rivers, getting his first coaching experience as an assistant in Boston, and then following Rivers to the Clippers.
He ended up joining David Blatt’s staff in Cleveland in 2014, and when Blatt was fired in the middle of the 2015-16 season, Lue was promoted to head coach. In the playoffs that year, Lue guided the Cavaliers to victory in their first 10 playoff games. They reached the Finals where they famously came back from a 3-1 deficit against the 73-9 Golden State Warriors to win the franchise’s first championship.
The Cavaliers reached the Finals each full year of Lue’s tenure as head coach, but he was let go at the start of the 2018-19 season when the team started 0-6 after the departure of LeBron James.
In the 2019 offseason, Lue emerged as the leading candidate for the Los Angeles Lakers head coaching job, before he ultimately rejected the team’s offer. After rejoining Rivers in LA with the Clippers for a year, he once again emerged as a leading candidate for multiple head coaching positions this offseason before agreeing to terms with the Clippers.
Following the Clippers series loss to the Nuggets, many players openly talked about the team’s lack of chemistry and how that may have played a factor in the team’s postseason demise. Adding two-star players in Leonard and George was always going to be a challenge from a chemistry standpoint, and the Clippers might have secured the perfect man to step up to that challenge.
During his time in Cleveland, Lue was praised for his ability to manage a locker room that included James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. In Game 7 against the Warriors, Lue reportedly challenged James at halftime and ended up lighting a fire that propelled the Cavaliers to the championship.
Lue’s ability to deal with star egos isn’t just limited to his coaching tenure. During his playing days, Lue was a trusted teammate with the Los Angeles Lakers during a time when Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant weren’t seeing eye to eye. He also played with Michael Jordan during Jordan’s Washington Wizard days.
Now, he’ll be tasked with breaking through and leading the Clippers to a place where no Clipper team has ever been before. He’ll be expected to finish what Rivers was unable to accomplish and guide the Clippers to an NBA championship.
For one, he’ll have to change the Clippers offensive attack. This past season, the Clippers relied too much on an isolation heavy offense centered around Leonard and George. That style of play failed in the playoffs when after failing to adjust, the Clippers kept taking tough shot after tough shot while the Nuggets continued to run their offense and get good shots.
With the Cavaliers, Lue showed his ability to adjust his offense and work to his player’s strengths. In the 2018 Playoffs, Lue employed a series of off-ball screens involving Love and Kyle Korver with James reading the defense and making the correct read to whoever was in the best position to score.
When playing with James, the offense sometimes tends to stagnate with the other four players standing around and waiting for James to make his move. Lue was able to get the other players to maintain focus and keep them engaged when James had the ball in his hands. Look for him to try and do something similar for when either Leonard or George has the ball in their hands.
He’s already got a player on the roster in Landry Shamet who can play that Korver role as the designated shooter on the floor running through off-ball screens and getting open. Both Leonard and George have become efficient enough playmakers to be able to find open shooters and cutters. That has to be Lue’s first task to tweak the offense to find ways to keep the rest of the team engaged and active when their star players are holding the ball.
The defensive end is going to be something he’ll need to adjust as well. The Clippers have some of the absolute best individual defensive players in the league. Leonard is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, George was a finalist for the award in 2019 and Patrick Beverley is a perennial All-Defensive Team selection.
When the team was locked in defensively this season, there wasn’t a team in the league that could score on them. The problem for them was they seemingly couldn’t stay engaged on the defensive end consistently enough. The other issue was Rivers’ inability to adjust his defense to his opponent. Against the Nuggets, Nikola Jokic had a field day whenever Montrez Harrell was guarding him.
Lue’s primary task will be to get this team to maintain their defensive intensity throughout the season, as well as recognize what matchups are and aren’t working. Both Ivica Zubac and JaMychal Green were more effective frontcourt defenders in the postseason than Harrell was. Look for Lue to play to his team’s strengths, as he always has, and to trot out a heavy dose of man-to-man defense.
Overall, Lue was the best hire available given the candidates. He’s got a strong rapport among star players. He’s made it to the finals multiple times and won a championship as a head coach. And he already has experience working with Leonard and George.
Given the potential free agent status of both Leonard and George in the near future, the Clippers have a relatively small window of championship contention. Lue was in a similar situation in Cleveland when James’ pending free agency in the summer of 2018 was also a factor. That time around, Lue delivered. He’ll be ready for this new challenge.
NBA Daily: The Lakers’ Third Scorer Is By Committee
The Los Angeles Lakers have a whole unit of third scoring options – and that’s why they’re one win from an NBA Championship.
One of the biggest questions surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers once the NBA bubble began was who was going to pick up the mantle of being the third scoring option.
