Andrei Fetisov is the ultimate “who the hell”. A draft choice by the Bucks back in the dark ages of 1994, Andrei never made it to the NBA. Given that he’s now 36 years old and retired, the dream is probably dead. Still, the Bucks do still own his rights, for he hasn’t been retired for long enough yet for them to lose them.
This is worth elaborating on, actually. You’re probably wondering, why are Milwaukee keeping onto his rights, when they have no intention of signing him at any point? Well, the answer is that they’re using him for his trade value. That probably seems like a stupid statement, given that the draft rights who will never join the league have about as much use as a chocolate teapot. But it’s not about the value of the rights per se: it’s more of a technical issue.
In trades, both teams have to give up something. What that something is, is up to them. A player, pick, or cash are options. But sometimes, they don’t want to (or can’t) give those things up. So they have to give up at least something, even if only as a token gesture. That’s where these draft rights become useful. They can act as the “something” given up in a trade. A team can give up the draft rights to a player as their outgoing half of a trade, and add in nothing more if they so wish (or are so able).
That may sound like it’s farfetched, and would never happen. Yet it does. It’s rare, but it does occasionally happen. For example, when Peja Stojakovic left Indiana to sign with New Orleans, Indiana asked New Orleans – with a cash incentive to convince New Orleans to help them – to make the transaction a sign-and-trade, rather than an outright signing. The act of doing this garnered Indiana a mahoosive trade exception, which allowed them to promptly acquire Al Harrington, something that they could not previously have done without the trade exception. However, the trade had Indiana giving New Orleans some cash and Stojakovic, but New Orleans not giving out any players or draft picks back to Indiana. (And why would they add any? They’re the ones doing Indiana the favour.) This meant that they had to give up something else in the trade, and the thing that they wound up forfeiting were the draft rights to Andy Betts, a beautiful and fantastic Englishman drafted in 1998 who won’t play in the NBA. It’s not much, but it’s ‘something’. And that’s all that they needed it to be.
Another recent example, from this past trade deadline, saw the Memphis Grizzlies as the third team in a two-team trade between Houston and New Orleans (again). The Rockets traded Mike James and Bonzi Wells to the Hornets for Bobby Jackson, in a move to get Houston under the luxury tax threshold. New Orleans welcomed the new players (well, Bonzi, at least), but they needed to give more outgoing salary to make the trade work for them. So they needed to include the minimum salaries of Adam Haluska and Marcus Vinicius. Houston could afford to take back Haluska, but not Vinicius as well, for that would put them back into the tax territory and make the whole move rather pointless for them. In stepped Memphis, who took on the salary cap number of Vinicius to make the trade possible, and who then promptly waived him. However, to take on Vinicius, the rules, as always, said that Memphis had to give up at least something to make the deal work. The ‘something’ that they chose were the draft rights to Sergei Lishouk, drafted in 2004 and who will never join the NBA. Had they not held Lishouk’s rights for all of these years, they wouldn’t have been able to deal them, and thus they wouldn’t be a part of the trade.
(Why Memphis wanted to be in this trade in the first place is a bit baffling, given that they didn’t get any cash, players, or a pick for their troubles, and just seem to have taken on someone else’s committed salary without getting any incentive to do so. Strange times. But hey, Memphis has made strange moves this season. See also: the Pau Gasol trade, and the bizarre decision to sign Casey Jacobsen and Andre Brown to minimum salary deals before signing Juan Carlos Navarro, which left them with only enough cap room to sign Navarro to a near-one year deal, which left J.C. signing for only one year, which means they now run the risk of losing him or having to overpay to keep him.)
(Also, note that Memphis actually got back some draft rights, too – since Lishouk was their only player whose unsigned draft rights they held, they asked Houston for one back, and got those of Malick Badiane. Badiane won’t ever join the NBA, but the 0.05% possibility of him joining is ever so slightly more attractive to Memphis than the 0% certainty that Venson Hamilton will ever join the NBA, and so that’s why they asked for Badiane’s instead.)
Very rarely, retaining these rights is worth something. For example, this past summer, Washington bagged a first-round pick from Memphis for the rights to the aforementioned Navarro, and San Antonio used the value of Luis Scola’s rights to be able to weasel their way under the luxury tax. Sacramento tried to get a first-round pick for Dejan Bodiroga back in the early part of this decade, and the Bulls could turn Mario Austin’s rights into maybe something of value if they wanted to do so. For the most part, though, these players attached to these draft rights are redundancies from an NBA perspective, and thus the value of the rights in trades is used only as a technicality.
To retain these draft rights, all the team has to do is extend them a contract offer by a certain date every season. With the exception of unsigned first-round draft choices, of which there are only six, (Joel Freeland, Petteri Koponen, Rudy Fernandez, Frederic Weis, Tiago Splitter and Fran Vazquez), these offers can be – and in practice, always are – fully unguaranteed one-year minimum salary contracts. (In the case of the first rounders, the minimum is 80% of the rookie scale contract for their draft slot that season, with the usual guarantees of any rookie scale contract.) The players can in theory sign these contracts if they want, but in practice they don’t. There’s no point. In the case of the truly fringe players, the NBA franchise will just waive the player before their plane even arrives. As such, these player’s rights continue to be held by the NBA teams for as long as the player keeps playing in professional leagues other than the NBA. (The teams lose the rights to the players exactly one year to the day after the expiration of the player’s most recent professional contract. So if they keep playing, and the team keeps extending the offers, then the player’s rights continue to be held.)
