When is your draft pick not actually your draft pick? In the NBA Draft. History will show that the Dallas Mavericks selected Gonzaga center Kelly Olynyk in the first round (No. 13 overall) on Thursday night. But they did so in name only.
Such is the insane, unpredictable, convoluted framework of the NBA Draft.
Let’s start with Olynyk. The Mavericks needed a center. He’s a 7-footer, so the selection was logical. But Olynyk wasn’t long for Dallas. No, less than an hour later the Mavs were packaging him to Boston for another 7-footer, Lucas Nogueira, from Brazil. The Mavs received a pair of 2014 draft picks in the deal.
All of the Mavericks’ draft-night shenanigans were designed to save money.
Why on earth wouldn’t Dallas just take Nogueira? Well, I guess Boston wanted him so badly they were willing to part with a pair of second-round picks to get him. In truth, that’s good value for Dallas. Had the Mavs kept Nogueira, we’d be trumpeting that value.
But the Mavs didn’t keep him. In fact, shortly after that Nogueira was on his way to Atlanta. That’s because the Mavs sent him and last year’s first-round pick, Jared Cunningham, to the Hawks for University of Miami guard Shane Larkin, a player the Hawks selected at No. 18, presumably at Dallas’ behest.
The Mavs needed a point guard, and Larkin was one of the best in college basketball last season. Larkin might start immediately. If Dallas wanted Larkin so badly, why didn’t it just take him at No. 13 in the first place?
Money, of course.
The Mavericks reportedly need about $21 million in first-year salary money to offer Lakers center Dwight Howard the maximum contract, should he hit the free agent market in July. The Mavericks don’t quite have that yet.
All of the Mavericks’ draft-night shenanigans were designed to save money. There is a rookie wage scale in the NBA and all selections have a pre-determined salary. The Mavs wanted Larkin, but didn’t want to pay the extra money.
The Hawks obviously wanted Nogueira all along. The Celtics wanted Olynyk but couldn’t get him on their own. So the Mavs found two willing partners to execute trades that made everyone happy.
The Mavs get Larkin for about $375,000 less than they would have spent had they picked him at No. 13, according to published reports. Dealing Cunningham saved more than $700,000.
It’s still not enough to sign Howard today, but it’s a signal to Howard’s agent that the Mavs are making moves to put themselves in the best possible position to pursue the All-Star center come July.
The Mavericks also selected Mike Muscala in the second round and then dealt him to Milwaukee for Ricky Ledo. Did the Mavericks get better in this draft? It looks like they did. But that mattered little in the grand scheme. The Mavericks’ goal isn’t to get better for the future. It’s to get better now.
And that’s why the Mavericks worked so hard on draft night to do something that, in any other year, would have simply required a more direct approach.