The Extra Pass: What’s behind the slow trade deadline

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That makes two years in a row.

There was more activity at the 2014 NBA trade deadline than in 2013 (25 players got moved this year), but once again the deadline was about shifting around bench players and cap space, there were no difference makers moved. Of the 25 players who changed teams at this year’s deadline only one (Spencer Hawes) has a PER above the league average of 15.

All your role player belong to us.

What gives? Why the slower deadlines?

Blame the quality of the upcoming draft, blame the new CBA, and blame he new breed of GMs.

What drives big trades are really two things: Moving first round draft picks and moving large expiring contracts. Sometimes moving large expiring contracts for first round draft picks. If you’re trading big contracts then you are also trading players who make enough to match those large deals and that usually means a name/quality player.

Zero first round picks in the 2014 NBA draft were moved this year. Why? Because this is going to be a really good, deep draft and nobody wants to give up those picks. No first round draft picks from the next few years were moved either, both because there are some good drafts on the horizon and because in the new CBA rookie contracts are an important way to get quality production at a reasonable price so you don’t venture into the more punitive luxury tax. Teams are staying out of the tax now. Notice even big market teams like the Lakers — a team that prints its own money with that cable television contract — made moves to lessen their tax bills.

However, the Lakers couldn’t find a taker for Pau Gasol and his $19.3 million contract. Only two players making more than $8 million were moved — Marcus Thornton and Danny Granger — and only Thornton has money on his deal past this season (he is owed $8.6 million next year, but Mikhail Prokhorov laughs at your puny American luxury tax).

The reality of the harsher tax and fear of the repeater tax kicking in — the penalties for being over the luxury tax line ($72 million this season) jump dramatically if you are over three out of four years — has teams working to get under that line. They are not going to take on your big expiring contract, and teams weren’t willing to try and sweeten deals to incentivize this. The Lakers weren’t giving away a first-round pick with Pau Gasol to ease the pain of taking on his contract — on the contrary, they expected you to give them picks as compensation.

Which brings us to the real issue here — general managers are getting smarter.

Say what you will about the analytics/big data movement in the NBA and how that applies on the court, the fact is today’s GMs get numbers and they understand trying to find hidden value. They are not going to absorb bad contracts and make their owners pay a more onerous luxury tax unless you give them something of real value. And those genuinely valuable pieces — high first round picks and elite players — just were not on the market. Or not on the market at a price other teams considered reasonable (for example Rajon Rondo was shopped, but reports are Danny Ainge wanted key players and a couple first round picks in return, and other teams balked).

We are still seeing big trades; they just tend to happen in the summer. July is the NBA’s big trading month now, not February. And even in season trades are not waiting until the deadline — Rudy Gay and Luol Deng got traded this season, just much earlier than the February deadline.

Those underlying factors that made this another relatively dull trade deadline are not going away. What you saw this year is more than likely the new February norm.

You’re going to have to get your big trade fix on draft night and into July. Sorry. But the deadline is for role players now.

Jimmy Butler hits contested deep buzzer-beating 3-pointer (video)

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Shooting buzzer-beaters is especially difficult because the defender knows your deadline to release the shot. The threat of a pump fake, drive to another location or pass disappears as the seconds tick down.

On the other hand, Jimmy Butler is very good.

Wizards’ interior defense, transition buckets earns them 103-98 win, 3-2 series lead over Hawks

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It’s one of the core tenets of the NBA analytics movement that aligns well with old-school thinking — get your buckets from the places it’s easiest to score. The ones where teams shoot the highest percentage, where they are most efficient. Basically, shoot close to the basket or corner threes.

Feeling comfortable back home, Washington took those shots away from Atlanta Wednesday night — the Hawks shot 43.6 percent inside eight feet of the rim, were just 18-of-41 in the paint (43.9 percent) and were 0-of-6 on corner threes.

Combine that with 27 points from Bradley Beal, 20 points and 14 assists for John Wall, and some transition baskets (20 fast break points) and you get a 103-98 win for the Wizards. Washington now has a 3-2 series lead with Game 6 in Atlanta Friday night (if necessary, Game 7 would be Sunday).

