With all of Sam Hinkie’s wheeling and dealing it is not surprising to see the draft picks of his many trades complicating otherwise meaningless games. After last night’s win by the Indiana Pacers, the Heat have been eliminated from the playoffs, despite their deadline trade for Goran (and Zoran) Dragic. In another trade during the offseason, the Sixers traded Thad Young to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Alexey Shved, Luc Mbah a Moute, and a first round pick. That first round pick was acquired by Minnesota from the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Kevin Love deal shortly before Young was traded and Cleveland originally got that pick from….the Miami Heat in the LeBron James sign-and-trade in 2010. Like many traded first round picks it was protected with Miami keeping the pick if it is the top 10 in 2015 or 2016 before the pick loses its protections in 2017. With the Heat currently holding the 10th worst record in the NBA, and the Sixers only one game in front of the Knicks for the second worst record, a typically ignored late season matchup all of the sudden includes some intrigue.
Why Both Teams Could Want to Lose
This seems the most straightforward scenario for both teams, lose and potentially improve your draft position. If the Heat lose they will clinch the 10th worst record in the league, where a win could force them into a tie for the 11th worst record with Brooklyn Nets loss. Helping the Heat is the fact that Brooklyn is technically still alive for playoff contention and will be playing to win, since losing would not only eliminate them from playoff contention but also improve the pick they have to swap with the Hawks as a result of the Joe Johnson trade. The lottery does complicate things and there is a small chance that a team with the 10th worst record or lower can move up in the draft either moving Miami up to the top three or dropping them down a spot, but since the odds are for so low, the teams at the bottom third of the lottery typically stay there.
Losing may not only improve the possibility of getting Miami’s pick this year, but also improve the team’s draft position and lottery odds. The Knicks have decided to start trying and they have won two straight, so it is not out of the realm of possibilities that they could win their finale and enter into a tie for last in the East if the Sixers do lose. In this scenario, the Knicks and Sixers would share the average of chances between the second and third worst record, improving the Sixers’ odds of getting the top pick from 15.6% to 17.75%, and for a team with not much else to play for, those slightly improved odds might be enough motivation to sit a few starters.
Why Both Teams Should Try to Win
No matter what, the Heat will have to give up a first round pick, but in what draft and how high the pick will be is still to be determined. The pick continues to be top-10 protected next year and then becomes unprotected in 2017. The Heat are clearly declining as their stars age and their sign-and-trades for LeBron and Chris Bosh leave them with very little young talent, so that unprotected pick in two years could potentially be even higher than 11 in the draft.
Although Miami still needs young talent, especially if they want to make one last playoff run with Dwyane Wade and Bosh, they may also decide to start rebuilding soon and losing the pick now may not be the worst thing so they can avoid giving up a higher pick in 2017 while they are trying to rebuild the team over the next few years. Since winning does not guarantee that the Heat would move up in the standings, they could try to beat the Sixers, end the season on a positive note, and let everything else fall into place. If the Nets do lose against Orlando and the Heat do not win the lottery or the coin flip for the 10th pick, then Miami can finally move on from the sign and trade they made five years ago.
Sam Hinkie loves collecting assets, especially ones that could increase in value over time. Considering the weakness of this draft and the fact that the protection for the pick the Sixers acquired from Oklahoma City in the JaVale McGee trade is going to kick in and the top-five protected Lakers pick they received from the Suns in the Michael Carter-Williams only has a 19% chance of falling to six, there is a very real chance the Sixers could be entering the 2016 draft with four picks, and could end up with four lottery picks between 2016 and 2017. For a team looking for superstars, these picks could go a long way into acquiring one, but having the picks pushed back a year not only gives Hinkie more time to consider what to do with them, but also makes the picks more valuable as the restriction are reduced with every draft the picks are protected.
I personally believe Hinkie recognizes this and Brett Brown will have his full lineup out there looking to win, as they have done all season. It is not worth losing and hoping the Knicks will win, even though it is a distinct possibility that they could pull out the win with their opponent, the Detroit Pistons, also playing for draft position. There is the chance that the Sixers could lose and still not get the pick or drop lower in the standings, but it can be argued that ending the season with a win and ensuring that the franchise holds the asset another year may be worth more than a small bump in lottery odds.
Although fans are have been waiting several seasons for this team to turn the corner and compete, and pushing back a valuable draft pick another year may seem like further torture, the possibility that the pick could be higher in the future is worth the patience. This way Hinkie can figure out how to maximize this asset as the Sixers continue to bide their time before starting the push from laughingstock to contender.