A cautionary tale for trading a top draft pick

Lawson and Thomas

Ty Lawson and the Sacramento Kings have been connected in the tabloids recently, fighting for web clicks with Brangelina despite lacking the same sex appeal.

According to ESPN’s Chad Ford, the Denver Nuggets are determined to trade their point guard and potentially other assets for the Kings’ sixth overall pick in next Thursday’s draft.

While Vlade Divac and the Sacramento front office may still be weighing the idea, a lesson from the not-so-distant past could further persuade them to err on the side of caution.

Story has it that nearly six years to this day, a similar scenario unveiled before the basketball world. On draft night eve 2009, the Washington Wizards dealt the fifth overall pick, throw-ins Oleksiey Pecherov, Etan Thomas and Darius Songaila for veteran Mike Miller and up-and-comer Randy Foye.

The motives were clear. Minnesota was recovering from another forgettable campaign and aimed to reboot the supporting cast surrounding young Kevin Love and Al Jefferson. With the fifth pick, Timberwolves general manager David Kahn selected Ricky Rubio, who remains a cornerstone for the franchise today.

Washington had a grand bargain of its own. The Wizards were reeling off a dreadful, injury-riddled year which ended their streak of four straight playoff berths. Believing they were on the cusp of a deep May run, team president Ernie Grunfeld closed the deal to add two quality rotation players to their 3-point-needy backcourt. Miller was coming off his worst season as a pro yet was 29 years old at the time. Foye lacked a true position but showed promise as a combo guard in his third year.

Additionally, the Wizards saved money in the deal for the present and beyond. They took on two expiring contracts in Miller and Foye,  risking the fate of the fifth pick for possibly loose change, but the organization had no qualms with the gamble.

“It’s almost a no brainer,” then-head coach Flip Saunders told the Washington Post in regards to the trade.

Looking back, Saunders’ statement held true if you misinterpreted the context. The Wizards would go on to lose 56 games amid a firearms scandal and suspensions for Javaris Crittenton and Gilbert Arenas. In their absence, Miller and Foye combined to average 21 points per game. Unfortunately, both proceeded to leave the circus in Washington in the offseason.

As for the fate of Sanders, he was fired in January 2012. Grunfield remains in his role, the same job he’s held since 2003. Following Miller and Foye’s departure, the Wizards endured four more losing seasons.

The Kings find themselves in a precariously similar situation as the 2009 Wizards. It’s evident Sacramento would consider moving their pick (the lack of pre-draft invitees is telling) and they’d love to shed the bloated contracts of Jason Thompson and Carl Landry.

Lawson is owed $25.6 million over the next two seasons, while Landry is owed $13 million in the same span and Thompson is guaranteed only $9.1 million. The Kings can save money but will have to likely up the ante beyond the sixth pick to convince the Nuggets to overcrowd their frontcourt.

Divac and his advisers must ask if adding a stud point guard to help sniff the playoffs is worth the chance to nab a star in the draft. Considering the Kings’ lowly standing in the deep West, they’d be better off swinging for home runs than skippers down the baselines.

Let the fate of the Wizards be a lesson learned for the Kings and other franchises how the “sure thing” and short-term solution can backfire with repercussions for years.


Rui Thomas
Rui Thomas is a writer and reporter for Cowbell Kingdom. He previously covered the Sacramento Kings and the NBA for Sports Out West. He is published by Sports Illustrated’s Truth and Rumors and Yahoo Sports NFL among others.

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