It has happened before where such offers are accepted when they aren’t supposed to be. It rarely ends well. After the 2006 draft, the Lakers heavily advised their second-round draft pick J.R. Pinnock to go to Europe, for there was no way he was going to make the roster that year. They extended the minimum offer of the one-year unguaranteed minimum salary contract, but told J.R. not to bother signing it, for it was futile. Pinnock nevertheless signed the contract, went to camp to battle for his place, lost, got waived, and now his rights – and his ticket back to the NBA one day – are gone forever. The same situation happened this summer with Demetris Nichols, who went to the Knicks despite them asking him not to, just to get waived. (His story has a happier ending – he was subsequently claimed off waivers, twice, once by Cleveland and once by Chicago, and ended up seeing out the season.) However, sometimes, it’s been productive – Chris Duhon signed with the Bulls against their wishes, went to training camp, won his roster spot fair and square, beating out the two rival point guards with guaranteed contracts in Jermaine Jackson and Mike Wilks, and Duhon wound up starting most of the year for them and earning himself a $9 million contract. Carl Landry of Houston is also staring down a very nice payday after taking the same risk and succeeding. But generally, it’s not common practice to accept these offers.
– Norm “N” Richardson is fantastic, and I tracked his career like an avid fan should. After falling out of the NBA, N went to the D-League with the now-defunct North Charleston Lowgators, where he played out of position for the greater good of the team (professional!) and made Karim Shabazz look better than he was. N then went to France, where he won some kind of cup, and then announced his retirement “to pursue business interests” during the celebrations. It may have gone south, though, because four months later, N unretired and signed in Venezuela. Since then, he’s been around the block, got a training camp invite one time with the Toronto Raptors, and continues to try and prove the world how brilliant he really is. This season, Norm was playing for Polonia in Poland alongside Paul Miller, where he averaged 15.5 points, 5 rebounds and 3.5 assists, demonstrating the all-around game that made him world famous.
– Carlos Powell was signed by the Warriors for training camp this season, but was an early cut. They may have made a mistake there, though. The Warriors ended up preferring players as Austin Croshere, Troy Hudson and Chris Webber over Powell, all of whom did little for the team. Meanwhile, Powell went to the D-League, played for the Dakota Wizards, and absolutely beasted, averaging 22.5 points, 6.4 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game on 49% shooting, including 40% from three-point range. That’s some pretty epic numbers right there. The four turnovers a game that go with all that are a lot, but if he was perfect he wouldn’t be in the D-League. I’d kind of expect a training camp invite after a season like that, and a greatly-improved chance of sticking around this time.
– Keith Langford finally got a look-see in the NBA this season, joining up with the Spurs for a few days. This was back when the Spurs were going through a phase of signing lots of people for very short periods of time as emergency injury cover. It wasn’t something that was particularly profitable – the Spurs had it all calculated so that they could afford to do this while staying under the tax threshold for the season. However, after Tony Parker got injured, the Spurs then had to sign Damon Stoudamire as cover a bit earlier than they wanted to, which put them back into the tax territory by a mere few thousand dollars. This meant that they had to make another move to get back under it, which they did with the Kurt Thomas trade.
In a roundabout way, I’m saying that Keith Langford cost the Spurs a first-round pick. Just saying.
Anyway, still laden with the guilt of sabotaging such a well-oiled machine (maybe), Langford is playing for Angelico Biella in Italy, averaging 15 points and 6 rebounds. He is playing alongside B.J. Elder, who is a guard that you may have heard of, and which is also a mighty welcome alternative Christmas present for your grandparents than the usual shortbread that you give them.
– Olumide Oyedeji averaged 18.0 points and 15.2 rebounds for the Liaoning Panpan Hunters in China, the country’s second-best team. For the sake of reference, let it be known that Soumalia Samake averaged 18.2 and 15.2 rebounds.
Also, here’s some bonus Olumide Oyedeji information – one of the obscure satellite TV channels over here is called “BEN”. I think it is supposed to be a rip-off of the more famous “BET”. Either way, all this channel seems to air is home video footage of people arguing loudly while a TV blares in the background. (BEN seems like the kind of broadcasting ably suited for the role of “TV background noise”, so maybe that’s why.) At least once a month, they have a show called, simply, “Basketball”, which does what it promises. A few years ago, this segment used to feature ABA games, which helped hone my knowledge of such basketball pioneers as Ace Custis, Willie (not Wilson) Chandler, and Darryl Dawkins’s wardrobe. In recent times, though, they have taken to showing the same game over and over again – Nigeria versus Egypt, from 2004. This game is amusing to watch, which is probably why they air it so much. All of the action is brought to us from the same one camera angle, in a completely empty gym, filled with a strange haze. It’s kind of like watching summer league. The Nigerians play the game like it’s netball for the entire game, while the Egyptians repeatedly use about five seconds of each shot clock before getting a brick in the air. The calibre of the basketball on offer is enough to make Hemingway weep. And in this game are Olumide Oyedeji, and Gabe Muoneke.