The NBA trade deadline has come and gone, leaving various players, ranging from super-stars to scrubs, in new zip codes and uniforms. The thing that was unique to this deadline was we saw one of the greatest players of all time, and his enigmatic running mate, moved for large returns. These returns, similar to the packages that star players have fetched in the past, were largely based around draft picks. However, where they differed is what makes them interesting.
Draft picks are the ultimate kick the can down the road proposal for any franchise. They sell a fan base on hope for the future and buy the front office time to distinguish the direction they want to go in long term. The problem is these draft picks typically end up in the late lottery and more often than not don't yield a rotation player. That is why I am of the strong belief that while draft picks should be considered a valuable asset in trade negotiation they should no longer be the the center piece. Which is what I enjoyed so much about the Nets' approach at this deadline, specifically in the Kevin Durant trade, and what they did, or rather what they did not do, in the moves that succeeded the deal.
The Nets were able to acquire Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson from the Suns, in addition to a bevy of draft picks, and despite the calls from many in the media to convert these two wings into further draft capital the Nets decided to hang onto their two 26 year old building blocks.
This is the approach all teams should take when dealing a star player. Rather than completely gutting their roster for more bites at the proverbially apple that is the NBA draft, build a foundation for which a potential star can settle into. Best case scenario, if the Nets were to acquire 3 more 1st rounders for these two young wings they would be hoping that even one of those picks could grow into the player that Mikal and Cam currently are at the ripe age of 26.
If further evidence is needed as to why it is important to center packages around young players who have gotten their feet wet in the NBA rather than the unknown that is draft picks look no further than Western Conference All Star Shai Gilgeous Alexander. He was acquired by the Thunder in the Paul George trade with the LA Clippers. At the time of his acquisition he had a year of experience coming off the bench for a playoff team, and had shown signs of the potential that he is now maximizing, however, he was still considered an after though in comparison to the picks the Thunder were receiving. In the years since the trade the Thunder have used countless draft picks, both their own and the ones they have acquired, in order to collect talent and no matter how high those picks have been Shai remains the best asset on their entire roster. This can be directly attributed to the Thunder's ability to get a true professional evaluation of SGA.
SGA is not the lone example of packages around young pieces being superior to those that are centered around picks. The Denver nuggets prioritized young controllable talent in the Carmelo Anthony trade, and they were able to parlay that into multiple playoff appearances and a winning culture in which the draft pick they did acquire (Jamal Murray) could grow into rather than being placed on a gutted roster. Similarly, the Indiana Pacers were antagonized for trading Paul George (if I had a nickel for every time Paul George was traded and the team got back a future all star I would have two nickels which is not that many but it is weird it happened twice) for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis because they did not receive any draft capital in return, yet both these players went on to become all stars and lead the pacers to multiple playoff berths, and in turn have now afforded them the ability to acquire their latest all star (who was also acquired as a young talented piece instead of draft capital) Tyrese Haliburton.
I am not saying that Bridges or Johnson will ever become all stars like the players mentioned previously, but they have proven that at a young age they could become key rotation pieces on an NBA Finals team. Players like that should not be taken for granted in comparison to the unknown. Incredibly talented connective pieces that fit perfectly on winning teams are something that every team wishes they could find in the first round every year and very few teams actually do. So next time an NBA all star requests a trade and the main stream media fixates over the draft capital returning in the deal, ask yourself if anything of substance is actually coming back or if it is all just a collection of false hope in the form of future picks.