There have always been stories of high draft picks that didn't pan out; Adam Morrison is hardly the first lottery bust.
But you do know what may be changing just a little? Teams aren't hanging on to them forever anymore, and that's smart.
In David Berri and Martin Schmidt's book "Stumbling on Wins" they share data showing that draft position has a huge impact on minutes. Which makes a certain sense. "We used a really high draft pick on that guy ... give him every chance to succeed," kind of deal.
Doing that for a few months, or a season ... that's probably just smart, as you want to give the player time to adjust. You saw something in him that made you pick him so high. There is some adjustment period to the NBA.
But teams often do it past the point of diminishing returns. Why?
Well, one reason would be because cutting a lottery pick seals the analysis of that pick as bad. Which hurts a GM's reputation as a talent evaluator. Which hurts a GM's ability to get his next scarce and lucrative GM job. So there's always going to be a lot of pressure to have those high-profile picks work out.
But after a certain point, it's the dumbest thing in the world. And if I were an owner, I'd look for a GM who was working in the best interests of my team by moving on quickly when things don't work out.
Among a team's most precious resources are high draft picks. Perhaps an even more precious resource is playing time.
So, you blew a huge draft pick on somebody who didn't work out. Bummer. But now, you're going to compound the error by blowing even more resources on the same dude?
This is like buying a car that won't run, and then getting it new rims, a classy paint job and trunk full of woofers.
This is also one way bad teams get locked into long-term mediocrity -- sticking too long with bad players.
Sure, sometimes it works out. Some players really do improve with time. But the numbers game is against you. Significant improvement is surprisingly rare. Young players who don't produce only rarely become fantastic veterans. And there are more than a few Wesley Matthews and Gary Neals out there who'd like to demonstrate they can make better use of that NBA roster spot.
I have no data to prove this, but it seems to be that teams are moving faster in calling quits on failed experiments. If that's a legacy of the stat geek movement, which makes it harder than ever to turn a blind eye to the NBA's least productive, that'll be no small thing.