Exactly one week ago, the Timberwolves made the first of their major trade deadline deals, a four-team swap that included Robert Covington as the major outgoing piece. On that same night, the Twins’ trade involving Brusdar Graterol and Kenta Maeda was reported.
It was only fitting, I suppose, that the Twins deal FINALLY became official, in its reincarnated iteration, almost a week later on Monday — just as the Wild was making a major deal involving Jason Zucker.
I’ve been resisting the urge to “grade” the major moves made by all three franchises in the past week — deals that include, of course, the blockbuster D’Angelo Russell/Andrew Wiggins trade that happened Thursday, during the week of on-again, off-again rumblings about the Twins trade.
Assigning a grade to a trade is rather disingenuous and increasingly difficult as most teams employ at least some combination of competent people in charge of decisions and analytics as to not be totally fleeced. Most organizations have a general idea of the value of a draft pick, leading to fewer Herschel Walker or Ricky Williams trades — or at least calculated ones when they do happen.
Heck, say what you want about David Kahn (really, go ahead. This is a safe space). But the reason he was able to pass on Stephen Curry not once but twice in the 2009 draft is that he managed to turn Mike Miller and Randy Foye into the No. 5 pick in a trade. Imagine that happening a decade later.
Teams are smart. Trades are complex, taking into account monetary value — past, present and future — as much as if not more than pure talent. That premise played out in moves made by all three teams in the last week. Let’s take a look:
*Let’s start with the Wolves because they made the most moves (seemingly their entire roster).
They traded away: Andrew Wiggins, Covington, Jordan Bell, Shabazz Napier, Keita Bates-Diop, Noah Vonleh and Gorgui Dieng, along with a top-three-protected 2021 first-round pick and 2021 second-round draft pick.
They received: D’Angelo Russell, Jacob Evans, Omari Spellman, Malik Beasley, Juan Hernangomez, Jarred Vanderbilt, Evan Turner, James Johnson and a lottery-protected 2020 first-round pick via Brooklyn.
But Russell, Beasley, Hernangomez and Johnson might the be only four new guys who play much for the Wolves, if at all.
The deal was about creating some salary flexibility for next season and beyond, adding players that are better fits and hanging onto as many other assets as possible.
To that end, one key in all of this dealing and upgrading was that the Wolves ended up net-zero in first round picks — losing one to Golden State in the Russell deal but gaining one from Brooklyn. The difference in where those picks land could be lopsided … but it might not. Basically, the Wolves are betting on themselves (and Brooklyn).
Brooklyn’s pick is lottery-protected, but it’s about as good a lottery-protected pick as Minnesota could get given that the Nets are very likely to make the playoffs (97.9% chance) but also very likely to just barely make it and have a pick somewhere in the 15-17 range.
If Minnesota’s reboot is as good as Gersson Rosas hopes it is, the Wolves could creep toward .500 next season or even sneak into the playoffs — making the 2021 pick they give up to Golden State quite similar to the Brooklyn pick they gained this year. Their exposure is if next year is just as bad, and they wind up giving the Warriors a high-value pick outside the top three (like 4-8) as well as an attractive second-round pick.
In this attempt at creating a “value chart” for NBA picks, based on projected future outcomes, you see that the first overall pick has a value three times as high as the value of the first pick outside the lottery (No. 15). But the No. 15 pick has twice as much value as a pick in the bottom of the first round.
That’s a good reminder that not all picks are created equal.
*The Twins trade became considerably more complicated in its final iteration, with Minnesota sending Righthander Brusdar Graterol, Class AAA outfielder Luke Raley and the 67th pick in the 2020 MLB draft to the Dodgers for Kenta Maeda, a low-level prospect and $10 million.
If the prevailing wisdom is that the Dodgers essentially bought a draft pick from the Twins, then Minnesota received excellent value for that part of the trade; FanGraphs says the No. 67 pick has a value of about $4 million.
Prospects like Raley and Graterol are harder to value, but Maeda’s team-friendly deal was a win-win for the Twins, who need quality starting pitching beyond 2020 and who are still budget-conscious even after spending big for Josh Donaldson.
*The Wild received Pittsburgh’s first-round pick in 2020 as part of the Jason Zucker trade, and where that pick lands could tell us a lot about how to feel about the deal — as will the development of top-100 NHL prospect Calen Addison.
In a Sportsnet evaluation of the value of various NHL draft pick slots a few years ago, the drop-off was stark. The No. 5 pick is worth about half as much as the No. 1 pick, while a pick at the bottom of the first round is worth about half as much as the No. 5 pick.
Assuming Pittsburgh makes the playoffs and the draft pick conveys this year, the Wild is hoping for a similar scenario as the Wolves are with Brooklyn’s pick: that the Penguins are a low playoff seed and the pick ends up being somewhere in the mid-to-high teens, giving it a greater value and giving the Wild a better chance of landing a future mainstay.
If Pittsburgh ends up making a deep playoff run and the pick is buried at the bottom of the first round, its value would be diminished — just one of the myriad complex considerations any good GM has to factor in before making a big trade these days.