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.

Sacramento Kings turning former arena into coronavirus surge hospital

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If you’re old enough, you might remember Arco Arena as the home of the Sacramento Kings when they were a playoff team. Chris Webber, Mike Bibby, Peja Stojaković, and company pushed the Shaq/Kobe Lakers to seven games in 2002 and won huge playoff games in the arena. Arco was where Jason Williams was dropping dimes without looking, and arena which later became known as the Sleep Train Arena, Power Balance Pavilion, and eventually the current Natomas Arena.

Now, it’s about to be a coronavirus surge hospital.

The Kings are making the arena available and it will house about 360 beds, the team announced on Friday. The team also is donating $250,000 to support area community organizations providing services to families in need in the area, plus donating 100,000 medical masks to state and local health agencies.

“On behalf of the entire Kings family, our hearts are with all who have been affected by this pandemic,” said Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé in a statement. “California always leads the nation and the world, and we applaud Governor [Gavin] Newsom’s strong and decisive leadership to keep Californians healthy and safe during this crisis…

“Our community has always come first, and that is more important now than ever,” Ranadivé continued. “The Kings are proud to help by providing additional space to accommodate a predicted surge in patients. We are also donating masks to help keep people healthy, and critical resources to area organizations that are addressing food insecurity and other issues as a result of the coronavirus. I have always been in awe of the resilience and ingenuity of the American people and firmly believe that together, we will defeat this invisible enemy.”

The Kings moved to the Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento in 2015 and since then their former home and practice arena has mostly sat vacant. The Kings’ G-League team practices there at times, but like the rest of basketball they find their season suspended.

Hopefully, this arena helps save some lives in the California capital. That would be the most important thing ever to happen in the building.

WNBA postpones season

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Mavericks owner Mark Cuban backed off his belief that the NBA could resume in May.

It’s just already clear, amid the coronavirus pandemic, it’ll be unsafe to hold professional basketball games that soon.

WNBA release:

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert released the following statement:

“As developments continue to emerge around the COVID-19 pandemic, including the extension of the social distancing guidelines in the United States through April 30, the WNBA will postpone the start of its training camps and tip of the regular season originally scheduled for May 15.  While the league continues to use this time to conduct scenario-planning regarding new start dates and innovative formats, our guiding principle will continue to be the health and safety of the players, fans and employees.

Many top female players – including Los Angeles Sparks guard Sydney Wiese, who tested positive for coronavirus – play overseas during the WNBA offseason. That frequency of travel makes it even riskier for WNBA teams to gather any time soon.

The WNBA will still hold its draft April 17, conducting proceedings virtually. That could provide lessons to the NBA as it determines how to handle its draft.

Joel Embiid, 76ers owners pledging $1.3M for fighting coronavirus

76ers owner Josh Harris and Joel Embiid
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Joel Embiid just showed up 76ers owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer by pledging to pay team employees who were set to have their pay cut. Amid widespread backlash, the 76ers backtracked on their salary-reduction plan.

Now – with a portion of Embiid’s coronavirus-related donation unallocated and Harris and Blitzer looking to change the narrative around them – those three are working together.

Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

Joel Embiid, Sixers managing partner Josh Harris and co-managing partner David Blitzer are contributing a combined $1.3 million to Penn Medicine, establishing a funding campaign for COVID-19 antibody testing of frontline healthcare workers.

According to a Penn Medicine press release, “The pledge from Embiid, Harris and Blitzer will provide a much-needed boost for efforts to quickly identify health care workers who may have immunity to the new virus.”

This is great.

Some Utah Jazz employees laid off as part of cutback across owner’s businesses

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The Philadephia 76ers came in early, trying to force 20 percent cutbacks in salaries across the franchise’s staff. That lasted less than 24 hours before the backlash hit, the net worth of the team’s primary owner, Joshua Harris, was trending on Twitter, and the decision was reversed.

That stopped other owners from making a similar move or laying employees off for a while, but not long after the top 100 earners at the NBA League office — including Commissioner Adam Silver — were given a 20 percent pay reduction. The worsening economic crisis caused by the coronavirus shutdown of the United States is pushing NBA owners to act.

On Friday, the Utah Jazz — owned by the Larry H. Miller Group, which in total has more 80 different companies under its umbrella — sent this message to Adrian Wojnarowski ESPN:

“Due to the impact on our customer-facing businesses from this unprecedented pandemic, the (Miller Group) …. unfortunately had to make difficult decisions to reduce a small percentage of our workforce. Over the past several weeks, we have worked to manage and reduce costs, including executive compensation, and have reached a point where we have had to say farewell to a limited number of our valued employees.

“We have connected with our associates with outplacement services and aligned them with employers who have immediate hiring needs. We remain focused on helping our communities stay healthy.”

Reports out of Utah say these are layoffs that hit a lot of people and could be permanent.

It’s not fair, but little is fair right now. As noted, this is not just a layoff of some Jazz employees but also people at other businesses across the Larry H. Miller company.

Expect other NBA owners to follow suit soon, too. Not all, but some. Like owners of businesses of all sizes, they have been both hit hard in the short term and see a looming recession beyond the coronavirus. They will be looking to save money.