Trade Lottery Pick? Depends on What You Get

Philip Maymin
Basketball News Services 

It's easy to come up with hard-and-fast rules that seem to limit risk: that's all bureaucracy is. But those rules themselves are potentially even more risky than the outcomes they're trying to prevent. It's easy to say "don't draft high schoolers" or "don't trade a lottery pick," but it all depends on the opportunity cost. Especially for trades, how can you pass up all possibilities without a rational consideration?

If the Magic land the top pick and hence Emeka Okafor, it's true that it's unlikely there will be an offer out there that is better for the Magic than simply taking Okafor. It's true that it's unlikely. It's not true that it's impossible. Especially the Mavericks and Heat could likely try to ply their wiles with Orlando, as they are looking for a quality big man to last an extra, extra, extra long time.

But there's a solid chance the Magic don't get the number one pick, and hence will be drafting either high schooler Dwight Howard or small forward Luol Deng or even a Penny Hardaway-type point guard in high schooler Shaun Livingston.

There is one pretty good hard-and-fast rule that seems to limit risk, and that is to draft the best player available when it comes your turn, regardless of whether he fits your particular needs. Such a rule, of course, would have brought Michael Jordan to Portland instead of Chicago, and possibly even Carmelo Anthony to Detroit instead of Denver, but both GM's at the time felt they had a superstar wingman: respectively, Clyde Drexler and Tayshaun Prince.

The reason that rule works is it values opportunity cost. You take the best player available because best means most valuable. You can trade him for the most in return.

Will the Magic trade their lottery pick? Not likely. The real reason is that no matter what assurances Tracy McGrady or his agent gives, his decision will come next offseason, and the Magic have to prepare for the possibility of a departure. They don't need veterans like Karl Malone and Gary Payton to bring them a one-year championship run: they need young and talented players who will be a core for the next many years. The best way to do that is with the draft.

So in that sense, it may well be better to keep their pick. If they do trade it, it will be because McGrady or his situation made the Magic want to show their superstar just how much he means to them. But does he mean so much they'd risk sacrificing the future just for one year?

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Charles Robinson ofThe Orlando Sentinel writes: It was a telling morsel of lament dropped into a glass of championship champagne. Perhaps Calhoun saw the trouble then, the trouble put on display last week when a record-setting 13 high school players declared for the NBA draft, along with seven college freshmen and eight college sophomores.Those are numbers that threaten to take yet another chomp out of the NBA and college basketball. There will be 59 players selected in June's two-round draft, yet 94 underclassmen and foreign players applied for early entry. Already, it looks as if the draft's first round could feature as many as 10 high schoolers, while the number of college seniors in the first round might be lucky to approach a half-dozen. Saint Joseph's guard Jameer Nelson, this season's national player of the year, likely will be the lone senior in the top 15 picks.

Brian Schmitz ofThe Orlando Sentinel writes: If the Magic land the top lottery draft pick May 26 -- by some history-repeats-itself miracle -- they will entertain trade offers. Emeka Okafor, come on down (south). Go ahead, shop until you drop, Magic. Then just say no. Do the smart thing and keep Okafor, ignoring the frown on Tracy McGrady's face and the phone number to Mayflower he has on speed dial. We know more about Okafor than any other big man in this muddled draft, and what we know is this: He's by far the best available, the most ready for the NBA. He's a defensive demon, specializes in blocking shots and has an infectious work ethic. He's mature, infinitely more than all the eighth-graders who've seemingly declared.

Brian Schmitz ofThe Orlando Sentinel writes: New York Post columnist Peter Vecsey has "learned" that McGrady will opt out after next season.Vescey also broke the shocking news that Friends is airing only reruns... Even if center Sean Rooks wanted to return to the Magic, he will not be considered after skipping his exit interview. . . . The Magic will suggest to teams calling for background about free-agent center Steven Hunter that Hunter, who struggled to grasp offensive concepts, should be tested for attention deficit disorder. . . . Orlando might try to parlay one or both of its second-round picks (Nos. 30 and 36) into a late first-rounder.

Mike Bianchi ofThe Orlando Sentinel writes: I'm no mathematician, but it seems downright dumb for the worst team in the NBA (the Magic) to have a better statistical chance (35.6 percent) of getting the fifth pick in the upcoming draft than getting the first pick (25 percent).Discuss. . . .