As things stand, the Phoenix Suns are set to pick at No. 13 in the upcoming 2015 NBA Draft, a fact that Suns fans have become all too familiar with over the last few years. However, though that's where the Suns sit at the moment, it is not set in stone as Phoenix general manager Ryan McDonough has mentioned the possibility of moving the pick.
With a roster full of under-developed young players and a desperate need for a star more than yet another inexperienced rotation player, trading up or down from No. 13 makes a lot of sense. But what might the Suns get in return if they move down - or what would it take to move up? To better understand the potential trade market, I examined draft day trades involving early-to-mid first round draft picks over the last few years.
Let's start with the draft that is freshest in our minds and move backwards, shall we?
- Details: The Magic traded it's No. 12 pick (Dario Saric) and a couple of future draft picks to move up two spots for No. 10 (Elfrid Payton).
Orlando: With the move, Orlando filled it's biggest need by acquiring Elfrid Payton, a crafty, athletic point guard from Louisiana. Payton had a relatively strong rookie season, averaging 8.9 points, 6.5 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.7 steals in 30 minutes per game. He appeared in all 82 games - a rare feat for this draft lottery class - including 63 starts. Payton has a ways to go as a scorer, but the Magic understood that when they got him and are content to let him grow alongside Victor Oladipo.
Philadelphia: Sam Hinkie and the 76ers slid back a couple of spots and acquired two future draft picks for their trouble. With the No. 12 pick, they got Dario Saric, the intriguing Croatian forward who was still under contract overseas. Hinkie knew it would be at least two years before Saric showed up state-side, but he was more than willing to wait on Saric's potential during the team's extended rebuild,
Verdict: It's a little early to be calling this one, especially considering we haven't seen anything from Philadelphia's return. However, based on what we do know at this point as well as the directions both teams are trying to head, I'd call this one a win-win. It took Orlando giving up a protected 2017 first round pick that the Magic acquired from the 76ers in the Dwight Howard trade as well as a 2015 second round pick, which will be No. 35. That's a lot for Orlando to give up, but that gives you an idea of what it might take to move up from 13.
- Details: Chicago traded the No. 16 (Jusuf Nurkic) and 19 (Gary Harris) picks and a 2015 second round pick to Denver for No. 11 (Doug McDermott) and Anthony Randolph.
Chicago: The Bulls traded their two mid-first round picks to move up to get the sharpshooting Doug McDermott at No. 11. Unfortunately for Chicago, McDermott struggled with injuries and the transition to the NBA, and coach Tom Thibodeau's notorious mistrust of rookies proved to be too much for McDermott to overcome to crack the regular rotation. However, if he's healthy in year two, he has a chance to show why the Bulls wanted him so much under new coach Fred Hoiberg.
Denver: Denver is in asset collection mode, and decided they would rather have two chances at finding a core piece than taking McDermott or whoever else was available at 11 (Saric, Zach LaVine, T.J. Warren). It looks like the move may have paid off as Jusuf Nurkic flashed some serious potential, racking up four double-doubles on the season. Gary Harris showed very little as a rookie, but it's too early to write him off at this point.
Verdict: As big of a fan of Doug McDermott as I am, I have to give the edge to Denver in this trade. I appreciate Chicago making a decisive move to acquire a seemingly more pro-ready prospect who could step into the rotation and provide some much-needed shooting early. Chicago was in win-now mode and didn't see much room for two first round rookies on the roster. But it didn't exactly work out as they planned since Thibodeau wasn't on the same page. Meanwhile, getting extra picks seems to have worked out for Denver with Nurkic. It took the 19th pick, what turned out to be the 53rd pick in the 2015 draft (and was later traded away) and taking on Anthony Randolph to move up and swap 16 for 11.
This was a busy year as there were three trades involving lottery picks.
- Details: Philadelphia traded Jrue Holiday and No. 42 (Pierre Jackson) to New Orleans in exchange for No. 6 (Nerlens Noel) and a protected 2014 first round pick.
Philadelphia: This was where the tanking truly began for Hinkie and the 76ers. Philadelphia traded point guard Jrue Holiday, fresh off an all-star campaign, to New Orleans in exchange for the sixth pick, where the widely-regarded top talent in the draft, defensive dynamo Nerlens Noel, fell after some medical red flags. After fully committing to the rebuild, the 76ers had no need for instant impact and had no qualms about taking Noel, who was in the midst of recovering from a torn ACL suffered during his freshman season at Kentucky. They threw in a mid-second round pick as sweetener, then used their own lottery pick, No. 11, to replace Holiday with Michael Carter-Williams. The conditional 2014 pick was top-five protected, and conveyed as the No. 10 pick in 2014, which Philadelphia used in the Payton-Saric trade above.
