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.