Deal Brook Lopez? Sure, but There’s no Rush

Brook Lopez has now been a Net for 8.5 years.  Lopez becomes a free agent in the summer of 2018.  He is 28 years old. And his Nets are 9-38.

The constant losing in Brooklyn has caused fans to become restless, as losing does in all markets. When fans are losing, they want change.  Good or bad, they want change, because, in their minds, doing SOMETHING beats doing NOTHING,  because losing is horrible to watch.  That perspective fails to grasp the awful reality that, no matter how bad things are, they can always get worse. The Nets are 9-38, not 0-47. They’re 28th and 29th on offense and defense, not dead last in both. They lose by an average of 9.1 points per game, not an average of 15, 20, or 25.

So, in trading Lopez, the Nets do need to consider how they can make things better: but they cannot simply accept any deal on the table just to get the deal done — that may make things WORSE.  Trading Lopez for four first round picks would be great! Trading him for the 50th pick in the draft and cash considerations would no nothing but make the Nets’ situation worse.

Do I want the Nets to trade Lopez. Yes, I do: let’s start there as a baseline. The Nets are 2 years away at best from even being decent, and more than that from being contenders.  By the time they are ready to win, Lopez will be in his early to mid 30’s, and past his prime.  So he would be a smaller cog for them, or a piece they move on from — for little return value.  Dealing him NOW, however, MAXIMIZES his value to the Nets by providing pieces they can grow with around their other young pieces — pieces that will peak or be peaking when Lopez hits those mid 30’s.  It is easy to hope for free agents to pair with Lopez, but in 2016, they tried to sign RFA’s and compete for UFA’s to that affect — due to their record, it did not work.  Why should things be different now given the 9-38 record?

Of course, there are only three points in time at which the Nets can deal Lopez — this 2017 trade deadline, the summer of 2017, or the 2018 trade deadline.

Preliminarily, the Nets likely cannot wait until the 2018 deadline and likely need to deal Lopez before next season.  By the 2018 deadline, with just 2 months on his deal, Lopez will lose substantial value as a “rental”.  However, if you deal for Lopez now he’s yours for 1.4 seasons (the deadline is beyond the halfway mark)  If you wait for the summer, you get a full season with him, him in your training camp, and thus substantial time with him.

Accordingly, the Nets can deal Lopez now, or wait for the summer, waiting for the summer will not affect his value. 

However, unless the Nets are floored by an offer now (in which case, you take it and run), there is no reason not to at least see if someone will floor you in the summer.  This premise, from some fans, that the Nets “must trade Lopez right now, at all costs, because they have struggled for years” could not be more misguided.  The goal in trading Lopez is simple: it’s about maximizing the return, not doing the deal as soon as possible to shake things up. 
The Nets have the luxury not to rush because they will be bad for a while no matter what.  Whether they deal Lopez now, or in the summer of 2017, the Nets will be awful this year regardless, and likely be bad in 2017-2018 regardless.  So why rush?  The return package is infinitely more important than the date the deal is consummated.

In addition, a look at the 37 first round pick trades either consummated since 2013-2014 or for which picks are still owed to other teams, reflects that, for the Nets, patience, and operating from a position of strength that “we will do this when the return package suits us”, rather than rushing to get the deal done, will result in a MUCH better return package.

The deals, as listed below, are organized into two categories: deals made in the summer and deals made during the year. With 19 summer deals and 18 in season deals, it is true that there is no basis to believe that teams do not deal picks in season.  

More important, as discussed below, are the terms of these deals.  The deals are organized by deals won by the team getting the pick (that would be the Nets in a Lopez deal), and the team getting the player or players.
One trend clearly emerges: trades are often not balanced because teams become desperate to “achieve” an objective. Find a team that, due to a circumstance they are desperate to resolve in the short term, is willing to overpay. Then exploit that team. 

Here is the list of 37 trades made of players for picks:

I. DEALS MADE DURING THE SUMMER (19 deals)

A. Deals arguably won by the team getting picks

Boston and Brooklyn (2013): Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce for 2014, 2016, and 2018 firsts, and a 2017 first rounder swap.

New York and Toronto (2013): Andrea Bargnani for a 2016 first rounder and multiple inconsequential pieces

Chicago and Cleveland (2013): Luol Deng for a first round pick, a right to swap a second first round pick, and Andrew  Bynum

Sacramento and Cleveland (2011): JJ Hickson for a 2017 first (top 10 protected)

Boston, Brooklyn, and Cleveland (2014): Jarrett Jack to Brooklyn, Tyler Zeller, Marcus Thornton, and a Cleveland first to Boston, the rights to international pieces who won’t come over to Cleveland. This was the first Boston used on Isaiah Thomas

Indiana and Phoenix (2013): Luis Scola for Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee, and a 2014 lottery protected first.

Philadelphia and Sacramento (2015): Carl Landry and a 2015 first and future first round swap, to Philadelphia for the rights to overseas players who will not come over.

Milwaukee and LA Clippers (2014): Jared Dudley and 2014 first rounder (lottery protected) to Milwaukee for essentially nothing in return.