New Orleans: New Orleans scooped up Anthony Davis in the 2012 draft, and decided they wanted to put pieces around him right away rather than continuing a slow rebuild through the draft. The Pelicans did make the playoffs this year with Holiday on the roster, but Holiday himself has only played in 71 total games since arriving in the Big Easy. Pierre Jackson never payed for the Pelicans and his rights were later sent back to Philadelphia in exchange for Russ Smith, who played in six games as a Pelican before being traded to Memphis.
Verdict: Though the Pelicans made the playoffs this season, that had more to do with Anthony Davis being an alien than it does Holiday playing at an all-star level. They gave up two top-10 picks to get him. Meanwhile, the 76ers used those picks as a major part of their rebuild and Noel had a very promising season this year after sitting out his entire first season to recover.
- Details: Utah traded No. 14 (Shabazz Muhammad) and No. 21 (Gorgui Dieng) to Minnesota for No. 9 (Trey Burke)
Utah: The Jazz had acquired a nice core of young wings and big men with Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. However, they had a gaping hole at the point guard position and decided to fill that void by moving up to grab the top-ranked point guard in the draft. Unfortunately for the Jazz, Burke's diminutive stature has significantly (and predictably) limited him as a scorer and creator, which is complicated by the fact that his jump shot has not translated to the NBA.
Minnesota: The Timberwolves apparently didn't love any of the prospects available at their spot and were content to move down. In return, they were rewarded by getting two quality role players in power wing Muhammad and defensive-minded Dieng.
Verdict: This was a home run for Minnesota. The T-Wolves moved down five spots, picked up a mid-first rounder and ended up with arguably two better prospects than the guy the Jazz traded up to get. This trade is particularly worth paying attention to as it shows the perils involved and the assets necessary to move up from the late lottery into the top 10.
- Details: Boston traded No. 16 (Lucas Nogueira) and two 2014 second round picks to Dallas for No. 13 (Kelly Olynyk).
Boston: Boston decided to move up to grab Olynyk, the skilled seven-footer who has shown he's capable of potentially being a useful role player.
Dallas: Dallas slid back a couple of spots and picked up a couple of future second round picks. However, the Mavericks ended up trading away all three pieces and basically didn't end up with anything worthwhile to show for it.
Verdict: I don't think this trade had a significant impact on either team, but I'll give the edge to Boston because Olynyk has at least shown something. This trade is also directly applicable to the Suns (who are drafting 13, obviously) as a trade down has been tossed around as an option.
- Details: Charlotte traded No. 19 (Tobias Harris), Stephen Jackson and Shaun Livingston to Milwaukee; Milwaukee traded No. 10 and John Salmons to Sacramento and Corey Maggette to Charlotte; Sacramento traded Beno Udrih to Milwaukee and No. 7 to Charlotte
Verdict: In hindsight, this was a big shuffling of bad contracts and bad draft picks. Milwaukee ended up with the best player in the deal in Tobias Harris, but he didn't emerge until after getting shipped off to Orlando. So really, nobody won.
- Details: San Antonio traded George Hill to Indiana for No. 15 (Kawhi Leonard), No. 42 (Davis Bertans) amd the rights to Erazem Lorbek.
Verdict: Indiana needed a point guard and traded for a young, up-and-coming one to plus into their line-up... but the Spurs got a player who developed into a Finals MVP. Clearly a win for the Spurs, and a testament to the importance of being able to identify and develop talent.
Oklahoma City-New Orleans
- Details: Oklahoma City traded No. 21 (Craig Brackins) and 26 (Quincy Pondexter) to New Orleans for No. 11 (Cole Aldrich) and Morris Peterson's contract.
Verdict: The talent in this draft nose-dived after the tenth pick, so New Orleans didn't demand a ton to trade out of the pick. Even so, Pondexter ended up being the best player in the deal and was later used to acquire Greivis Vasquez, then returned to New Orleans in another deal this past season. Brackins is out of the league and Aldrich is a career third center.
Hopefully this retrospective will be useful for those who enjoy playing general manager and speculating about making draft-related trades.
More often than not in recent history, trading up has backfired for teams. Philadelphia, New Orleans and Denver all benefited from moving down and picking up extra assets. In fact, in a few of these trades the best players drafted ended up coming with the later picks, which speaks to a larger truth.
The NBA Draft is a complete and total crapshoot. Teams can prepare as much as they want, and it certainly helps. But in the end, we just don't know what will and won't translate to the next level.
In addition, to move all the way up to acquire a top six pick took an all-star in Jrue Holiday. Don't expect to get up much past No. 9 or 10 without giving up the likes of Eric Bledsoe.