Chances are, the most promising players in the 2013 NBA Draft will be off the board when Detroit picks at #8. After a disappointing result in the draft lottery, Detroit is not likely to have a shot at Victor Oladipo, Trey Burke, Otto Porter or Ben McLemore. While there is value to be found in Detroit's draft range, it's hard to expect this value to match Detroit's primary needs of starting-caliber talent on the wing. The question Detroit's front office will need to examine now is whether this pick has more value on the trade market than it will on draft night. In short, should Detroit trade its #8 pick?
Before we explore a few trade opportunities, we should consider Detroit's needs this year and beyond. Detroit will need to use draft picks, trades and free agent signings to find a starting-caliber point guard, shooting guard and small forward. The team will have the greatest opportunity to make these acquisitions within the next two years, when it has two consecutive cap space windfalls including two large expiring contracts. Unfortunately, Detroit will need to forfeit its lottery pick to Charlotte next season if the team wins a few more games next season, which is a very likely scenario. In total, by trading this pick, Detroit should aim to acquire more picks, preferably including a 2014 first round pick. Detroit should also attempt to use its cap space to absorb salary to facilitate these trades.
Draft Pick Swap Scenarios
Phoenix Suns: Trading Down and Adding Talent
The Phoenix Suns ended the 2012-13 NBA season with a worse record than Detroit. The Suns will have roughly $5M in available salary this summer, with no significant cap savings until 2014. Their only real opportunity to improve this summer is in the draft, and they only have one valuable pick to do so. Detroit's #8 pick and an additional $8M in cap space (for a total of $13M in available salary) would provide Phoenix with greater draft and free agent opportunities-- and combined assets similar to what Houston used last summer to acquire James Harden.
Phoenix Acquires: the #8 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft.
Detroit Acquires: the rights to Miami's #30 pick in 2013, the rights to Minnesota's 2014, 2015 or 2016 lottery pick (top 13, 12 and 12 protected respectively) and Marcin Gortat.
Detroit's gain: Detroit effectively trades the #8 pick for a #30 pick, a #14 pick and the expiring salary of productive big man Marcin Gorat. When Detroit receives the #14 pick will depend largely on when both Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio register a healthy season, which is a risk, but if that doesn't pan out Detroit will end up with two second round picks in 2017. Marcin Gortat has several values for Detroit-- he acts as a financial placeholder that moves $8M in expiring salary to next summer or he becomes a trade asset for deadline deals in February. Gortat is also very productive, a talent worthy of the starting lineup and a great option behind Andre Drummond. If Detroit can sell Gortat into a mid-level deal for a few years after 2013-14, this would be a great way to start that process.
Phoenix's gain: Phoenix adds a second lottery pick in the 2013 draft, adds another $8M in available salary and only gives up pick rights in the process, not their own picks. While Phoenix would likely be reticent to give up Marcin Gortat, they face losing him next summer without a talent return in the process. For the Suns, this move would be an opportunity to explore a larger trade that acquires a top draft pick this year, an All Star caliber player or, at worst, it gives them two picks and enough cap space for a post-rookie max contract.
(I have vetted this trade with the people at SB Nation's Suns blog, who largely support the proposal.)
Dallas Mavericks: Adding Picks and Salary
The Mavericks are apparently interested in trading their #13 pick in the 2013 draft without returning any salary. They are interested in trimming cap space in order to make a run at Dwight Howard in free agency. Detroit can help by absorbing this pick's cap hold and taking on salary, which would allow Detroit to try and acquire an additional pick from Dallas.
Dallas Acquires: $11M in cap 2013-14 cap savings
Detroit Acquires: Dallas' #13 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, Dallas' second round pick in the 2014 NBA Draft and Shawn Marion.
Detroit's Gain: Like the trade that receives Marcin Gortat above, this trade would effectively be a cap space placeholder to move money to the next free agent class, or present a trade asset for the 2014 February deadline. It's a pricey acquisition for a player who doesn't have much on-court value left, so Detroit's primary interest is the 2013 lottery pick and an additional second rounder for 2014.