Washington always seemed to be the better team in this one, but they could never get a comfortable lead — when Washington would get up double digits, the Hawks would close the gap again and hang around.

A lot of credit for that goes to point guard Dennis Schroder, who had 29 points on 10-of-18 shooting, and was 5-of-6 from three, to lead the Hawks. As it has been all series, the Wizards game plan with Schroder was to go under every pick and dare him to beat them with his jumper — and he almost did. Schroder also had 11 assists on the game.

While he played well and Paul Millsap was his usual impressive self inside (21 points, although on 8-of-19 shooting), the Hawks wings were a mess. Kent Bazemore, Taurean Prince, and Tim Hardaway Jr. combined to shoot 13-of-41 (31.7 percent) and they were 3-of-18 from three (Hardaway had all the makes).

Meanwhile, Beal had one of his best games of the playoffs, and he deserves some credit for the struggles of the Hawks’ wings.

“I think (Beal) is one of the best two-way players in the league,” Brooks said. “He’s not going to tell anyone he’s a great defender, but his coaching staff, his teammates know he locks up defensively.”

Washington also got some help from Otto Porter (17 points) and Bojan Bogdanovic off the bench with 14 points. Both of them made some clutch shots.

Scott Brooks threw some new wrinkles at the Hawks that worked for stretches — using Wall to double Millsap at times, or going for a stretch with Markieff Morris at the five. Morris still had foul trouble despite the help, the veteran Millsap knows how to get calls. Still, the tweaks worked well enough to get Washington some buckets, and the win.

The question becomes will the Wizards be able to do that on the road — the home team has won every game this series. If the Hawks’ wings feel more comfortable and hit some shots, if Atlanta can get some more easy points inside Friday night, we will be watching Game 7 of this series on Sunday.

No. 1 pick in WNBA draft LAUNCHES shirt deep into stands at Spurs-Grizzlies game (video)

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If the Cleveland Browns are still considering a quarterback with the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft tomorrow, maybe they ought to take Kelsey Plum.

Plum, the No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA draft, will play for the San Antonio Stars. First, she went to San Antonio for last night’s Spurs-Grizzlies Game 5 and showed off her arm by launching a shirt far into the crowd.

And she’s witty:

Owner: Hawks will ‘make every effort imaginable’ to re-sign Paul Millsap

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Hawks general manager Wes Wilcox called re-signing Paul Millsap this summer the team’s “priority.”

Hawks owner Tony Ressler went a step further.

Ressler, via Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

“We love Paul Millsap,” Ressler told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week. “We are trying to re-sign him. We want him to stay here. We think he is a really special player and a special person that we want on our team and in our locker room and we are going to make every effort imaginable to keep him.”

There’s certainly one effort I can imagine: Offer Millsap a max contract, which projects to be worth $205 million over five years.

That’s not necessarily a wise investment. As excellent and underrated as Millsap is now, he’s 32. He’ll be hard-pressed to maintain anywhere near this level of production over the next five years. And what’s the upside for Atlanta enduring such risk, especially late in his contract? A chance at a playoff-series victory each of the next couple years? The trade-off would make more sense for a team that can accomplish something more meaningful now.

The Hawks seem conflicted about their direction. In the last year, they’ve traded Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver but also signed Dwight Howard. Atlanta’s starting lineup is split by a glaring age divider – Millsap (32) and Howard (31) on one side, Tim Hardaway Jr. (25), Dennis Schroder (23) and Taurean Prince (23) on the other.

Do the Hawks want to rebuild or win now? It almost depends when you ask, and by the offseason, there might be a different answer. But the owner so strongly endorsing re-signing Millsap speaks volumes. Everyone in the organization, including president/coach Mike Budenholzer, answers to Ressler.

Of course, Millsap will hold the cards as an unrestricted free agent. He might prefer to leave Atlanta for a team closer to title contention or any other reason.

But the Hawks can make offer that would be darned hard to refuse.