We are just more than 24 hours away from the latest NBA trade deadline and the news is not pretty out of Orlando. Dwight Howard refuses to commit long term to the Magic, but the team is in playoff contention and has to decide whether to get something in return for him now or lose him for nothing.
It is a terrible predicament for NBA teams when their superstars are looking to move on but they rarely have the chance to prevent it. To cite just three recent examples, Chris Paul forced his way out of New Orleans and wound up with the Los Angeles Clippers. Carmelo Anthony forced himself out of Denver and onto the New York Knicks. And a couple years ago the Kevin Garnett era ended in Minnesota and he was traded to Boston.
Of course, it's not supposed to work that way. The Collective Bargaining Agreement is structured to give teams the ability to sign their own free agents for more money and longer years as a way to entice the best players to stay in the smaller markets.
So will Orlando cave to the realities of the situation and trade their superstar for 70 cents on the dollar? Will they roll the dice and keep him, hoping that in the end the chance for more money will convince him to stay? Only time will tell, but this is just the latest example of a broken system.
So can anything be done about it? I think so. And I think we can look to baseball to help serve as a guide for how to fix. Particularly to their system of compensation picks.
In baseball, free agents are classified as Type A or Type B, and teams that lose players get compensatory draft picks while some teams that sign great players must give up picks.
So the next question is, what is a draft pick worth? That, luckily, has already been answered by Justin Kubatko at basketball-reference.com. It's complicated, and while I'm not smart enough to understand everything about the calculations, I am smart enough to trust solid work when I see it.
Next, we must determine the rate of return that teams have been getting for the superstars they've been compelled to trade. It's hard to determine what some teams see as actual value and what is really just a throw in to make the salaries match but I've done my best to focus on the real assets involved.
Using Win Shares, we can see what each team trading a superstar gained in the transaction. For the calculations I added the win shares of the four years immediately following the trade or if that was not possible the players' last four years of available win shares.
In the Anthony trade, Denver netted 40.3 win shares plus draft picks. If we assign median values to the draft picks, Denver can be expected to add 14.4 additional win shares. But bear in mind that the Nuggets lost a real asset in Chauncey Billups whose four-year WS totals 29.3. That means the Nuggets netted 29.3 WS.
Minnesota's is the only deal that has played out completely. And while the Wolves hit it big with Jefferson, they completely wasted the draft picks. Minny had 34.9 in player WS. If you use median values as we had previously, Minnesota could have been expected to gain 18.8 in expected win share from their two first-rounders. In reality those picks, Wayne Ellington and Jonny Flynn netted 1.2 and -1.3 WS, respectively. In the end, they wound up with 34.6 WS.
Paul was traded for Eric Gordon, Al Farouq Aminu and a first-rounder.
Paul netted the
league Hornets 14.3 WS, but if you take Aminu's two-year total and assume he can double it in two more years, the Hornets get 15.4. They also secured 14.4 WS in draft picks. That's a net of 29.9 WS.
That means those three blockbuster trades netted 29.3, 29.9 and 34.6 win shares, respectively. A pretty consistent number. But remember that if they were to simply let a superstar walk away they would most likely be gaining significant salary flexibility that they could use to sign free agents so the goal shouldn't necessarily be to equal 30 WS.
Also consider that compensation picks would in effect create a "value floor," or the bare minimum a team could be expected to gain when losing a great player. That gives them better leverage in negotiating and would force teams to offer sweeter deals.
Hypothetically, lets say that if Orlando were to roll the dice and play out the year with Howard. If following the season he left for New Jersey what would be fair compensation? What if Orlando received a "sandwich pick" (15th overall) between the lottery and regular draft in each of the next two seasons? That would be the equivalent of 18.8 win shares.
Is that enough? If not you could throw in more comp picks after the first round. If you gave the team the 31st pick each of the next two seasons that would add 9.4 WS to the pot for a total of 28.1.
Maybe it makes more sense instead to have a player lose a pick. It would mean a team like New Jersey would have a more difficult time building around Howard. And there is always a chance that the Nets would be rolling the dice that they would have a team improved to the point that they wouldn't be losing an extremely valuable lottery pick.
So lets take this idea and run with it. How do you improve on it. How does it work for nonsuperstar players? What is fair compensation? Does this change the leverage game enough or will it still be status quo?