Houston and LA Lakers (2014): Jeremy Lin and a first rounder for an international piece who will never come over.

Denver and Houston (2015): Ty Lawson for a protected 2016 first.

Brooklyn and Indiana (2016): Thaddeus Young for a first rounder, used on Caris LeVert

New Orleans, Houston, and Washington (2014): Pelicans’ 2015 first rounder to Houston with Trevor Ariza, Omer Asik and Omri Casspi to New Orleans, Melvin Ely to Washington.

Toronto and Milwaukee (2015): Greivis Vasquez for a protected 2015 first

LA Lakers and Phoenix and Orlando (2012): for acquiring Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, the Lakers owe a 2017 first to Phoenix, and 2019 first to Orlando

New Orleans and Philadelphia (2013): Jrue Holiday for a 2013 first rounder (predetermined to be Nerlens Noel), and a 2014 first rounder which became Dario Saric

Boston and LA Clippers (2013): Doc Rivers as coach for a 2015 first round pick

B. Deals arguably won by the team getting players

Cleveland, Minnesota, and Philadelphia: Kevin Love for Andrew Wiggins; Thaddeus Young to Minnesota; 2015 first rounder from Cleveland to Philadelphia

Golden State and Utah (2013): Andre Iguoadala for 2014 and 2017 first round picks

 

Atlanta, Utah, and Indiana (2016): Jeff Teague to the Hawks, George Hill to the Pacers, the 12th pick from the Jazz to the Hawks (used on Taurean Prince).

 

II. DEALS MADE DURING THE REGULAR SEASON (18 deals)

A. Deals Won By the Team Getting Picks

Boston and Dallas (2014): Rajon Rondo and Dwight Powell, for Jae Crowder and Brandan Wright, and a 2015 first.

Sacramento and Philadelphia: 2017 first round pick and Nik Stauskas for an overseas pick never to come over.

Miami and Phoenix (2015): Goran Dragic for 2017 and 2021 firsts.

Sacramento and Oklahoma City: Jerami Grant for Ersan Ilyasova and 2020 top 20 protected pick.

Phoenix, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia (2015): 2015 first to Philadelphia (that Lakers lottery pick), Brandon Knight to Phoenix, Michael Carter-Williams, Miles Plumlee, Tyler Ennis to Milwaukee

Portland and Denver (2015): Arron Afflalo for Will Barton and a 2016 first round pick

Philadelphia and Denver (2015): JaVale McGee and a 2015 first to Philadelphia for the rights to a player never coming over.

Memphis and LA Clippers (2016): Jeff Green for a first round pick.

Boston, Memphis, and New Orleans (2015): Boston gets Tayshaun Price, Austin Rivers, and a Memphis first, Memphis gets Jeff Green, New Orleans gets Quincy Pondexter

Atlanta and Minnesota (2015): Adreian Payne for a 2018 lottery protected first.

Boston and Phoenix (2015): Brandon Wright for a 2015 first round pick

Cleveland and Portland (2016): Anderson Varejao and a first round pick for a second round pick (for flexibility to subsequently trade for Channing Frye — really both teams won at Orlando’s expense)

B. Deals Won By the Team Getting Players

Boston and Phoenix (2015): Isaiah Thomas for Cleveland’s 2016 first round pick.

Oklahoma City, New York, and Cleveland (2015): Dion Waiters to OKC, a Thunder first to Cleveland with Iman Shumpert and JR Smith, Lance Thomas and filler to NYK.

Utah, Oklahoma City, and Detroit: Reggie Jackson to Detroit, Enes Kanter to OKC, 2017 first rounder to Utah.

Washington and Phoenix (2016): Markieff Morris for a first round pick, top 9 protected.

Cleveland and Denver (2015): Timofey Mozgov for two protected 2015 firsts.

Cleveland and Atlanta (2017): Kyle Korver for a 2019 top 10 protected first round pick).

 

Now, what are the takeaways from this list?  

Takeaway 1: You should not buy the idea that the new CBA will make teams fear pick deals.  Remember: last CBA spiked the luxury tax, and led to an inundation of articles purporting that teams would value the draft, and avoid dealing picks.  Nevertheless, we still saw PLENTY of pick trades.  I did not even include trades where teams traded down in the draft, sometimes as much as 20 places, for nothing but cash, or second rounders years into the future with heavy protections.  The bottom line: for various reasons, teams always have traded first rounders, and they always will. Sometimes an owner has a win now mandate.  Sometimes a GM needs to save his job, overvalues a player, or undervalues the draft.  Sometimes a team just wants that one extra piece for that year’s playoff run. Sometimes a team just wants to save some money.  Despite the 2011 CBA purportedly causing high valuation of first rounders, we saw the trades above. Teams SENDING first rounders to dump contracts like Carl Landry and Jared Dudley.  Jeff Green and Dion Waiters fetching firsts.  And on from there. You can deal for first round picks. Period.

