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Two reasons why the fifth pick is as valuable as it'll ever be

All this talk about assets (great poll question by Jake) got me thinking about the value of the fifth pick.  I'm sure that management is still undecided about actually keeping the player they pick, and I'm sure that'll remain an uncertainty all the way up to June 25 at 8 p.m. or so.  That said, if the Wizards intend to use the pick as an "asset," to use Ernie Grunfeld-speak, then the time to do it is now, not after they draft somebody.

Why?  Two reasons:

1.  Whoever is trading for the fifth pick can choose which of the remaining prospects they like best, rather than just settling for whoever the Wizards pick.  In a draft like this one, where there isn't much separating the fifth pick from the 12th pick, teams have wildly different draft boards.  They may not like who the Wizards like and will instead want the chance to pick their guy and develop him in their organization from the start.  If the Wizards use their pick and then offer their rookie later in the season, the asset becomes the specific player, not the choice of several players.  

2.  Draft picks have zero cash value in trades, which means one doesn't need to match salary with them.  Here's how Larry Coon, noted salary cap guru, explains it.

Draft picks (both first and second round) count $0 for salary matching purposes. This is true both before and after the draft, until the player signs a contract.

Coon suggests that this actually makes it more difficult to construct a trade around a draft pick, because it becomes difficult to construct equal value when the fifth pick is worth the same as the 30th pick.  But if one looks simply in terms of the value of the asset, it's a major plus for the team trading for the fifth pick because they won't have to throw a matching salary back Washington's way. 

Think of it this way: Say the Hawks, as part of a larger package to move Josh Smith, decide they'd be willing to swap the 19th pick for the fifth one.  According to the latest projections, the fifth pick is slated to make about 2.7 million, while the 19th pick is slated to make just 1.1 million.  If the trade included a swap of the players after their contracts were signed (say, Jordan Hill for Tyler Hansbrough), then the salaries wouldn't match up and Atlanta would have to throw in 1.6 million dollars of a contract (Acie Law, perhaps?) in addition to taking back matching salary for Smith (and his $6 million trade kicker).  That makes the trade way more complicated and forces Atlanta to trade more value. 

However, if the trade happened on draft day, the picks aren't worth anything in a trade, so a simple five-for-19 swap can happen without considering salary.  There's no need for Atlanta to add any more pieces than they already would have.  The trade therefore actually becomes less complicated because fewer players have to be included to make the salaries work.

Those are two reasons why the pick has more value now than it'll ever have.  Of course, it's always possible that the player the Wizards picks blows up and convinces GMs around the league that they were wrong about him on draft day.  But if that's the case, then the Wizards will probably want to keep the guy anyway. 

Bottom line: if the Wizards use the pick, they should do so with the intention of keeping the player.  If they don't want to actually use the player they pick, they need to trade the pick when it has the most value: on draft night.