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October 18, 2018

The Miami Heat pick owed to Sixers in 2021 has already dropped in value

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062218_Zhaire-Smith-1_usat Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports, File

Zhaire Smith walks off of the court after his Texas Tech Red Raiders were defeated by the Villanova Wildcats in the Elite Eight.

Philadelphia's draft-night trade of Mikal Bridges was met with polarized reactions in late June. Fans of the Villanova product were outraged at how the Sixers treated a hometown kid, while those more concerned with championship contention lauded their ability to get a high-upside player in Zhaire Smith alongside a valuable first-round pick.

One of those things remains true, but the value of one of Philadelphia's most movable future assets has already taken a hit in the span of four months.

ESPN's Jonathan Givony had a major report on Thursday afternoon, detailing a new plan from the NBA's G-League to incentivize high-school players to forego college and play in the league's feeder system. Some of the changes outlined in Givony's report are significant:

  1. The G-League will offer "Select Contracts" of $125,000 to elite prospects, a major leap from a typical salary ($35k) for a player in the league
  2. These prospects will be free from the restrictions of NCAA amateurism, which means they can sign with agents, seek out endorsement deals, and profit off their own likeness
  3. This portion is vague, but the arrangement will reportedly offer, "the opportunity to benefit from NBA infrastructure, as well as a bevy of off-court development programs geared toward facilitating and accelerating their transition to the pro game."

Just one man's opinion, but this is obviously a great step from the league that offers players an alternative to going one-and-done at a college program of their choice. My immediate thought was that it may also provide them cover if they decide they want to keep the one-and-done rule in place, under the guise of players "having options," which would be a decidedly cynical way to protect teams against their own future mistakes.

But of more immediate relevance to the Sixers was a subsequent report from ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, who revealed details from an internal memo sent to NBA teams.

So how does this impact the Sixers? Well, some of the value of the pick they acquired from Miami in 2021 rested on the belief that changes to the one-and-done system were a possibility in that year. With the best high-school prospects in the country theoretically joining the one-and-done players of the previous class and other top amateur players around the world, unprotected first-round picks for that first draft all gained in value. 

And the 2021 date was not all just speculation. According to a January report from ESPN's Zach Lowe, a league memo from that time period indicated that eligibility rules could shift as early as 2021:

The NBA on Friday sent teams a memo indicating that "eligibility rules" for the draft may shift as early as 2021 (but no earlier) as the league reviews issues "related to player development and the corruption investigation in college basketball," according to a copy of the memo obtained by ESPN.

The memo does not mention the one-and-done rule by name, but it is meant to remind teams that the league and the players union could agree to scrap one-and-done before the expiration of the current collective bargaining deal in 2024 -- and perhaps well before then, sources say. The memo says that, as of now, the league does not expect changes in draft eligibility rules to take place at any time "prior to the 2021 or 2022 draft."

The NBA has now apparently taken the guesswork out of this, removing 2021 as a possibility for the removal of the one-and-done rule. So that possibility of two classes combining to provide a much deeper talent pool for the 2021 draft is now off the table, and the pick owed to the Sixers by Miami (via Phoenix) has taken a hit in value.

It is still an important trade chip in Philadelphia's arsenal, and no one should turn their nose up at an unprotected first-round pick of any kind. Many bemoaned trading the present value of Bridges for Smith's upside and a future pick, but Bridges is currently outside of the rotation in Phoenix and played just over 11 seconds of game time in their opener against a bad Dallas team. The player-for-player value will take a while to determine, especially with Smith on the shelf.

The Miami pick was not their sticking point in trade discussions this past offseason, from my understanding, but teams that negotiate with Philadelphia can now confidently say part of the pick's allure is gone. It's another hit to the Sixers' asset portfolio, which feels even worse after a summer in which the franchise held back on big moves to bet on making something happen down the road.

The pick's value now rests on how good or bad the Heat are down the road. Their future doesn't look bright at the moment, but given the franchise's reputation to put a competitive product on the floor at any and all costs — and the lack of incentive to lose when they don't own their own pick — that's a dicey proposition.


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