In eight out of the ten drafts between 2001-2010, there has been a trade involving the rights to a top 5 pick or a rookie who was selected in the top 5 in that year's draft. The Timberwolves seem like a likely candidate to continue that trend by moving the #2 pick in this upcoming draft. In this article I will examine these eight different cases and try to infer from the lessons of history whether or not the Wolves should seek to trade away their pick.
2010: Derek Favors (3rd overall) for Deron Williams
Nets receive: Deron Williams
The winner: TBD
This trade is still shaping up. It's easy to call the Nets winners, especially if Deron Williams re-signs, but if Derek Favors lives up to his immense potential and the Nets draft a good player at #3 this June the Jazz will have put themselves in a great position. This one could go down as a winner for both sides.
Wizards receive: Randy Foye, Mike Miller
The winner: TBD
Again, this trade still has too many moving pieces to call it in one direction or the other. It seems as though the Wolves got the better of the Wizards, since two years later neither Foye nor Miller are still in Washington, but Ricky Rubio is still an intangible asset at this point. Given that the Wolves took on salary, if Rubio busts then it's safe to say no one benefitted from this trade.
The winner: Minnesota
It's funny that the Wolves managed to win this trade and yet the Grizzlies are the team that just made a deep playoff run. Love is easily Minnesota's best player, and although Mayo isn't a bad player by any means he certainly hasn't lived up to his lofty expectations. Minnesota also managed to dump a few bad contracts and got a useful player in Miller in the process.
Celtics receive: Ray Allen
The winner: Boston
This trade is a prime example of why the NBA is a superstar's league. The Sonics got three serviceable-at-worst players in Green, Wally, and Delonte, but the Celtics received 1/3 of the tripod that brought a title to Boston. That said, this was probably still a good trade for Seattle, since it allowed them to fully commit to the rebuild that has brought them to where they are today.
Trailblazers receive: LaMarcus Aldridge, future 2nd round pick (2007, #38: Kyrylo Fesenko)
The winner: Portland
This is the opposite example of the Mayo/Love swap: here a team (the Bulls) made a value pick and then made a swap for the player they really coveted while picking up "value" in the trade. Problem is, Tyrus Thomas kind of sucked, and so did Viktor Khryapa.
2005: 3rd overall pick for three first round picks
Jazz receive: 3rd overall pick (Deron Williams)
Trailblazers receive: 6th overall pick (Martell Webster), 27th overall pick (Leinas Kleiza), lottery protected future 1st round pick (2006, #30: Joel Freeland)
The winner: Utah
Once again, here we have a trade where the Trailblazers weren't crazy about the prospects available for them at #3 and decided they would be better served by moving back. Uh, woops. Although the return the Blazers got was great (no one could've predicted that 2006 pick would have had so little value), they clearly mis-evaluated the talent available. Here we are 6 years later and the Blazers are still looking for a PG of the future.
2004: 2nd overall pick for 4th and 33rd overall picks
The winner: Charlotte
Shaun Livingston career was derailed by a horrific knee injury, so it's quite possible that in an alternate universe the Clippers managed to win this deal. In this universe though, Okefor was the face of the Bobcats franchise for several years, and although he never really put it all together he was always a fairly productive playe. Interesting note: the Clippers actually forced the Bobcats to take on Drbnjak's salary through the expansion draft as part of this trade.
Clippers receive: Elton Brand
Bulls receive: Tyson Chandler
The winner: Los Angeles
The Clippers won this trade, but when you get right down to it Chandler and Brand pretty much achieved about equally with their respective teams. There's no doubt that Brand was the better player during his time in Los Angeles, but there's also no doubt that Chandler has been the better player since Brand went to Philadelphia. Both teams enjoyed one stellar, premature playoff year during these player's teniors before falling back into mediocrity.
SO WHAT SHOULD THE TIMBERWOLVES DO?
Based on past evidence, it seems pretty clear to me that the Wolves should hang tight and take the BPA (almost certainly Derek Williams) at #2. The 2009 trade with the Wizards is a prime example of the dangers of over-valuing other team's players. The Wizards thought they had a solid core of veterans in place and a were only a few solid players away from making a playoff run - consequently they looked past the red flags of the Timberwolves players (Foye's glaring flaws and Miller's down year) and made a move they probably regret making in hindsight. I'm sensing a similar vibe this year from the Wolves FO, which scares me - the rhetoric about adding a "veteran presence" and the desire to appease the fan base with a tangibly successful season might lead Kahn and Co. to deceive themselves into thinking the Wolves are closer to being ready to compete than they really are. At the end of the day, we have a very good power forward and very little else. There are glaring needs at SG and C, while only the tantalizing concept of "potential" exists at PG and SF. Trading away for the #2 pick for a veteran in the hopes that they'll "bring us over the top" seems like a mistake to me.
Furthermore, the outcome of the Love/Mayo swap seems more like an aberration to me than a consistent trend. In the 2004-06 draft trades, the player taken with the higher pick was exponentially superior to the players taken below him. I take this as a sign that we should trust in the draft process - particularly in a top-heavy draft like this, the talent has already risen to the surface. There's no reason to outsmart ourselves with this pick - anyone who thinks Alec Burks or Bismack Biyombo is a sounder investment for this team than Derrick Williams is deluding themselves. (Do you hear me Kahn?) If anything, the 2010 Derek Favors swap should serve as evidence that draft day trades are not always the best way to build a team - you can take the BPA and include him as the centerpiece of a blockbuster trade six months later even if he hasn't proven anything yet! Derrick Williams turns 20 in a few days - his trade value will not be significantly diminished if the Wolves bring him in and decide to trade him away halfway through his rookie year ala Favors.
The other side of the coin are the Ray Allen and Elton Brand trades. If the Wolves can haul in two players like Allen and Garnett via trade the way the Celtics did in 2007 and throw them in with Love and Rubio (who would be our parallel of Pierce and Rondo), then maybe this team is closer to competing than they appear to be. However, that idea seems almost laughable at present. The #2 pick/Martell Webster/Ridnour for Ray Allen? Beasley/Randolph/Flynn/Ellington/Darko/2 first round picks for Garnett? It's the sort of stuff that happens in videogames, not in Minneapolis. It seems to me, then, that the best possible outcome of a trade including the #2 pick would be an Elton Brand-type return. In today's terms that would be Blake Griffin (fat chance), but maybe another productive player from the 2009 draft isn't out of reach. Tyreke Evans springs to mind as a productive but flawed player whom the Kings might see as expendable with the emergence of Marcus Thornton. The Kings might prefer a core of Thornton/Derrick Williams/DMC/7th overall pick (Brandon Knight? Jan Vesely?) to their current lineup, while it's hard to imagine the Wolves would turn down the opportunity to add Evans.
However, I'm not optimistic that a trade like that will present itself. I think teams around the league will recognize that the Wolves are looking to dump the #2 pick and will consequently lowball them, which is why I think we should hold onto our pick. Is Derrick Williams an ideal prospect for this team? No. Is he one of the two best prospects in this draft? Yes. Should the Timberwolves make space for him on the roster if there isn't a highly satisfactory alternative? Absolutely. The Wolves FO needs to recognize that Irving and Williams are the only two prospects they should consider taking with the 2nd overall pick. Picking an inferior player that fills a need for next year will only leave more holes on the roster in the long run. And history shows that trading away the pick or trading down rarely works out as well as it's perceived to.