Utah Gets Ninth Pick: Are Isiah Thomas and Donnie Walsh Redeemed?

Walsh and Isiah

Can We Get A Caption For This Pic?

The New York Knicks’ first round 2010 draft pick, which was in the hands of the Utah Jazz courtesy of Isiah Thomas, turned into a pumpkin on lottery night instead of a “golden egg” as the Jazz were awarded, as expected, the ninth spot in the NBA draft. As a result the reality if not the image of Isiah Thomas as ultimate managerial devil takes another hit. Likewise, the consequences of Walsh’s “cap space or hell  strategy” appear less severe since the failure to build a team in two years did not result in the 2010 pick becoming John Wall or another top three prospect.

After all the talk about how Isiah Thomas gave away an unprotected lottery pick and how Donnie Walsh spent two years enhancing the value of  that lottery pick for Utah, the balls did not bounce in favor of Utah.  So we ask, does including the pick in the Stephon Marbury trade now redeem Isiah since it did not become a number 1 – 3 pick?  Does not losing John Wall to Utah make it easier to accept the mess of the past season which improved the Jazz’s chances of getting a higher lottery draft position?

Perhaps now the critics, so driven to depict Isiah as the EVIL defined, will intelligently instead of emotionally evaluate the trade which brought Stephon Marbury to New York.  While it has been customary to evaluate the use of  the draft picks in that trade as though they were always unprotected, the reality is that the pick was not unprotected until six years after the trade at which point one would have hoped that the team would have improved to the extent that the draft pick was not as valuable as it could have been,  An unprotected pick in 2010 would only realize its greatest value if the 2009-2010 Knicks were horrible.  Unfortunately, for the Utah Jazz, this season’s Knicks were bad, but not bad enough for the pick to be a total windfall.

For a clear understanding of how the Jazz got the ninth pick in 2010 one must look at the trade in 2004. As announced the trade was as follows:

New York Knickerbockers President of Basketball Operations Isiah Thomas announced today that two-time NBA All-Star guard Stephon Marbury, four-time NBA All-Star guard/forward Anfernee Hardaway and center Cezary Trybanski have been acquired from the Phoenix Suns in exchange for guards Howard Eisley and Charlie Ward, forwards Antonio McDyess and Maciej Lampe, the draft rights to Milos Vujanic, a first-round draft choice in 2004 and a future first-round draft choice.

The next month, the Suns used the Knicks’ pick in a trade with Utah:

Utah Jazz Vice President of Basketball Operations, Kevin O’Connor, announced today that the team has acquired forward Tom Gugliotta, two conditional first-round draft picks, a 2005 second-round draft pick and an undisclosed sum of cash in exchange for forward Keon Clark and forward Ben Handlogten.

Utah will receive the least favorable of Phoenix’s two first-round picks in the 2004 NBA Draft, either Phoenix’s or New York’s selection, which was acquired from the Knicks in a trade on January 5. The second conditional first-round pick was also acquired from New York and is protected through 2010.

The future first round pick could have gone to the Jazz in  2007 (top 24 protected) , 2008 (top 23 protected) and 2009 (top 22) but it was protected for more than enough time for the Knicks to improve from a lottery team.  At some point the pick had to become unprotected in order to have value in the trade.

In retrospect, it is arguable that giving up anything for Stephon Marbury was a waste, but at the time the Marbury acquisition was highly praised especially because it returned the native son to New York.  It was a move that captured the hopes of New Yorkers, especially those still holding on to the romantic notion that the top point guards are grown in the five boroughs. The truth hurts the haters, but hate usually hurts anyway:  Isiah properly packaged the draft pick and Walsh did not make it a worse situation than it could have been.