You might think this is a silly trade: Getting Jamal Crawford — great guy, still a good player — who doesn’t want to be here and will wind up being either traded or bought out, and a Round 1 pick in next year’s draft from Houston, a team that probably will win 55 games and be nowhere near the lottery. You may think: What’s the point?
The Atlanta Hawks are rebuilding, even though they dare not speak its name. The way you rebuild is to acquire as many assets as you can. Players are assets, yes. How does a rebuilding team get players? Via draft picks or trades.
The more assets you have, the better your opportunities to leverage them. As it stands, the Hawks figure to have three Round 1 picks in the 2018 draft — theirs, which will probably be a lottery pick; Houston’s, which won’t, and Minnesota’s, which has been dangling in limbo since the trade of Adreian Payne, their Round 1 pick in 2014, to the Timberwolves in February 2015.
The Hawks didn’t get to exercise the latter pick in this year’s draft because it’s lottery-protected and Minnesota landed therein yet again. With Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague joining Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, the T-wolves should make the playoffs next season, meaning the Hawks will get that pick. It won’t be in the lottery, but still.
Let’s say the ping-pong balls leave the Hawks with the 10th pick next year. Let’s say they decide they really need — picking a local name — Wendell Carter Jr. of Pace Academy, soon to be the latest Duke one-and-done. Let’s say Carter is apt to be available at No. 6. They could say to the team holding that pick, “We’ll give you our three Round 1s in exchange.” (Not saying they would, mind you. Next year might be too early in the process to sacrifice that many assets. Just saying it’d be an option.)
Philadelphia spent the past few years losing games and amassing assets. When the lottery left the 76ers with the No. 3 pick and they needed one of the top two point guards available — Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball — they were able to trade that No. 3 pick and a future No. 1 to Boston, which had a slew of guards. (The Celtics wound up with Jayson Tatum, who’ll team with Jaylen Brown of Wheeler and now Gordon Hayward. Boston now has a slew of wings. Somewhere Billy Knight is smiling.)
The point being: When you don’t have many good players — and the Hawks absolutely don’t — you must collect every asset you can find. Draft picks might sound like ephemeral things, but Kareem Abdul-Jabbar went to Milwaukee because he was picked No. 1 in 1969. LeBron James went to Cleveland the same way 34 years later. Magic Johnson: No. 1 in 1979. Michael Jordan: No. 3 (behind Sam Bowie!) in 1984.
A draft pick might seem like nothing. It isn’t nothing. For the rebuilding Hawks, the draft is the only way up. If Crawford can bring another Round 1 pick, all the better.