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Tag Archives: trades

NBA Trade Season Primer

We are in the doldrums of the season when some teams have found their rhythm, some have collapsed, players are tired and contenders lose random games to cellar-dwellers. However, as we aren’t yet to the NBA trade deadline… that means it’s NBA trade season!

In this time, speculations are thrown around. Players’ agents and teams alike, leak rumors to boost trade value, while teams are just trying to grind out wins on brutal road back-to-backs, dealing with illnesses, injuries, fatigue, travel and winter weather.

There are some things to keep in mind in this whirlwind of speculation, reports, and the like.

Know terms and how the process works

First of all, know that, in all probability, the big deals won’t happen until those final 20 minutes before the trade deadline, which is February 23rd 3:00 pm ET this year (right after the All-Star break on February 17-19 in New Orleans, Louisiana). There may be some smaller deals that go down in the days prior to the trade deadline, but as the desperation increases as the deadline draws nearer, both sides of negotiations can benefit, so it doesn’t do anyone much good to engage in serious trade talks earlier.

But that won’t stop fans from speculating and trying to rig up ESPN’s trade machine to spit out a trade that nets their favorite team two All-Stars in exchange for a bloated, old contract or two!

Related: there is a significant difference between getting a trade to work in the trade machine and for it to work in real life. Think of trade machine as the bare minimum. It just lets you know if that particular swap is possible or legal, and says nothing if it is probable.

It is important to inject some nuance when you hear reporting around trades and educate yourself so you don’t get your hopes up… or get too depressed when you hear your team may trade for a player that you despise.

For instance, every general manager (GM) or president of basketball operations of every single of the 30 teams HAS to be open to hearing a trade proposal from another GM. It’s just a bad idea to not listen. If they don’t listen, they could miss out on a big opportunity, which would be devastating, especially if that information got leaked outside the organization.

On the flipside, just because something is being reported, doesn’t mean it’s credible – check the source. Ask yourself, is this reporter reliable? Oftentimes, even if you’ve established a reporter as a trustworthy source, they can hear a rumor and pass it along after confirming it and it could quite easily end up being nothing.

If you hear a player “linked” to a team, it could be an agent just leaking that information to up the price on his client in a bidding war. It may not even be blatant lying, just a GM picked up the phone, listened to a pitch on a trade from another GM, then he decided to turn it down, until more information surfaces, they can say that player was linked to that team.

Additionally, understand that many of the trades that happen are ones that were unreported counter-offers to other trades proposals. Also, simply, many of the actual trades that get completed, were just not leaked… which is one factor as to why they got done.

There is a difference between a player being shopped, available, off-limits and actually off-limits.

If a player is being shopped, a GM is calling around saying, “What do you think of this player, is there some scenario where you would trade for him?”

Making a player available means the GM is open to hearing reasonable trade offers for a player. This is normally true for most role players, and not announced too much.

Each team (except for a couple bad ones) have a player or two who are “untouchable” and wouldn’t be traded… or at least that’s how it’s postured. There are really only a handful of players that are truly untouchable with a GM willing to part with anyone in any lower talent tier for one of these elite players at a moments notice. At the top, these transcendently-talented players have slightly different skill sets, and them being on one team versus another is due to personal preference, circumstances, and fit. They won’t change teams as superstars are practically never traded for each other.

Understand your biases

When discussing trades, know that people generally tend to overvalue “their” players and the role they have on the team and undervalue the other players. Players’ value can fluctuate over the course of a season, and aren’t static from team to team (for instance, a high-character veteran on a young team is more highly valued than that same player on a championship contender). Obviously an oversimplification, but the point still stands. Value is relative in the NBA.

How trades work

Really, trades in the NBA are all about relative value, where each franchise is in the hierarchy, and talent evaluation and forecasting. It’s all about finding a win-win arrangement otherwise it’s difficult to get a deal done (unless you’re working with the Kings or the Knicks then try whatever you want).

To create a trade scenario that might actually work you have to take into account many factors. For instance, what assets does “my” team have that the other team’s GM would want? Is the team a contender and needs veteran players? Do you have any? Things like that. Look for the fit.

Typically an NBA team is in one of four phases:

  1. Contender who needs to keep their core while adding role players, and keeping their tax bill down
  2. Sub-contender who needs another fringe star to take them to the next level
  3. Team on the rise who needs time to mature talent, find identity (they want flexibility and assets)
  4. Team who is rebuilding who typically wants players on rookie contracts and lots and lots of draft picks

Just some things to think about as trade season heats up.

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