Bucks unprecedentedly squander value of a No. 2 pick (Jabari Parker)
I rated Jabari Parker No. 1 on my 2014 NBA draft board – which obviously turned out wrong.
I was wrong about Parker’s position. I thought he’d be a small forward, but he’s clearly more of a power forward in the modern NBA.
I was wrong about his fit with the Bucks, who drafted him No. 2 (behind Andrew Wiggins, the other player in my top tier that year). Giannis Antetokounmpo has blossomed into a star worth building around, and his pairing with Parker has been unfulfilling at best.
I mainly just wrong about Parker’s ability to produce in the NBA. He has twice torn his ACL. He’s a high-usage offensive player who has improved his 3-pointer and passing (at least when healthy). His defense has been lousy, save one game in last year’s playoffs.
But that doesn’t mean pre-draft evaluations should be completely discarded.
Parker is just 23. He’s still trying to find himself in the NBA. The work ethic that helped build him into the No. 2 pick hasn’t necessarily vanished. (By some accounts, it has only hardened.) The perimeter skills that made me see a small forward could be waiting to emerge in full force once he gets healthy and improves his feel.
The last four years should count more than anything else. But completely ignoring his time at Duke and even prior would be foolish. Assessing Parker’s entire record is the optimal way to evaluate him.
And Parker’s entire record makes him a clear candidate for the “second draft,” a term popularized by John Hollinger. Second-draft players were selected high in the actual draft, didn’t pan out with their original team and maybe could use a change of scenery.
Parker will get that with the Bulls, who signed him to a two-year, $40 million contract.
And the Bucks will get nothing.
That’s unprecedented for a No. 2 pick in this draft era.
The Collective Bargaining Agreement gives teams massive control over players drafted in the first round.
A first-round pick, unless he waits three years to sign, is bound to a rookie scale with relatively low salaries. The contract is four years with two team options. The team gets exclusive negotiating rights on an extension after the third year. If no extension is struck and the player completes the four-year deal, the team can make him a restricted free agent, which often chills his market.
Essentially, the drafting team gets first crack of the player panning out on the court. If he doesn’t, the drafting team often holds enough leverage to get value from him another way.
That’s especially true with high first-round picks.
The higher-picked a player was, the more likely other teams also coveted him, the more suitors likely in a “second draft.” A team with a highly picked bust still on his rookie-scale contract can often still trade him.
The Cavaliers traded Anthony Bennett in the Kevin Love deal. Though that was probably mostly about using Bennett’s salary for matching, the Timberwolves certainly didn’t mind getting someone only one year removed from being the No. 1 pick. And, at minimum, Bennett’s salary was useful.
The Pistons traded Darko Milicic to the Magic for the first-round pick that became Rodney Stuckey. Even after two-plus seasons of Milicic struggling, Orlando still had hope the former No. 2 pick would realize his potential.
The Wizards and former No. 1 pick Kwame Brown were so fed up with each other in 2005, Washington suspended him in the playoffs and described it as mutual. But the Wizards still extended Brown’s qualifying offer that summer and used the threat of matching to land Caron Butler and Chucky Atkins in a sign-and-trade with the Lakers.
It is not hard to get something for a high draft pick before his fifth season. But Milwaukee failed in that regard.
The former No. 2 pick, Parker is the highest-drafted player to leave his original team high and dry in free agency at the conclusion of his rookie-scale contract since 1998, when the NBA instituted four-year rookie-scale contracts.
Just five other top-five picks have left their original team via free agency that quickly in that span:
Mario Hezonja (No. 5 pick in 2015)
The Magic declined Hezonja’s fourth-year option, and he signed with the Knicks in unrestricted free agency this summer.
O.J. Mayo (No. 3 pick in 2008)
After four up-and-down seasons with the Grizzlies, Mayo didn’t receive a qualifying offer. He signed with the Mavericks then spent three years with the Bucks. He’s currently banned from the NBA.
Shaun Livingston (No. 4 pick in 2004)
Livingston blew out his knee in his third season, missed his entire fourth season then didn’t even receive his qualifying offer from the Clippers. He bounced around a few years before finding a niche on the Warriors.
Marcus Fizer (No. 4 pick in 2000)
Fizer underwhelmed in four seasons with the Bulls, to the point they left him unprotected in the 2004 expansion draft. Charlotte selected him, which made him an unrestricted free agent, and he signed with Milwaukee. After a season with the Bucks then a couple 10-day contracts the following year, Fizer fell out of the league.
Lamar Odom (No. 4 pick in 1999)
Odom signed a six-year, $65 million offer sheet with the Heat in restricted free agency. The Clippers declined to match. Odom spent a season in Miami then was the centerpiece of the Heat’s trade for Shaquille O’Neal. Odom stuck in Los Angeles and helped the Lakers win a couple titles.
Unlike the Clippers with Odom, the Bucks never officially declined to match an offer sheet for Parker. Milwaukee actually rescinded Parker’s qualifying offer, allowing him to sign directly with Chicago.
That was mostly a favor to Parker, whom the Bucks seemed content to part with. Hard-capped after signing Ersan Ilyasova, Milwaukee would have had to dump salary to match and almost certainly wasn’t going to.
But rescinding the qualifying offer also allowed the Bulls to include a team option in the second year of Parker’s contract. Offer sheets must be for at least two seasons (not counting options). If forced to sign an offer sheet, Chicago and Parker could have made the second season unguaranteed, and it would have been mostly similar. But a team option – which doesn’t require Parker to clear waivers if declined – was preferable to both him and the Bulls.
That Milwaukee allowed a division rival to get Parker on more-favorable terms speaks volumes. That’s how little the Bucks value Parker at this point. They’d rather be nice to him than hinder a nearby foe’s acquisition of him.
What if the Bucks kept Parker’s qualifying offer in place? Would the Bulls have just signed him to an offer sheet with an unguaranteed second season with the expectation Milwaukee wouldn’t match? Would Chicago have engaged the Bucks on a sign-and-trade to ensure getting Parker (though players signed-and-traded must get at least a three-year contract)?
What if the Bucks hadn’t hard-capped themselves by rushing to sign Ilyasova? How much more leverage would have held?
Perhaps, most significantly, what if Milwaukee just traded Parker last season? It was easy to see this situation coming.
Parker played just a few games before the trade deadline, but he at least proved he could get back on the court. And his performance since then was totally in line with projections – and led to a contract that pays $20 million next season. No team would have sent the Bucks a small asset for Parker last February?
The optics would have been bad, Milwaukee dealing a former No. 2 pick for peanuts. But that’s better than losing him for nothing now. The Bucks don’t even gain cap space, as they’re already well over.
Maybe Milwaukee didn’t get any offers before the trade deadline that were better than keeping Parker for the rest of the season and hoping – even against the odds – everything would work out. Maybe pleasing Parker’s agent, Mark Bartelstein, carries more importance than getting value from Parker directly. Maybe the Bucks will be better off with Ilyasova.
But it’s worth recognizing this is a unique way to turn a No. 2 pick into nothing in just four years.