Takeaway 2: These deals are all over the map.  It is almost impossible to define the “market” for a first round pick.  Isaiah Thomas brought in one first. So did JJ Hickson. Timofey Mozgov (despite protections) fetched two.  Brandon Knight fetched a high lottery pick, while Jeremy Lin was conveyed WITH a first rounder to a franchise.  These deals cannot be plotted onto a graph to reflect a “market value” for Lopez.  And that is the big point for the Nets.

Essentially, what dictates the value exchanged in player for pick deals is not the worth of the pick or the player.
 

THAT IS THE KEY – all of these player for pick trades are unrelated to one another, and the winner or loser was determined by the relative desperation level of the franchises involved in the deal.  A general rule emerges: THE MORE DESPERATE YOU ARE, THE WORSE YOU DO IN THE DEAL.  Conversely, the LESS desperate you are, the more leverage you have and the better you do. The Nets, with the luxury of knowing they will be bad for a while, should act with no desperation and try to find teams desperate for an upgrade, then exploit them.

Let’s pick some examples out.  We know the Celtics fleeced the Nets in the Garnett-Pierce deal.  Why?  Because the Nets were desperate to win, immediately, and that desperation fueled them to overpay.  Second, the Knicks were desperate to win now and build on 2013 when they traded a 2016 first rounder for Andrea Bargnani.

Less local examples are prevalent.  The Cavs traded a first rounder for Luol Deng: that was awful given Deng’s decline and the 2014 Cavs’ struggles.  They also traded a first rounder and Tyler Zeller, AND Jarrett Jack in the Boston-Brooklyn-Cleveland deal, and received nothing in return!  Why do that, you ask? They wanted to impress LeBron with a winning season, then believed he was coming home.  Of course, things worked out, but at the time, those were awful moves, only forgotten and forgiven because LeBron returned.

Other desperation deals resulted in the team acquiring a pick fleecing the other side. The Clippers and Kings sent first round picks out just to get the Sixers and Bucks to take Carl Landry and Jared Dudley off their hands. The Rockets dumped Lin and a first rounder for nothing because that provided funds to make Chris Bosh an offer. The Clippers traded a first rounder for a coach because Chris Paul wanted that as a free agent.

All of these deals have a common thread: a team trading for a draft pick or picks fleeced a team trading for a player, because the team was desperate to obtain the player, for some reason or another.  — THAT is what the Nets need to shoot for in a Lopez deal.  Find that team desperate to acquire a good player, leverage the fact that you are in no rush to deal, and that if this falls through you will find something better, and use that leverage to get the best offer possible.

That is not something you accomplish when you say “we need to make the trade now because we have been waiting for years.” Rather, as the flip side of the coin shows, being in a rush to sell a player, for some reason, results in a short sale, or sale for low value — PRECISELY WHAT THE NETS MUST AVOID.

 In this regard, the Nets should take heed of multiple cautionary tales.  In 2015, the Phoenix Suns, not understanding how point guards think of their domain as the ball handler, just assumed that Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, and Eric Bledsoe all playing together would not result in bad chemistry when all 3 wanted to lead.  The Suns were filled with in house bickering and feuding, as the 3 point guards could not bare the situation.

The Suns could have waited and taken their time, to ensure that any trades they made resulted in good return value.  However, the Suns were desperate. They wanted to get rid of their tri headed mess, and save face publicly.  The result?  They rushed the Thomas trade, acquiring nothing but Cleveland’s 2016 pick (which figured to be low in the draft as LBJ was already a Cav).  That trade has become a huge steal for Boston.  The Suns should not have rushed the deal, and by rushing, by saying it HAD TO get done now, they short sold.  Waiting 6-12 months to deal Thomas and getting actual value would have been much better for the Suns.

Phoenix is not the only team that has done this over the years. The Dallas Mavericks, needing a perceived boost in 2015, threw caution to the wind in dealing Jae Crowder for Rajon Rondo.  That worked out well, didn’t it?  The Hawks, time pressured internally by Dennis Schroeder getting extended, essentially dumped Jeff Teague for Taurean Prince.

 

Bottom line: If you think about the disparate value in the last four seasons of pick for player deals, you find a common thread.  The teams winning the deals often are teams in no rush to get a deal done, but who are simply collecting players or assets.  The teams losing these deals are the desperate teams that feel like they HAVE TO get something done, and get it done as soon as possible.  That leads to those teams overpaying for what they want, and struggling down the road.

The Nets, under Billy King, were notorious for being the team that lost these deals, because, in the desperation to do something, RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW, they overpaid in deals, by dealing from a position of weakness.  They had to get Gerald Wallace for Damian Lillard in a rush to keep Deron Williams. They HAD to infuse leadership and build the brand in the Boston deal. And on and on and on.

The Nets should avoid this “get it down now” approach with Lopez and, for once, be the team that deals from a position of strength.  It matters not if you deal him today, or in June July or August.  So why rush?  Be patient.  Find that desperate team who feels Lopez is a missing piece for them.  That team willing to overpay, desperate to make a splash or boost a playoff run or sell some tickets.

And if you do not find that team in February? So be it. Keep Lopez. Proceed to July. Find a team telling itself “we need a free agency upgrade and this is our best chance at one,” and leverage assets that way.

Just get the best return value possible.

 

 

 

 

 

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