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Pre-draft considerations

Pre-draft workouts have begun for the Heat, and for several teams across the league.

The Heat has four picks in the upcoming draft – the 18th pick in the first round, and the 41st, 42nd and 48th picks in the second round.

Pat Riley already has it on record that he doesn’t believe in building through the draft. Of course, that’s because he’s had an abysmal track record with it. Since having Dwyane Wade fall into his lap in the first round of the 2003 draft, only four other players he’s selected have ever seen the NBA hardwood for the Heat – Dorell Wright, Wayne Simien, Michael Beasley (excluding five captivating minutes from the great Jerome Beasley; who?). The very next players taken in those drafts were Jameer Nelson, David Lee and O.J. Mayo.

The stakes are higher in this draft, particularly as it relates to the first round selection. First round draft picks are paid based upon a predetermined salary scale. The contracts run four years in length, with the first two years guaranteed and the following two at the option of the team.

Unsigned first round picks are included in team salary immediately upon their selection in the draft. For the 18th pick in the upcoming draft, the amount will be $1,237,500. Therefore, as soon as the Heat makes its selection, its cap space will be reduced by $1,237,500. That’s a big gamble, considering it eliminates the possibility of a Wade-James-Bosh trio.

Some of us may be under the misconception that once a first round draft pick is drafted, there is nothing a team can do (short of a trade) to shed his salary. That’s actually untrue. Unsigned first round draft picks can be renounced at any time, just like any other unsigned free agent, in order to recover the cap space.

The ramifications for the player, however, can be devastating. A first round draft pick has something sacred – a two-year, multi-million dollar guaranteed salary. If such a player were renounced, he would lose that security, as the salary scale would no longer apply to him. In these instances, the player typically ends up signing a contract similar to that of a second round draft pick – a one-year minimum contract with a second year at the team’s option. Consequently, it is rarely done. Since the institution of the salary scale for first round draft picks, I can only recall it happening once. In 1996, rather than give their first round pick Travis Knight (29th overall) a multi-year guaranteed deal, the Chicago Bulls renounced him, making him a free agent.

Would you be willing to do that to somebody, even if it meant securing the services of LeBron James? How would it be viewed by future draft classes? By other teams around the league?

The Heat has several options for its first round pick:

1. Keep it. This is the certainly the easiest outcome. Kentucky Wildcat point guard Eric Bledsoe has been rumored to be of interest. If the Heat believes it can find its point guard of the future, it certainly warrants consideration. The draft could come down to whether or not he’s available at No. 18.

2. Trade down. Second round picks are extremely low risk. The players are the property of the team that selects them for an entire year, whether they sign a contract or not. That means the Heat can select a player, get him on the summer league team, evaluate him through training camp, and make a decision. If they find a diamond in the rough, great. If not, nothing lost. But with the Heat already having three such picks, this alternative would seem to make little sense.

3. Sell it. First round picks have a market value of $3MM. For a team that has little use for the pick it possesses, it’s a nice way to fill up the coffers. Of course, Micky doesn’t need the cash. This would be a disappointing outcome, at least from a fan perspective.

4. Use it, and then trade the draft rights. The draft rights to a first round pick can be used as fodder for trade. As a matter of procedure, any trade that would be of interest to the Heat would be reported on draft day but not completed until July 8. Such trades often get complicated because draft rights count $0 for salary matching purposes whereas, on the other hand, if the player were signed prior to a trade, his contracted salary would count for salary matching purposes but the Heat would need to wait 30 days from the signing date before executing it. In the right situation, this could be an appealing option.

5. Trade it for a future first round pick. If the Heat cannot identify its point guard of the future through the draft, or if he is no longer available at the Heat’s pick,¬†this should be the preferred alternative. The Heat needs every dollar it has available under the cap this off-season in order to build itself into a championship caliber team. Having two first round picks (potentially three, if the Raptors make the playoffs) could make for quite an interesting 2011 draft. With such a stockpile of picks, the Heat could make a compelling trade-up offer, if there happens to be a lottery player of particular intrigue.¬†Imagine a scenario with a Wade-James-Bosh trio, and multiple first round picks with which to further improve in the 2011 NBA draft.

Let’s hope that Pat Riley & crew handle this draft more intelligently than years past.

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