The NBA Draft is far away. But even in the lead up the playoffs, the draft captures a lot of attention. Today, in a lengthy piece regarding the NBA’s finances and potential issues in the future, Brian Windhorst of ESPN had a quote from an executive that NBA teams might sell 1st round draft picks in this year’s draft.

This is actually fairly big news. While second round picks are sold fairly frequently (especially past number 45 or so), the last first round pick that was sold straight up was back in 2013 (the pick became Rudy Gobert). While it’s highly unlikely that any picks above 20 are solid, it seems like there’s a pretty good chance that a pick or two in the 20s could be up for grabs. Even in what is considered a pretty poor draft, there will certainly be good NBA players drafted in the late 1st round.

This is important for the Clippers because they are certainly a team who will be looking to buy picks in this draft. They won’t have any 1st rounders (they traded their pick at the deadline for Marcus Morris), and their only 2nd rounder is a heavily protected one that is unlikely to make it to them. While picks might be young players who won’t contribute much to a championship-level roster, it is absolutely essential for contenders to have pipelines of young talent.

Not only do such young players have more upside than veterans, but they’re also cheaper and cost-controlled. As veteran cores age, they become increasingly expensive, and harder to build around. However, if there are young players waiting in the wings, more expensive veterans can be let go or traded to make room for the younger guys. One of the big issues with Lob City was that those teams relied heavily on washed up veterans who could not contribute at an NBA level any more. This was brought about at least in part because the players who they drafted – Reggie Bullock, CJ Wilcox, Branden Dawson, Brice Johnson – did not provide any value on their deals.

If the Clippers can buy a 1st round pick in this draft, and obtain a cheap role player who will be cost-controlled through Kawhi Leonard and Paul George’s prime years, that would be a massive win. Hopefully the Clips and Steve Ballmer’s deep pockets can pull it off, and find NBA teams willing to sell picks for cash and cash alone.

Editor’s note: Each NBA team can send and receive up to $5.6M in trades during the 2019-2020 cap year. Assuming these rules aren’t adjusted, the Clippers would have just under $4.2M to spend on draft picks after sending $100,000 to the Miami Heat in the Moe Harkless trade and $1.3M to the Atlanta Hawks in the Derrick Walton Jr. trade.

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  • Avatar mlslaw1 says:

    Would there be any parameters on the cost of a first round pick OR would it just be a bidding war. Or, better yet, would it be like listing a house for sale for a stated price.

    Please take a guess, Robt, on how much cash a middle to late first rounder mite bring a team. I’ll throw out a number: 2 mil

    • Robert Flom Robert Flom says:

      It would absolutely cost more than that. There is a limit to how much cash you can both send out and accept during the draft (I think it’s around $5M), and it would probably take the maximum to buy a 1st round pick.

      • Lucas Hann Lucas Hann says:

        Limit this year is 5.6M, of which the Clippers have 4.2M outgoing available. There are teams out there with the full $5.6M to spend, but even among teams who aren’t desperate enough to sell off picks, how many owners are going to be willing to shell out $5M in cash for an extra choice late in a bad draft in a year where they’re in the red?

        It’s interesting to think about which teams might have picks for sale. Miami is in some money trouble at 24, but you wonder if they couldn’t at least flip that for a semi-valuable future 2nd. In a weak draft, teams might hold on to a future pick in the 30s–but it only takes one team liking a guy at 24.

        The Lakers at 29 are a candidate as well, since the Buss family isn’t as deep-pocketed. But the Lakers are also more TV revenue-driven than other teams and shouldn’t be as desperate in a no-gate-revenue season.

        If the Warriors, with their bloated payroll and new arena sitting empty, had a low pick, you’d put them on the list, but they’ll keep the 1st overall (of course).

        Once you dip into the early 2nd round, a cash crunch means teams are probably less likely to sell–a pick in the 30s should give you your best shot at a roster-level player for the rookie minimum.

        • Avatar osamu6238 says:

          smart teams wouldn’t sell a 2nd rounder. Plenty of stupid teams would still sell a 2nd round pick (ie. the Bulls/Jordan Bell).

        • Avatar Daniel Molina says:

          Isn’t it that amount per season? Wouldn’t the NBA finals conclude the NBA season an during the draft would be considered a new season? I dont think it’s within year. 2019/2020 season 2020/2021 season.

          • Lucas Hann Lucas Hann says:

            The draft is the last major event of the salary cap year. If you think about it, in a normal year, Finals end mid-June, draft is in the June 20s, cap year ends June 30th, free agency opens with the first day of the new cap year on July 1st.

            However, you often see agreements in principle–so, let’s say Miami picks whoever the Clippers want at #24 with a handshake deal that the Clippers will give them $5M for that player on “July 1st” (whatever the equivalent of July 1st ends up being this year). However, with the cap expected to plummet, it’s possible that the amount each team is allowed to trade will also proportionally go down next season. It’s also possible that the league chooses to not make that adjustment, or even increase the ability of wealthier teams to pay struggling teams additional cash in trades as owners who are deep in the red look for remedies to their debt.

          • Avatar Daniel Molina says:

            Yes I realized that shortly after because free agency starts on 7/1 therefore any compensation for a traded salary would still apply till the end of the contract. Looked it up just to verify. was about to reply disregard. I guess we could on July 1st but that would affect any money that can be paid out for that entire season. Best bet is to use this season’s remaining amount.

    • Avatar osamu6238 says:

      2nd rounders were going for almost the max you could send out $3M+. I think a 1st rounder would probably asking the same, close to the max, although really late 1st round picks and their guaranteed salary sometimes are less favorable than an early 2nd round pick.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if the Clips would be at a slight disadvantage given they don’t have their full cash amount to trade. Like in 2017, if I recall, the Warriors had slightly more to spend to get the 38th pick (Jordan Bell) and the Clips bought in at 39 (Juwan Evans) and 48 (Thornwell).