The Risk of Trading a Top Three Pick (UPDATED)
In his first draft as general manager of the Washington Wizards in 2004, Ernie Grunfeld selected Wisconsin point guard Devin Harris fifth overall, paired him with Jerry Stackhouse and Christian Laettner, and immediately shipped them to Dallas for Antawn Jamison. The move worked out incredibly for both teams, with Harris and Stackhouse helping the Mavericks reach the NBA Finals two years later and Jamison leading the Wizards into their only four-year playoff run in the past 30 years.
After a miserable 19-win campaign, the Wizards have dropped back into the lottery and the franchise is assured a selection no less than fifth in the NBA draft this June. The Wizards' lottery position will be determined on May 19, and Grunfeld is again in a situation where he can decide whether to keep the pick or trade the "asset" -- as he likes to call it -- for a veteran player who can contribute right away.
I've often assumed that Grunfeld would move the pick, since the team needs to get older, not younger, if it's going to seriously contend. But after further review, if the Wizards wind up with one of the top three selections, the following list might caution Grunfeld from moving it. Top three picks are usually franchise cornerstones or better yet, keepers. Even if it isn't obvious at the time, sometimes it shakes out that way (see: Billups, Chauncey). Giving up on those picks often comes back to haunt teams.
If Washington ends up with four or five, Grunfeld should see if he can find another Jamison or make a move like Boston President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge did two years, using fifth pick Jeff Green to get Ray Allen.
After looking back at the history of teams that have traded away top three picks without ever having the player wear their uniform, the success rate both long term and short term often has been horrendous. The moments when teams trade top three picks for veterans and succeed are rare. There are times when a team can land a Mitch Richmond (who was acquired for Billy Owens), but mostly teams wind up with a Roy Hinson (who was acquired for Brad Daugherty).
In the lottery era, there have been 14 instances where teams dumped top three picks and more often than not, that team was seeking a do-over. We're going to look back at all of them, the three hits, the eight misses, the two pushes and the one that is yet-to-be determined:
The Los Angeles Clippers trade 1989 No. 2 overall pick Danny Ferry and Reggie Williams to Cleveland for Ron Harper, two first-round picks and a second-round pick: Ferry initially ran to Italy rather than play for the Clippers. After returning to the U.S., Ferry had a solid but unremarkable career. While Harper suffered a career-altering knee injury, he also started on two playoff teams with the Clippers. He later won five championships with Chicago and the Lakers.
The Sacramento Kings trade 1991 No. 3 overall pick Billy Owens to the Golden State Warriors in exchange for Mitch Richmond: Great move because Owens had no desire to play in Sacramento and the Kings were able swap a player who became a disappointing bust for a three-time all-star guard.
The Clippers trade 2001 No. 2 overall pick Tyson Chandler and Brian Skinner to the Chicago Bulls for Elton Brand: One of the few fantastic and lopsided deals in Clippers history, as Brand made two all-star appearances and helped the franchise win a playoff series in 2006. Chandler has recently become a reliable NBA contributor -- in New Orleans.
The Philadelphia 76ers trade 1986 No. 1 overall pick Brad Daugherty to Cleveland for Roy Hinson: Daugherty became a five-time all-star and retired as the Cavaliers' all-time leading scorer. Hinson gave the 76ers next to nothing and six years later, franchise player Charles Barkley, frustrated because he had no help, demanded a trade to Phoenix.
The Clippers trade 1995 No. 2 overall pick Antonio McDyess and Randy Woods to the Denver Nuggets for Rodney Rogers and Brent Barry: McDyess actually became an all-star and an Olympic gold medallist in his second stint with Denver, but Rogers and Barry became journeymen role players.