Even before the 2019-20 season began, it was obvious that LeBron James and Anthony Davis would be the primary offensive weapons, but every elite team with championship aspirations needs another player or two they can rely on to contribute on the offensive end consistently.
The obvious choice was Kyle Kuzma. In his third year in the NBA, Kuzma was the lone member of the Lakers’ young core that hadn’t been shipped elsewhere. His name had come up in trade rumors as possibly being included in the package to New Orleans for Davis, but the Lakers were able to hang on to him. He put up 17.4 points per game over his first two seasons and had some questioning whether or not he had All-Star potential.
For the most part this season, he settled into that role for much of this season. With Davis in the fold and coming off the bench, his shot attempts dropped from 15.5 to 11.0, but he still managed to be the team’s third scorer with 12.8 points per game.
But here in the bubble, and especially in the playoffs, the Lakers’ role players have each taken turns in playing the supporting role to James and Davis. Everyone from Kuzma to Alex Caruso, to Dwight Howard, to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, to Markieff Morris and even Rajon Rondo have had games where they’ve given the team that additional scoring boost.
Earlier in the bubble, James himself said they need Kuzma to be the team’s third-best player to win, but Kuzma himself believes that it’s always been by committee.
“We don’t have a third scorer, that’s not how our offense is built. Our offense is really AD and Bron, and everyone else plays team basketball,” Kuzma said on a postgame media call after Game 4 of the Finals. “We’ve had a long season, hopefully by now, you’ve seen how we play. Everyone steps up at different times, that’s what a team does.”
On this particular night, when the Miami HEAT got a pregame boost with the return of Bam Adebayo and wealth of confidence from their Game 3 win, it was Caldwell-Pope who stepped up and assumed the mantle of that third scoring option.
He finished Game 4 with 15 points on 50 percent shooting from the field and 37.5 percent from three-point range. He also dished out five assists and grabbed three rebounds. Perhaps his most crucial moments of the game came late in the fourth quarter with the Lakers desperately clinging to a slim lead and the Heat not going away.
He hit a big three-pointer in front of the Miami bench with 2:58 to go in the game, and then followed that up with a drive the rim and finish on the very next possession to give the Lakers some breathing room.
Caldwell-Pope has been one of the most consistent Lakers this postseason and he’s been one of their most consistent three-point threats at 38.5 percent on 5.3 attempts. He was actually struggling a bit with his outside shot before this game, but he always stayed ready.
“My teammates lean on me to pick up the energy on the defensive end and also make shots on the offensive end…I stayed within a rhythm, within myself and just played,” Caldwell-Pope said after the game. “You’re not going to knock down every shot you shoot, but just staying with that flow…Try to stay in the rhythm, that’s what I do. I try not to worry about it if I’m not getting shots. I know they are eventually going to come.”
Also giving the Lakers a big offensive boost in Game 4 was Caruso who had a couple of easy baskets at the rim and knocked down a three-pointer. He’s become one the Lakers best off the ball threats as well, making strong cuts to the rim or drifting to the open spot on the three-point line.
He’s had his share of games this postseason when it’s been his turn to step up as the Lakers additional scoring threat. During Game 4 against the Houston Rockets in the second round, Caruso dropped 16 points off the bench to help prevent the Rockets from tying the series up. In the closeout Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals against the Denver Nuggets, he had 11 points and finished the game in crunch time.
For him, it’s about staying ready and knowing that the ball is eventually going to come to whoever is open. When that happens, it’s up to the role players to take that pressure off James and Davis.
“Our third star or best player is whoever has the open shot. We know what AD and LeBron are going to bring to the table every night. They’re going to get their attention, they’re going to get their shots,” Caruso said after the game.
“It’s just about being ready to shoot. We have two of the best passers in the game, if not the best, so we know when we are open, we are going to get the ball. We have to be ready to do our job as soon as the ball gets to us.”
And if the Lakers are to close out the series and win the 2020 NBA championship, head coach Frank Vogel knows that it’s going to take a collective effort from the rest of the team, the way they’ve been stepping up all postseason.
“We need everybody to participate and contribute, and we’re a team-first team,” Vogel said after the game. “Obviously we have our two big horses, but everybody’s got to contribute that’s out there.”
NBA Daily: Alex Caruso: The Lakers’ Unsung Hero
The Los Angeles Lakers are two wins from an NBA championship and Alex Caruso is just happy to play his role and contribute.
Alex Caruso has technically been an NBA player for three years now, but this season is his first on a regular NBA contract.
After going undrafted out of Texas A&M in 2016, he began his professional career as with the Philadelphia 76ers in summer league. He managed to make it to training camp with the Oklahoma City Thunder but was eventually cut and acquired by their the G League team, the Blue.
