With this year’s draft considered one of the weakest in recent memory, there are many fans clamoring for their favorite team to trade out of the lottery. While all indications point to Milwaukee keeping their pick and choosing a prospect at 10, there is a possibility the team could make such a move.
NBA teams trade draft picks for one of three reasons. Either they use the pick to acquire a veteran, to accumulate more draft picks or to dump salary. For the purposes of this article, I am going to investigate the success of trading a lottery pick to acquire a NBA veteran in the last 10 NBA drafts.
Using a lottery pick to acquire a veteran player is probably the most fan-friendly move you can make if the decision is made to trade out of the lottery. Fans do not have to wait for a rookie to develop. Instead, they get a player that has already had some success in the NBA. General Managers trade a lottery pick for a veteran because they hope it mitigates a lot of the risk involved with the draft. As all Bucks’ fans know, landing a star, or even a serviceable player, in the lottery is not guaranteed. Rather than gambling that a prospect will pan out, GMs trade the pick for a player they know can play at the NBA level. Whether that player is able to fit in on his new team is a different matter.
Since the 2001 draft, teams have used a lottery pick to acquire a veteran seven times. To make this exercise more pertinent to the Bucks, I threw out all instances where a team used a top five pick to land the established player. That leaves us with only three trades since 2001 where the main impetus for making the deal was to acquire a veteran.
In 2007, the Charlotte Bobcats traded Brandan Wright, the eighth overall selection, to the Golden State Warriors for Jason Richardson. At the time, the Bobcats said they made the deal because they were looking for the go-to scorer and clutch performer they lacked for their first three years in the league. Richardson was coming off a season where he averaged 16 PPG, 5.1 RPG and 3.4 APG. J-Rich started all 82 games in the 2007-08 season and 14 games in the 08-09 season for Charlotte before he was shipped to Phoenix. During his short stint with the Bobcats, Richardson had a 17.1 PER, above his career PER of 16.7.
While the Bobcats were forced to take on salary, they still won the trade because of how spectacularly Wright flopped. When on the court, Wright has been an above average player, besting Richardson with a career 17.6 PER. However, the problem with Wright is he has not seen much court time in his three-year career. Seemingly going down with an injury every time he saw action, Wright did not play in more than 39 games in one season while with the Warriors. He is still young, but all indications are Wright is not going to have a career comparable to Richardson.
The Houston Rockets took a different approach to acquiring a veteran in 2006. While Charlotte traded their lottery pick to acquire scoring, Houston made the move for defensive purposes. The Rockets traded Rudy Gay, taken eighth overall, and Stromile Swift to the Memphis Grizzlies for Shane Battier. At the time, the Rockets had Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming and thought they were one stopper away from contending for the NBA title. They had no patience for Gay, considered an extremely talented, but raw player who required a few years to deliver on his potential. While the furthest Houston got with Battier was the Western Conference Semifinals, he delivered on his defensive promise, helping the Rockets finish in the top five in defensive efficiency during his first two seasons with the team.
Although Houston got Mr. Intangible in Battier, they ended up losing the trade in the long run. After moving in and out of the starting lineup during his rookie season, Gay established himself as a starter his second year and put up a 16.68 average PER from that point on. Though there is no way the Rockets could have known McGrady and Yao would both deteriorate so significantly, Gay’s athleticism sure would look good on their current roster.
The final instance of a team trading out of the lottery for a veteran, and I use the term veteran very loosely here, came when the Boston Celtics traded Randy Foye, who was the seventh overall selection, Dan Dickau and Raef LaFrentz to the Portland Trail Blazers for Sebastian Telfair, Theo Ratliff and a 2008 second rounder. While technically a veteran, Telfair, the main motivator for the Celtics in the move, only had two NBA seasons under his belt at the time of the trade. Boston made the move because they were desperately in need of a point guard and saw Telfair as more ready than any point available in the draft.
As it turned out, the Celtics did get their point guard of the future as a result of the 2006 draft, it just wasn’t Telfair. Boston made a move later in the night, acquiring the rights to Rajon Rondo from the Suns. We all know how that worked out.
The Blazers also stayed busy, flipping Foye for Brandon Roy. With that move in mind, Portland was the clear winner of the trade. Telfair played one forgettable season in Boston, regressing almost across the board from his second year with Portland. Of course, Roy went on to win Rookie of the Year and appeared set for superstardom until his career was derailed by injury.
So what does all of this mean for the Bucks? Basically, acquiring a veteran player for a late lottery pick carries with it just as much risk as standing pat and using the selection. While this sample size is small, it illustrates that there is always uncertainty surrounding a draft pick. Other than once in a generation players like LeBron James and Dwight Howard, it is impossible to predict NBA success for any prospect. As a result, you never know if the draft pick you give up will eventually become better than the player you acquired.
Josh Hilgendorf is a contributor at the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter. Become a fan on Facebook (right sidebar).