The Washington Times - February 24, 2011, 06:01PM

The machinations of the NBA salary cap are something to behold. Consider: The Wizards have accumulated three first-round draft picks in recent months for, basically, helping the Bulls unload Kirk Hinrich’s $9 million contract. How’s that making something out of nothing?

It all started last summer, when Chicago was trying to clear cap room for Carlos Boozer. The Wizards were happy to oblige, and received forward/center Kevin Seraphin, the 17th pick in the 2010 draft, as their fee for taking on Hinrich. (They also threw the draft rights to 6-foot-10 Vladimir Veremeenko, a second-rounder in ’06, into the deal.)

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Then Wednesday, 55 games into the season, the Wizards sent their big-ticket guard to the Hawks for guard Mike Bibby, swingman Mo Evans, guard Jordan Crawford – the 27th pick in the 2010 draft – and a No. 1 next year. (They also included backup big man Hilton Armstrong in the package.)

To summarize:

The Wizards gave up $9 million in cap space, Veremeenko (who’s still playing in Russia) and Armstrong, a career journeyman.

In return, they got five months of Hinrich (11.1 points a game), two 2010 No. 1s (Seraphin and Crawford), one 2011 No. 1 (to be determined) and a pair of veterans whose contracts, conveniently, expire soon (Evans’ this year, Bibby’s next).

Pretty creative, you have to admit.

It doesn’t matter whether this wheeling and dealing helps the Wizards right now. Their season is already lost – long gone. It’s all about the future with them. And if one or more of these first-rounders can develop into a productive player, all the roster shuffling will have been worth it.

GM Ernie Grunfeld might have made the moves, but the hand of owner Ted Leonsis can definitely be seen in this. When Leonsis was doing his teardown of the Capitals a few years ago, trading off the likes of Peter Bondra, Sergei Gonchar, Brendan Witt and Robert Lang, his mantra was: a pick and a player. That was always the Caps’ asking price for any of their veteran assets.

And somebody was usually willing to pay it – which enabled the club to acquire such players as Brooks Laich, Tomas Fleischmann and Shaone Morrisonn and such picks as Mike Green, Semyon Varlamov and Jeff Schultz. The idea behind this strategy (or one of them, at least) is that the draft is an inexact science, and if you have some extra picks you can give yourself a little more margin for error. You won’t necessarily need to bat 1.000 in the early rounds; you can bat .500.

But the NHL draft is a lot deeper than the NBA’s. In hockey, you can find a guy like Brad Richards in the third round, Henrik Zetterberg in the seventh or Martin St. Louis in the Passed Over pile. In basketball, by the time the first round is half done, teams are often throwing darts at a board. So unless the Wizards come away with a high pick in one of these trades – and they haven’t so far – their odds of adding a Major Piece are slimmer. (FYI: The No. 1 from the Hawks figures to be somewhere in the low 20s.)

Still, it boggles the mind. Three first-round picks for some cap space? Only in the NBA.