In the summer of 2017, he joined the Los Angeles Lakers for summer league, and he’s stuck with the team ever since. A strong performance in Las Vegas earned him the opportunity to sign a two-way contract with the Lakers for the 2017-18 season, meaning he’d spend most of his time with the South Bay Lakers in the G League.
The Lakers re-signed him to another two-way contract before the 2018-19 season. Restricted to only 45 days with the Lakers under his two-way contracts, Caruso played in a total of 62 games over those two years.
It wasn’t until the summer of 2019 that the Lakers finally signed him to a standard NBA contract worth $5.5 million over two years. And he’s become a key player off the Lakers bench, especially in the playoffs.
Despite not getting much of an early opportunity, Caruso continued to put in the work in anticipation of when his number would finally be called. He always was confident that it would come.
“It’s been the story of my career, no matter what level I’m at, the more time I have on the court, the better I’ve gotten,” Caruso told reporters after the Lakers eliminated the Denver Nuggets. “I’ve been waiting for an opportunity, I was two years on two-ways…finally I played well enough to get a contract, and over the course of the year it’s the same thing, anytime I can get out there on the court, I get better.”
Caruso’s stats may not jump off the page, he put up 5.5 points per game this season on only 41.2 percent shooting from the field, 33.3 percent from three-point range, 1.9 assists and 1.9 rebounds, but his impact has gone far beyond statistics.
His playoff numbers are up slightly at 6.8 points on 43.6 percent shooting to go along with 2.9 assists and 2.3 rebounds, but he’s become an invaluable member of the team’s postseason run. The defensive intensity and energy he brings to the court have been instrumental in playoff wins.
In this postseason alone, he’s seen himself matched up defensively with Damian Lillard, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and one of the bubble’s breakout stars in Jamal Murray. Each time, he hasn’t backed down from the challenge and has even provided solid man to man defense on each of them.
“Looking and diving into the basketball aspect, series by series, just finding different ways that I know I can be effective, watching past games against opponents, just knowing their tendencies,” Caruso said on a recent media call. “The defense and the effort thing is something I’m always going to have. You can see that in the regular season when I might be more excited on a stop or defensive play on somebody than the rest of the team in game 45 or 50 in the season.”
While his main contributions have been his defense and his hustle, he’s found ways to be effective on the offensive end as well. While not shooting particularly well from three-point range percentage-wise in the playoffs at only 26.9 percent, he’s hit some timely ones during Laker runs to either pull closer to their opponent or to blow the game open.
He’s also been able to get the rim off drives and get himself to the free-throw line, and he’s made strong cuts off the ball to free himself up for easy layups. Playing with the second unit, he’s played a lot of off-ball with Rajon Rondo as the main facilitator, or with LeBron James as the only starter on the floor.
“For me, I think it’s about being aggressive. At any time I can put pressure on the paint whether it’s to get to the rim to finish or to draw fouls or make the defense collapse and get open shots for teammates, that’s really an added benefit for us to have multiple guys out on the court,” Caruso said.
“So whenever I’m out there with Rondo or with LeBron, to not have the sole focus be on one of them to create offense for everybody, it makes us a lot more balanced.”
The trust that Lakers head coach Frank Vogel and the rest of the team have in Caruso has been evident this whole postseason. Perhaps no bigger moment came for him than in Game 6 against the Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals when Vogel left him on the court to close out the game.
He’s also become one of the team’s vocal leaders on the court during gameplay, on the sidelines in the huddle and the locker room. On a team with a lot of strong personalities, Caruso’s ascendance as a locker room leader is something that just comes naturally for him. It’s something he’s done his entire basketball career.
“Being vocal has always been easy for me. Outside of this team, I’ve usually been one of the leaders on the team, one of the best players on my team growing up at different levels of basketball. Being vocal is pretty natural for me,” Caruso said.
“I got the trust of my teammates, they understand what I’m talking about. I say what I need to say and it doesn’t fall on deaf ears. I’m really competitive and if there’s something I think needs to be said, I’m going to do it. I leave no stone unturned to get the job done.”
Now in the NBA Finals, as the Lakers seek to win their first championship since 2010 and No. 17 overall, Caruso has reprised his role as a defensive irritant and glue guy who makes winning plays. For the team to win this series, they need to continue to get timely contributions from him.
And with each step of the way, he’s just soaking it all up and is thrilled to be able to have this opportunity alongside some of the NBA’s best.
“It’s a journey I’ve been on my whole life just to get to this point. It’s really cool, I don’t know how to state it other than that,” Caruso said. “It’s just super cool for me to be able to have this experience. To play meaningful minutes and play well, and be on the court with LeBron in big-time moments.”