Last night, the Boston Celtics won the NBA Lottery to get the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft, a momentous victory for the organization only made possible by a past trade with the Brooklyn Nets that gave the Celtics — among other assets — the right to swap 2017 first-round selections with the Nets.
This trade could — or more aptly “should” — have an impact on the NFL.
Out of curiosity, I checked the details of that trade... and was immediately reminded it was part of the, now really infamous, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce deal.
In 2013, then Nets GM Billy King traded five role players (Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, Kris Joseph, Keith Bogans), three future first-round picks (in 2014, 2016, and 2018) and the right to swap first-round picks in 2017 — which clearly happened last night — to the Celtics for then 37-year-old Kevin Garnett, 36-year-olds Paul Pierce and Jason Terry, and throw-in big man D.J. White.
Even the most casual NBA fan would call that trade a colossal win for the Celtics, especially in the long-term.
Why’s this relevant to the NFL?
It reminded me of how years ago, a friend mentioned, half-jokingly, that NFL teams should just trade away future first-round picks far into the future to get high-caliber players in the present day.
Being a team-building enthusiast who, at times, thinks “in theory,” I laughed at my friends idea mainly because I thought that type of ideology would never take shape in the NFL.
But last night’s NBA Lottery results got me thinking — if these type of “push-down-the-road” trades happen in the NBA, why don’t they, or why can’t they happen in the NFL?
Heck, the shelf-life for everything — jobs for coaches, GMs, players, and fans’ patience — is considerably shorter in the NFL than it is in the NBA, which means the “present” is much more valuable in football than how a team might look in five or six seasons.
It’s gotten to the point in which everyone in the NFL is technically in “win now” mode.
King was the Nets GM from July 2010 to January 2016, and after two abysmal seasons and one trip to the playoffs, he looked for two veteran stars he believed could push his club to the next level (or levels) in the playoffs.
The Nets regular-season win total actually dropped from 49 in the season before the trade to 44 the first year after it happened, but in that debut campaign with Garnett and Pierce, Brooklyn advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since the 2006-2007 season.
Of course, King grossly miscalculated the impact the elder Garnett and Pierce would have, but by trading away valuable picks as far as five years into the future, he gave his team, what he thought to be, the best chance to win a championship in the present day. If it worked, he’d be a pioneering genius. If it failed, well, he’d be fired so what would he care about the Nets not having those first-round picks in 2017 and 2018?
King’s “push down the road” (PDTR) trade was immensely bold and, in a way, so risky it could’ve been — and probably was — considered reckless, a seemingly ruthless wielding of power that’d likely damage the future of the organization.
But in the NFL, I think GMs would be even more willing to make a PDTR trade than King was in 2013.
I’m going to guess you’re thinking — “no owner would sign off on that” — it came across my mind too.
In some cases, an owner veto would happen.
But before you think it’s totally unrealistic, here are two current-day propositions:
Drew Brees and Zach Strief
Jaguars’ first-round pick in 2018, 2020, 2022, and rights to make a first-round swap in 2021
or less blockbuster-y:
A.J. Green and Darqueze Dennard
Panthers first-round pick in 2019, 2020, rights to make a first-round swap in 2021
Just a guess here, but I think if you slapped that proposal on the desk in the owner’s office of the Jaguars or Panthers, they’d give the green light.
The vast majority of NFL owners probably want to “win now” just as much, if not more so than the GM, head coach, and fans.
If the powers that be thought Brees could put the Jaguars over the top, deep into the playoffs and would significantly increase the club’s chances of winning a Super Bowl over the next two seasons, who cares about that first-round selection five years from now, right?
That’d be the idea.
On the other side — sure, some teams would initially be reluctant to trade veteran superstars, but that draft-capital compensation package would be extremely enticing for a team seeing its Super Bowl window rapidly closing. And it’d be an ideal way for a GM who was quickly falling out of a favor with the owner to save face, buy himself more time, and potentially save his job.
(Celtics GM Danny Ainge won a title in 2008 but after losing in the finals in 2010, his team lost in the semifinals, the conference final and then was bumped in the first round. He correctly identified the Celtics championship-window closed with the stars he won with in 2008 and advanced to the finals with in 2010.)
We have seen some glimpses — almost all have been “timid” — of PDTR in the past in the NFL but never has a team gone to the PDTR lengths the Nets went in 2013.
Then, in 2012, Washington surrendered its first-rounder that year, a Round 1 selection in 2013 and a Round 2 picks in 2012 and 2014.
If PDTR trades became prevalent in the NFL, they’d create a fascinating trade market, featuring teams at varying junctures of building — franchises that’d prioritize long-term endeavors and those mainly interested in truly winning now.
The teams on either end of this trade market would constantly fluctuate too.
The NFL has recently showed a willingness to borrow an idea from the NBA — the Browns traded for Brock Osweiler this offseason and got a second-round pick out of it. While he’s still on Cleveland’s roster, if he’s later traded or simply cut, the Browns would have executed a classic NBA “salary dump” deal. They valued the second-round pick more than Osweiler and had money to burn. The Texans simply wanted Osweiler off their roster and his big cap hit off their books.
Will PDTR trades with NBA-esque aggression start to occur in the NFL? Don’t bet on it. But considering the increasingly severe pressure to “win now” in pro football, it wouldn’t be crazy if they did.