Cleveland Cavaliers Trade Rumors: Should they Trade the Brooklyn Pick?

We've been talking about this pick for months, and it's down to the wire on whether or not the Cavs are actually going to use it. Here is a definitive breakdown of why they should do it. And also why they shouldn't.

Ah, the Brooklyn pick. The inanimate object, the theoretical person, the only-counts-in-the-NBA asset. It acted as the darling "get" from the Kyrie Irving trade and it has been sitting proudly on Dan Gilbert's mantle, waiting for just the right time to spring into action. Of course, it's still unclear if the right time is before the Fenruary 8th trading deadline or on draft night. 

The entire debate around the Brooklyn pick is centered on the idea of whether or not LeBron James will return to the Cavaliers next year. But here's the thing: Next year doesn't matter yet. Next year doesn't matter because the Cavaliers have the chance to make it to the Finals again this year, while one of the two best players in NBA history is on their roster and still (I think?) in his athletic prime.

  Photo taken by Keith Allison

Even so, the debate is still raging, so here is the easiest way to break it down. We have to look at what the benefits would be to keeping or trading the pick, both with and without LeBron returning next year.

The Case for Trading the Pick

If LeBron James is going to stay in Cleveland

If LeBron stays in Cleveland, the Brooklyn pick should be gone a month ago. LeBron didn't want to play with Andrew Wiggins in 2014, why would he want to play with a rookie in 2018-19 and beyond? Furthermore, we as a basketball-loving culture are overvaluing the Nets pick. As of the morning of February 6th, the Nets pick is 8th in the draft. They have no incentive to tank, so let's assume that it'll stay roughly at 8th, although it may reach 10th by the end of the season.

How good are the players at that draft position? Well, they should be good, especially in a loaded draft, as this one seems to be. But people are acting like a top 10 pick is the greatest asset in the league, when in reality, it's just not. It's an asset before it gets used, but once that pick is used, its value drops. A lot. Don't believe me? Consider the following.

Since the 2000 NBA draft, 180 players have been taken in the top 10. We can toss out the last two years because it's hard to tell what will become of those players at this point, and we'll look at the 160 players taken in the top 10 between 2000 and 2015.

Of those 160 players, 33 have made All-NBA teams, which is 20.6%. An additional 13 have made All-Star teams without reaching All-NBA, meaning almost 29% of the 160 players are "stars." (Here's a list of guys who have all made All-Star teams in the past decade: Caron Butler, Mo Williams, Danny Granger, David Lee, Chris Kaman, Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng, Jrue Holiday, Joakim Noah, and Jeff Teague. Are these franchise guys?) If we only look at the 80 players chosen between picks 6 and 10, the numbers are similar: 17 have either been All-NBA or All-Stars, which is just over 21%. You're much more likely to get Eddy Curry than Stephen Curry.

The Cavs have roughly a 20% chance of getting a player who will turn out to be an All-Star. Not a franchise-altering, MVP-candidate, generational superstar, but a run-of-the-mill All-Star. Why not trade that 20% chance for someone who may already have been an All-Star? My hypothetical Kemba Walker trade from a couple of weeks ago is an example: the Cavs have a 20% chance of drafting a guy as good as Kemba Walker, so why not just go for Kemba Walker?

All of this is to point out that if LeBron James is coming back to Cleveland next year, having a player who has proven that he can play in the NBA is far more useful than having a player who has a 1-in-5 shot of being an All-Star later in his NBA career. If the pick is gone and James is still in town, veteran players are going to step in and pick up the slack much like Wade and Green this year - and they'll probably outplay the rookie chosen with the Nets pick.

If LeBron James is leaving this summer

If LeBron leaves in the summer of 2018, the numbers above still hold true regarding the value of the Brooklyn pick. If like above, you were able to flip that pick for someone of near All-Star caliber (a Dragic/Walker level player), you've outplayed the odds by a substantial margin.

More importantly, we all know that the overall fate of the Cavs rests in LeBron's hands. If he leaves, the following players are under contract next year in Cleveland: Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, JR Smith, (probably) Iman Shumpert, Kyle Korver, Cedi Osman, and Jae Crowder, with the possibility that Dan Gilbert throws a bunch of money at Isaiah Thomas. The absolute best-case scenario is about a 6-seed in next year's playoffs and a 2nd round loss. There is nobody on the planet who believes that core is making the Finals. Furthermore, who is going to come to Cleveland in free agency to play with Kevin Love and (maybe) Isaiah Thomas?

Making matters worse, if the ceiling is a 6-seed, what's the floor for that team? Missing the playoffs altogether? What if Thomas never fully heals but Gilbert gave him a big contract? Then they're in more salary cap trouble and will likely unload Kevin Love's contract before his final year. That would be the start of a long, arduous rebuild**.

But how often rebuilds are successful? Think about every team that has tanked and reloaded in the past 10-12 years. How many have become legitimate title contenders? The Cavs did it successfully for one reason exclusively because LeBron James was born in Akron. If he had been born in Savannah, Georgia, the Cavs would have 0 titles and have to answer Anthony Bennett questions every year. He never would have come back to Cleveland.

The Warriors' rebuild was wildly successful - they used their #7 pick on Steph Curry in 2009, whiffed on Ekpe Udoh in 2010, then managed another #7 pick and drafted Harrison Barnes (not an All-Star) in 2012. More importantly, they nailed an 11th pick on Klay Thompson and a 35th pick on Draymond Green.

The Rockets aren't a tank-and-rebuild success story because they managed the Harden trade without bottoming out. The Thunder were a great rebuilding story for a stretch there. The Spurs just stay good. The rest of the rebuild wannabes are either still rebuilding or never made it.

Tanking and rebuilding is hard. Whether the pick is there or not, if LeBron's gone, the Cavs aren't a title contender. So if you can trade the pick to make this year a true title contender, do it. Imagine if they somehow win the title. No one would care about the Brooklyn pick at that point, right?

The Case for Keeping the Pick

If LeBron stays

If LeBron stays, you might be able to promote a peaceful transition of power from him to the next generation, assuming (20% chance) that the Cavs hit the pick and get a very good player (*see Dan Gilbert's draft history below). The rookie could learn under the tutelage of the best player in the league (note: LeBron has never really taken a player under his wing, even Kyrie) and the team could effectively get younger, preparing for the future on the fly: You know, try to draft Kawhi Leonard while you still have Tim Duncan.

The other reason to keep the pick is that you're likely to control that player for the next seven seasons. Trading that for a guy you might only have until the summer of 2018 is a tough pill to swallow for some, understandably.

If LeBron leaves

The team would be a lost cause at this point, but this is the only real argument for keeping the pick. If LeBron is gone, it will be the summer of 2019 when the Cavs get a high draft pick of their own**, so having one a year earlier would be nice. This is the worst option because it means the team didn't put themselves in the best position to win a title AND has a poor future outlook.

Verdict

Trade the pick. There's no way of knowing how long it'll be before the Cavaliers can be a free agent destination or come up with another next-level superstar who just happens to have a connection to Cleveland. It could be a year or it could be three decades. Now is the chance. Use it.

* Cavs' first-round draft picks since Dan Gilbert bought the team: JJ Hickson, Shannon Brown, Christian Eyenga, Kyrie, Tristan, Waiters, Jared Cunningham, Anthony Bennett, Sergey Karasev, Andrew Wiggins, Tyus Jones [traded for Cedi Osman]. That list, by and large, sucks.

** Important note: the Cavs owe Atlanta their first-round pick in 2019 if it falls outside the top-10...so if the Cavs are not going to be contenders next year, they had better suck.

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