NBA Trade Deadline Again Disappoints

Posted: 02/23/2014 by levcohen in Basketball

Kevin Love, Rajon Rondo, Arron Afflalo, Pau Gasol, Omer Asik, Luol Deng, Josh Smith… Those were just some of the names that were rumored to be on the trade block leading to Thursday’s 3:00 trade deadline. Guess how many of those guys got traded? That’s right: 0. In fact, if not for the tanktastic Philadelphia 76ers, there might not have been a single trade at the deadline! Instead of the guys mentioned above, the biggest names traded were Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes, Danny Granger, Andre Miller, Marcus Thornton, and Steve Blake. So yeah, it was a disappointing deadline, just like last year’s, when J.J. Redick was the best player traded. So the lack of recent big trades begs the question: Has the trade deadline been reduced to just swaps of bench players? It definitely hasn’t lived up to the hype, mainly for this reason..

Teams Have Gotten Smarter: Gone are the days of the trade fleecing, at least the major trade fleecing. Wilt Chamberlain was traded for next to nothing. So was Kareem Abdul-Jabaar. On draft day in 1998, Dirk Nowitzki was traded for Tractor Traylor. Those days are for the most part over. Carmelo Anthony was traded a few years ago, but the Nuggets got a lot back from him. Pau Gasol was traded from Memphis to Los Angeles, but Memphis didn’t do too badly, getting back Gasol’s brother Marc. The point is that, by and large, teams have gotten smarter. They won’t trade their superstars for pennies. They have also gotten a lot stingier with first round draft picks. Larry Bird was joined by Kevin McHale and Robert Parish thanks to one great draft pick trade by Red Auerbach. That might still happen occasionally (Philadelphia got two first round picks for Jrue Holiday, but we don’t know what will come of that), but it doesn’t happen often. Instead, the draft pick obsessed GM of the Philadelphia 76ers, Sam Hinkie, was forced to trade Hawes for two second round picks, rather than a first rounder. Maybe Kevin Love would have been traded had Minnesota been able to get a bunch of future first round picks. Ditto for Rajon Rondo and the Boston Celtics. But teams outside of New York (poor New York fans) are less willing to give four or five future first round picks now.

2011 CBA: Remember the 2011 lockout? I do, and it was terrible. Greedy owners fought with defiant players over large amounts of money. At least that’s my take. Anyway, a new CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) was finally agreed upon, and it’s another reason that there are fewer trades at the deadline. The new CBA introduced a harsh luxury tax, so owners are less likely to trade for a high salary superstar and more likely to hold onto cheap draft picks. Big expiring contracts, which used to be valuable pieces of big trades, are no longer valuable. Not one big expiring was traded, with Spencer Hawes as the closest example (ugh). The Los Angeles Lakers couldn’t even get a 2nd round pick for Jordan Hill, an expiring contract and actually a pretty solid player! Yes, even second rounders are coveted now. Mitch Kupchak, the Lakers owner, showed his frustration by saying,

It used to be you could get a second-round pick pretty easy. Now they’re almost as hard to get as a first-round pick.

Owners and GMs have now decided to hold onto draft picks and avoid going over the luxury tax, with a few notable exceptions. Even the Clippers, who have a shot at the title this season, chose going under the tax instead of improving their team. The Nets didn’t pay for Jordan Hill because, on top of his $3 million contract, he would have cost them an extra $17 million in taxes (!), due to the weird luxury tax, which forces you to pay $1.50 for every $1 over the tax and has a strict “repeater’s tax” for teams who have gone over the tax for consecutive seasons. Even the Knicks, one of the dumbest teams in the league in terms of recent decision making history, refused to trade any more first round picks, and thus were not able to upgrade their underachieving team.

Free Agent Class: Even some of the teams with a lot of cap space were unwilling to take any long term contracts because of the upcoming free agent classes. In 2014, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony lead a deep crop. In 2015, Rajon Rondo, Al Jefferson, Roy Hibbert, Marc Gasol, Kevin Love, Goran Dragic, and LaMarcus Aldridge are all set to be unrestricted free agents, although some of those guys will likely sign extensions before hitting free agency. Oh, and in 2016 some guy named Kevin Durant could hit the market. So even teams with cap space want to keep their options open in free agency.

Bottom Line: The luxury tax has led to a reluctance to take on big contracts, even if they belong to star players, and teams are getting more and more stingy with their draft picks as they get smarter. Add that to strong upcoming free agent classes, and most teams want to stay put or can’t find a good trade.

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