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NBA’s Next Big Three Will Be Drafted; How Teams Can Prepare Accordingly

Andre Drummond
Latest posts by Bogar Alonso (see all)
Andre Drummond

Dec 15, 2012; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (1) goes up for the alley oop during the first quarter against the Indiana Pacers against the Indiana Pacers at The Palace. Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Certain NBA purists still can’t get over how the Miami Heat joined forces. It wasn’t the work of the basketball gods who ensured that the Big Three would land in South Beach through draft picks. It wasn’t through a mutually beneficial trade that saw a few former Heat superstars get swapped for LeBron and Bosh, thus, leveling the talent league-wide more proportionally. It wasn’t even a case of spectacular astronomy: a third star gravitating to a two-star system for hopes of splendor, in this case, a championship ring.

After gutting the team, Pat Riley played to the whims of three players who had decided years before that they wanted to form a super buddy team. David Stern approved, primarily because the statute of limitations had expired in the summer of 2011 to pursue investigation of Miami’s goings-on. And a new dynasty was born.

But with the CBA kicking in, and potentially facing a $37 million tax penalty, the Miami way of doing things might be a thing of the past. Especially because fans have been clamoring for a more competitive league for decades now. Super teams, as we know, aren’t embraced by all.

In this new tax landscape, NBA teams can still pursue a three-star system for ultimate gain but it will have to be achieved the way the Spurs did it (through razor-sharp drafting, attracting foreign talent and cheap bench cogs, and building a franchise culture from the soles up). The Oklahoma City Thunder are a good example of this system (having drafted Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, and James Harden, as well as picking up good team pieces along the way) but they had a hard time retaining their fledgling talents and ultimately made the mistake of letting Harden become a Rocket. They crumbled under the pressure of one day becoming a powerhouse.

With shorter contracts becoming a new way of doing business, a team, like the Charlotte Hornets (formerly the Bobcats), can sign two of its young recruits to salaries in the $12-19 million a year range, pay their third star $10-12 million, and have cap space to fill out the roster with good role players.

Going back to Charlotte as an example, they’ll have to make a move on Kemba Walker in the 2015-16 season, when his rookie contract expires, in order to retain his rights. Depending on what kind of growth Cody Zeller and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist can muster, the Charlotte organization can then decide if those two players are worth putting in the above brackets of $12-19 or $10-12 million. (My money is on Zeller taking the bigger payday since Kidd-Gilchrist has no jump shot). Around that point, big Al Jefferson would be off their books, along with any other free agent that doesn’t cut it. If they nab another key player in following drafts, they can then prepare to replace Kidd-Gilchrist or Zeller―again, depending on growth―as one of their projected Big Three.

Detroit also has the good fortune of being someone who is building toward a similar model. With Andre Drummond, Brandon Knight, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope at the helm, their future can turn out to be OKC bright. Except that Caldwell-Pope and Knight have huge skill set overlap.

Knight has been sold as a point guard in Detroit but he’s really a shooting guard and with Chauncey Billups’ signing you can expect him to play at the 2. Pairing two shooting guards with someone like Drummond who needs the ball inside makes little sense. So, in this scenario, Knight or Caldwell-Pope might end up becoming expendable. Of course, in this new NBA central well-managed trades are not out of the question. It just might cost teams unnecessary years and wasted management resources investing in a kid who will end up somewhere else anyway. If all works out according to plan, and the league does become more balanced and competitive, losing a few years of franchise forward-movement would not be recommended. A well-groomed Big Three, nabbed through the draft stock market, might beat you to the punch (and outlast you in the end).

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