Value of picks painful lesson for Mavs

DALLAS -- Draft picks have never been more precious commodities in the trade market.

That’s one conclusion reached by owner Mark Cuban as the Mavericks do their annual due diligence of exploring any possible opportunities to upgrade their roster. It confirms what the Mavs have learned over the last couple of years.

“Teams really value picks more than they used to,” said Cuban, who has used picks as sweeteners in trades in the past, such as the Jason Kidd deal. “Teams now value receiving picks a lot more than they used to, so I think teams would rather not do a deal than do a deal without picks.

“Teams have kind of defined their strategy post-CBA where you either went all in and the team you’ve got is the team you’ve got [or] you went all under and you’re going young and you’re mining for draft picks. What I call the three years away from three years away strategy. Then there’s teams like us that are looking to make deals, that are flexible but aren’t willing to give up picks.”

Never mind willing. The Mavs aren’t able to give up any first-round picks before 2020 because of the top-20-protected pick they owe from the dreadful Lamar Odom deal that is now owed to Oklahoma City.

That makes it awfully tough for the Mavs to get any significant conversations started. Cuban says there are ways around it, methods the Mavs could use to be able to peddle picks, but he declined to elaborate. Suffice to say, it wouldn’t be simple or easy.

A related problem: The Phoenix Suns, one of the Mavs’ primary competitors for one of the West’s last few playoff spots, are sitting on one of the league’s largest stockpile of picks and are aggressively working the phones leading up to Thursday afternoon’s trade deadline.

A worst-case scenario for the Mavs: The Suns use picks and Emeka Okafor’s insurance-protected expiring contract to get Luol Deng from Cleveland. Such a deal would improve the Suns’ playoff prospects this season and potentially take one of the Mavs’ primary targets off the table this summer, as Phoenix would have Deng’s Bird rights.

The Suns have managed to create ample cap space, load up on picks and be smack dab in the middle of the West playoff mix. They aren’t three years away from being three years away. They’re playing to win now and building for the future.

The Suns are a surprise team this season, sitting in sixth place in the West at the moment. They’re at least a year ahead of schedule.

But no team is positioned to be as aggressive as Phoenix in the trade market over the next 24 hours and this summer. The Suns could have as many as six first-round picks in the next two drafts: their own in 2014 and 2015 and picks with varying levels of protection from the Minnesota Timberwolves (which could end up being a 2016 second-rounder), Indiana Pacers, Washington Wizards and Los Angeles Lakers.

The Suns are in a somewhat similar situation as the Rockets before last season, when Houston general manager Daryl Morey pulled off a franchise-changing blockbuster deal, using two future first-round picks as part of the package to land James Harden.

One of those future first-rounders is the Mavs’ pick, which is top-20 protected until 2017, and has gone from the Lakers to the Rockets to the Thunder. That helped the Rockets make sure that Harden, who the Mavs would have loved to offer a max contract, never hit the open market.

That was a painful lesson for the Mavs in the value of future first-rounders. The Suns have a chance to hammer home that point.

Meanwhile, the Mavs can’t do much but window shop without any picks in their pocket.