The term “bargaining bills” dates back to a nefarious or genius moment on October 12, 1989, depending on where the focus of the deal lies.
And no, for all the machinations of the NBA, including Danny Ainge’s shelling of the Brooklyn Nets for four first-round picks with the Boston Celtics’ trade for the aging Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce on June 28, 2013, this is hardly a sports’ moment “Acting the Draft”.
Instead, look back at the NFL almost 33 years ago.
At this point, Jimmy Johnson and Jerry Jones maneuvered the Dallas Cowboys into arguably the most prolific package of draft picks in US sports history.
So Herschel Walker (pre-politics) went to the Minnesota Vikings.
In return? Eight Viking draft picks, including three first-round picks and three second-round picks.
The ultimate haul of these picks (by selection and trades) is one that even the newest of football fans will appreciate: Emmitt Smith, Russell Maryland, Alonzo Highsmith, Kevin Smith, Darren Woodson.
In the course of trading? Three Super Bowl championships for the Cowboys; Zero Super Bowl appearances for the Vikings.
So why refer to a football trade in an NBA area?
Because while no esports contract can ever rival what ESPN’s 30-for-30 documentary titled “The Great Trade Robbery” calls, pick pooling has become a trend in the NBA, especially during this latest round of NBA free agency.
Just before free agency began, the Atlanta Hawks dealt three first-round players and a first-round pick swap in a deal with the San Antonio Spurs for Dejounte Murray.
Then on Friday came the blockbuster, with the Minnesota Timberwolves sending four first-round picks and one first-round pick swap in their package to the Utah Jazz for Rudy Gobert.
And before all of that — although it’s still relevant today given James Harden’s current free agency with the Philadelphia 76ers — there was the Brooklyn Nets’ January 2021 acquisition of Harden from the Houston Rockets at the cost of three first-round picks and four First-round picks – first-round swaps (basically with every Nets first-round pick from 2021-2027).
Because of this, while Kevin Durant attempts to trade his way out of Brooklyn, the Nets set the bar of at least three first-round picks plus required first-round swaps. (The Miami Heat is currently able to offer two plus pick swaps.)
Whether any of these trades even come close to paying off the Cowboys from the Walker trade is highly unlikely, although time will tell.
But it’s a sign that more teams are willing to live in the moment, an approach Heat and Pat Riley have been taking with first-round picks for years, even when they were handed out en masse (and perhaps exuberantly) in 2010 just around LeBron James and Chris Bosh under longer-term contracts.
The NBA had attempted to limit such generosity with the introduction of the Stepien Rule, named after Ted Stepien, then-owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who at one point in the ’80s traded away five consecutive first-round picks that other teams were under others James Worthy, Michael Jordan, Detlef Schrempf.
Per the terms of the Stepien Rule, teams are no longer allowed to trade consecutive first-round picks.
The Rule: “No member may sell or trade his right to select a player in the first round of an NBA draft for cash or equivalent, or trade or barter his right to select a player in the first round of an NBA draft if the result of such a trade or exchange may be for the member to remain without a first-round pick in two consecutive future NBA drafts.
But just as coaches find loopholes in the rules of the game, executives have done the same with the ever-popular pick swaps. The maneuver guarantees the team taking over the pick swap the better draft position between the teams in the designated year. So swap a pick one year, do a pick swap the next, and keep taking turns like the Rockets did with the Nets in the 2021 Harden trade.
Based on the trend, NBA drafts could soon end up with half the league’s teams as viewers, another case of haves and have nots.
With the Stepien Rule, the NBA tried to protect the future of the teams.
With the latest round of trades, teams in the NBA are saying there’s still work to be done when it comes to living in the moment.
If only Jimmy Johnson, Jerry Jones and Herschel Walker knew what they started.
CHUCK TIME: When negotiating, sometimes you have to shake your head and move on. Yes, PJ Tucker was instrumental in the Heat’s push within an NBA Finals win. And yes, he’s been underpaid for years. But because of their position on the NBA hard cap, the Heat’s best offer came at a starting point of $8.4 million for 2022-23. The 76ers offered their mid-level exemption of $10.5 million. The absence of a Florida state tax would have made the difference in value of the overall three-year packages negligible. Didn’t matter. Tucker wanted an eight-figure salary for his early career. The $10 million mark meant everything to the 37-year veteran as he hadn’t earned more than $8.3 million in any previous season. The Heat literally got caught in a numbers game, a numbers game to be precise. He was loved by his Heat teammates and felt the same in return. He consistently praised the coaching staff for expanding his role. But he couldn’t get his $10 million salary. So he left.
UNEQUAL RIDE: In the end it proved to be an uneven ride for Lonnie Walker with the Spurs never really gaining traction after being ranked 18th by the University of Miami in 2018. So on to the Los Angeles Lakers, who are inking a one-year, $6.5 million deal at taxpayer mid-level exemption. The writing for Walker was basically on the wall after San Antonio designed Malaki Branham and Blake Wesley, with Murray’s trade making it clear Spurs wanted to freshen up (and refuel?). Von Walker, general manager of the Spurs Brian Wright said, “I think the way the draft went changed the trajectory of our roster and made the opportunities a little bit different than they might have been if the draft had gone differently.”
NEXT STEP: Former heat center Nemanja Bjelica He’s long marched to his own drummer, so perhaps it’s not surprising that after his contribution to the Golden State Warriors’ 2022 NBA championship, he nevertheless bypassed his freelance NBA agency to play in Turkey again. As a reminder, in 2018 he left the Timberwolves to sign with the 76ers in free agency, retired to play in Europe, then changed his mind and accepted a three-year contract with the Sacramento Kings. Eventually, he was dealt to the Heat by the Kings, where he (and the Heat) burst into flames in the first round of 2021.
TRAVEL LESS: When it comes to the Heat’s summer roster, no one has taken a path less traveled (or more traveled) than Kyle Allman Jr. The 6-foot-4 guard, who was undrafted from Cal State Fullerton in 2019, played in Greece in 2019-20, Latvia in 2020-21 and France last season. He is scheduled to play with the Heat in both the California Classic and the Las Vegas Summer League.
25 Years since no European player was selected among the top 25 picks in the NBA draft. The Serbian big man’s heat selection Nikola Jovic at No. 27 made him the earliest since this year’s election. Last time it happened with the Slovenian guard Marco Milic ranked #33 in 1997, per HoopsHype.