Philadelphia trades 1997 No. 2 overall pick Keith Van Horn, Michael Cage, Lucious Harris and Don MacLean to the New Jersey Nets for Tim Thomas, Anthony Parker, Jim Jackson and Eric Montross: Van Horn never became "The Next Larry Bird" but he had some promising seasons with the Nets and was a starter on the 2002 NBA Finals team. Thomas lasted 1 ½ seasons in Philadelphia and has been a classic underachiever his entire career, showing the potential of his gifts only when entering free agency.
The Vancouver Grizzlies trade 1999 No. 2 overall pick Steve Francis to the Houston Rockets for Michael Dickerson, Othella Harrington, Antoine Carr, Brent Price, a first- and second-round pick: This may have been the final deal that eventually led to the departure of the basketball from western Canada. Francis forced a trade out of Vancouver and went on to win co-rookie of the year and make three all-star teams with Houston. The Grizzlies almost gathered an entire team in exchange for Francis, but it wasn't a particularly good one. And, while Dickerson put up decent numbers, this deal became a complete and total flop when he was forced to retire from severe hamstring and groin injuries in 2003 -- two years after the team moved to Memphis.
The Atlanta Hawks send 2001 No. 3 overall pick Pau Gasol, Lorenzen Wright and Brevin Knight to Vancouver (Memphis) in exchange for Shareef Abdur-Rahim: Abdur-Rahim became an all-star his first season in Atlanta but never reached the playoffs in his home town. Gasol led the Grizzlies to the only three postseason appearances in franchise history, while reaching the all-star team in 2006. Gasol has since made another all-star team and reached the NBA Finals with the Lakers.
The Los Angeles Clippers trade the 2004 No. 2 overall pick to the Charlotte Bobcats for picks No. 4 and No. 33 in the NBA draft. They ended up dealing Emeka Okafor for Shaun Livingston and Lionel Chalmers: Okafor has turned into one of the NBA's most serviceable big men, averaging a double-double over his first five seasons in the league. Livingston had an injury-plagued start, showed some promise, then his career was eventually derailed by a serious knee injury.
The Portland Trail Blazers trade the 2005 No. 3 overall pick to the Utah Jazz for picks No. 6 and 27. The deal turned out to be swap of Deron Williams for Martell Webster and Linas Kleiza: This is in contention for worst trade of the decade. Portland had the opportunity to draft Williams or Chris Paul, two potential Hall of Fame point guards and instead selected a player who has yet to make an impact and another who now resides in Denver.
The Chicago Bulls trade 2006 No. 2 overall pick LaMarcus Aldridge to Portland for Tyrus Thomas and Viktor Khyrapa: Aldridge isn't exactly a franchise player, but he has the low post game the Bulls have been searching for for decades, and has shown all-star potential. Thomas has been a frustratingly talented player with the Bulls.
The Philadelphia 76ers trade 1988 No. 3 overall pick Charles Smith to the Los Angeles Clippers for Hersey Hawkins and a first-round pick: Smith was among the Clippers' top scorers and rebounders, but had a relatively uneventful four-year stint with the team. Hawkins made the all-star team in 1991 before getting traded to Charlotte in 1993.
The Orlando Magic trades 1993 No. 1 overall pick Chris Webber to Golden State for No. 3 overall pick Anfernee Hardaway and three future first round draft picks: Since this trade involved two top three picks, this was tougher to determine. Webber played only one season with the Warriors, which made this a terrible deal for Golden State -- especially when the Warriors wound up trading Webber to Washington for Tom Gugliotta and some draft picks. But it was an awesome trade for Orlando, since Hardaway helped the Magic reach the NBA Finals in 1995 and the conference finals in 1996, when he also won an Olympic gold medal.
The Minnesota Timberwolves trade No. 3 overall pick O.J. Mayo, Antoine Walker, Marko Jaric and Greg Buckner to the Memphis Grizzlies for Kevin Love, Mike Miller, Brian Cardinal and Jason Collins: It's too early to call this trade a bust for Minnesota, but O.J. Mayo has already shown the potential to be a superstar in the league, while Love had a decent rookie campaign. With just one year to judge, this one is still up for debate.
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