NBA teams aren’t allowed to gamble, obviously, but there is one way they can wager on the fortunes of other teams–by trading for future draft picks. That’s the kind of risk the Charlotte Bobcats took Tuesday, when they reportedly agreed to swap Corey Maggette to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Ben Gordon and a protected first-round pick.
The protection, as first detailed on Twitter by David Aldridge, is key to understanding this trade. Next season, Detroit’s pick is lottery protected, making it likely the Pistons will hold on to it. By 2014, the pick is top-eight protected. If the pick rolls to 2015, Detroit keeps it only if it comes up No. 1 overall. In 2016, it is entirely unprotected. Obviously, the Bobcats are hoping not to get the pick until at least 2015, giving them the opportunity to land a top-five pick. Such selections don’t come around very frequently, which explains why Charlotte was willing to swallow Gordon’s $13.2 million player option for 2013-14, as well as about $1.5 million this season, the last of Maggette’s contract. Gordon is a more valuable player than Maggette at this stage of their careers, too, though he’s a slightly worse fit for the Bobcats given their backcourt is already populated with plenty of undersized scorers.
Projecting two years out is exponentially more difficult than projecting the upcoming season, but I find it more likely than not that Charlotte will end up with a 2014 pick in the second half of the lottery. The Pistons finished with the league’s ninth-worst record this season, have a handful of rising talents (most notably Greg Monroe) and will have incentive to win games down the stretch in 2013-14 rather than coasting into the lottery.
A 2014 pick would still be valuable to the Bobcats, certainly. I’d estimate the value of the 10th pick somewhere around $6 million. But Charlotte is taking on more than twice that much salary, so for this deal to truly work they will almost certainly have to delay the pick until 2015 or 2016–and hope Detroit is still struggling then. Naturally, the Pistons have a slightly more optimistic view of their own fortunes, so it makes sense that they’d be willing to take the risk for the payoff in cap space next summer.