Dallas' Gain: Dallas clears an additional $11M in cap space in 2013, giving the team enough space to offer Dwight Howard a max deal and fill a few additional roles in free agency.
Utah Jazz: Advanced Pick Swap
Utah's needs are similar to Detroit, in that they have two gifted young big men and a troubled backcourt. They were reportedly once very interested in Brandon Knight, which Detroit may be able to take advantage of in a trade. If Utah is interested in moving up and acquiring Knight, Detroit might be able to swap for a pick in this draft and add another next year.
Utah Acquires: Detroit's #8 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, Brandon Knight
Detroit Acquires: Utah's #14 pick in 2013, Utah's first round pick in 2014.
Detroit's Gain: Detroit moves back very little in the 2013 lottery range, while picking up a first round pick in 2014, a round it may otherwise have to sit out. Utah would likely add protections to their 2014 pick. Note that Detroit would also save $3.6M in 2013 salary.
Utah's Gain: Utah moves up in the 2013 draft, keeps their additional first round pick and acquires a young prospect at their greatest position of need. Utah doesn't make a habit of parting with first round picks, but this is one scenario where they might be inclined to do so.
(Fans of Brandon Knight may naturally be hesitant about this trade proposal. I feel that Detroit should explore any opportunity they can to bring in a first round pick next summer. If things go well in 2013-14, they'll have a pick to help address any remaining roster holes. If things go poorly, they will have two first round picks to use or package in a greater deal. In my eyes, Brandon Knight's value is absolutely worth that kind of flexibility for the Pistons.)
The Cleveland Cavaliers have the 19th pick in 2013 in addition to their lucky #1. They have two additional first round picks in 2015, one from Miami, one from Memphis, and a slew of second rounders as well. Detroit may have an opportunity to turn its #8 pick into several late first rounders, but the payoff may be too far in the future for Detroit to part with this pick. If Detroit would consider taking on salary, like Anderson Varejao should Cleveland select Nerlens Noel, Detroit might be able to try for Cleveland's own future first rounder with protections. There's not a lot to love here despite Cleveland's slew of picks. It's also tough to say which young assets Cleveland would part with for a pick, and that conversation might need to include Detroit's own young assets-- which Detroit really only has two of.
The Oklahoma City Thunder has two first round picks in the 2013 draft, including their own #29 pick and the #12 pick from Toronto. Detroit might be able to swap for those two picks straight up, as the cap holds work out to be roughly the same and OKC has less need for development options. What's more, Detroit could make this trade without taking on salary or giving up additional picks or players, which would allow Detroit the continued flexibility to make trades with teams like Dallas, giving Detroit multiple picks to re-package.
The Atlanta Hawks have picks 17 and 18 in the 2013 draft, and may be interested in trading these to move up toward Detroit's range. If Detroit could add these two picks and move one for a 2014 first round pick, it may let the team spread out its draft flexibility across two draft classes.
Trading down from Detroit's #8 pick in the 2013 draft does present a few interesting opportunities. If Detroit has a chance to trade back in to the 2014 first round while keeping a pick in this year's first round, that may be best for the team going forward. Given that the clear top five in this draft may be off the board by #8, it makes the sting of parting with a high pick all the more manageable.
Ultimately, the reason to explore the market for swapping picks is to make sure the team is poised for the playoffs after the summer of 2014. If the result of Detroit's moves this summer doesn't improve the team's record, the Pistons would have two first round picks, two large expiring contracts and additional cap space to make a massive push next summer. If the team improves after this summer, it will still have a first round pick to fill a need next summer if it executes one of the above trades. These aren't exciting trades, but they each present a means to an end-- a greater push in the future with newly acquired assets. It's either that... or Shabazz Muhammad.
For now, if you could swap Detroit's #8 pick for another pick in this draft or the next, who would you target by trade? In a forthcoming article, we'll explore Detroit's options of packing this pick with other existing assets to bring back talent by trade.