When the Cavaliers agreed to trade Mo Williams and Jamario Moon to the Clippers in exchange for Baron Davis (and the roughly $35 million left on his contract), they got a first round pick for their trouble. It was a wise strategy for Cleveland, and one that any fan should hope their team would pursue: absorbing an aging, mercurial Davis and the three years left on his deal for an extra ticket to the lottery. According to Clippers G.M. Neil Olshey and most talent evaluators, the pick would come in a particularly weak draft and likely fall in the range of eight through 12, but for the Cavs, it was worth a shot. For the Clippers, it was an opportunity to rid themselves of one of the worst contracts in the league at a time when Davis was healthy and had played nearly two months of high-quality basketball. If you assume that teams knew Davis was available, then Olshey found out what it would cost and then paid the price to move him.
On Tuesday, that price became significantly steeper in retrospect when the Cavs won the lottery with the pick they got from the Clippers. Olshey will not have the opportunity to draft Kyrie Irving or Derrick Williams, but that was the chance he was willing to take on February 24th. As he said after the lottery, the odds were never in his favor. From Lisa Dillman on Twitter: “We had a 97% chance of sitting here tonight with Baron Davis, the 8th pick in a bad draft and no cap flexibility.”
It’s easy to say you would rather have Baron Davis and the first pick in the draft, regardless of the strength of draft class, than Mo Williams and money. But it doesn’t work like that. The Clippers made the deal based on an overwhelming combination of mitigating factors, not the least of which being the likelihood of the pick having incredibly deflated value. As Olshey said, “Adding Mo Williams and $8.5 m in cap room gives us better odds of improving than a 2.8% chance of winning the lottery.” Someone like Irving or Derrick Williams could become a star, but you can’t make a decision based on such a longshot, and neither is a sure thing to contribute more as a rookie than Mo Williams, Eric Bledsoe or another veteran the Clippers could acquire through a trade or free agency. Given the makeup of the current roster, with six players under 23 years old, Olshey played the percentages with the pick. He devised a strategy to develop and re-sign young core players like Eric Gordon and DeAndre Jordan and use cap space to add from the outside, with the comfort of knowing that even if things went as they did on Tuesday, his team would still be positioned well for both the short and long term.
The question now becomes how they use their financial flexibility, and that is where Olshey will have the opportunity to execute what has been a clear and focused vision. He was patient in free agency last summer, but has made moves that fit his plan (like trading a future first rounder to get Bledsoe), and now, over a year into his tenure, he appears ready to go after some significant outside help. With the draft pool even weaker than expected thanks to a handful of players staying in school, Clipper fans can also begin the countdown to the Minny Pick, 2012.
But for now, it’s business as usual. Nothing really changed, the trade today is the same as it was on February 24th. As Zach Lowe tweeted, “What the Clips did is like running a decent set and missing a good look. Result doesn’t make the process worse.” At the time, it signified an investment in the players on the roster and a commitment to winning now, and that’s still a reality thanks to the cap space they created in the trade. The trade with the 2.8% chance at winning the lottery.