Anatomy of an NBA Trade Deadline Deal

Jimmy Spencer@JimmySpencerNBANBA Lead WriterFebruary 20, 2013

Kevin Garnett is the latest superstar name swirling within trade rumors.
Kevin Garnett is the latest superstar name swirling within trade rumors.Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA trade deadline acts as a playground of theory for us armchair experts.

It’s an annual feast of gossip underwritten mostly by imagination, twisting with blockbuster rumors that rarely uncoil into truths.

Twitter drips with speculation.

Sports talk radio chokes with fantastic ideas.

Then there’s reality, the framework that serves as the actuality of an NBA trade. It’s a profusion of seeds that may eventually blossom into a successful agreement.

With every trade comes a whirlwind of movements. 

It Starts with a Recognized Weakness

Pressured NBA general managers work beyond fantasy, living within the NBA’s version of Craigslist, a market of bartering and haggling.

As the team’s general manager shops for additions or the right subtractions, the susceptible target or necessary piece, players wait with hope or apprehension.

A team’s needs are usually clear following the All-Star break.

Whether a buyer or a seller, once a team is clear on its needs, inquiries begin. The principles of supply and demand go into effect.

The effort to fill a need, or remove a future burden, faces the wall of this season’s trade deadline on Thursday.

On the 2013 deadline holiday, the Atlanta Hawks appear to be one of the more prominent sellers with their desire to move Josh Smith. The star forward hasn't helped the Hawks by openly discussing his hopes for a max contract this offseason.

The buyers are out there. Clippers’ lead man Gary Sacks was quoted by Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:

"Every team has called me," he said.

"It's my job to call them back and to listen. … I haven't called anybody to say, 'Hey, we have Eric Bledsoe and would you like him?' Or, 'We have DeAndre Jordan or we have anybody and would you want them?' That's not where I am right now with this team," Sacks said in a phone interview from Houston on Saturday. "That's not where we are."

Inquires Turn to Speculation

Oh the deadline circus.

The poor NBA beat writers. The pressure to scoop any potential trade is heightened by the incessant rumors plastered throughout the online bubble.

The standard, pre-deadline interview with a GM transforms into an inevitable cliché:   

Team unlikely to make deal at trade deadline.
Team says player will not be traded.
Team potentially might be listening to offers to get better.

Google News offers a plethora of articles on NBA teams likely to remain quiet at the trade deadline.

In actuality, any completed trade is often reported just moments before it occurs. But that doesn’t mean teams don’t play with the media to gain leverage as either buyers or sellers.

General managers know how to pull the right strings.

Even the most credible reporting titans of the NBA can be unknowingly duped into serving an assist with a message point that plays down a team’s desperation or enhances another's eagerness to trade.

You can scan the Twitter timelines of reporters discussing a team’s desire for more value in a deal or painting a picture that a team is “no longer looking.”

Agents also play a large role in this process, seeking the immediate interest of a client.

Matt Moore of CBS broke down an agent's double-speak very well when he dug up an old series of quotes reported by Marc Stein of prior to Kevin Garnett’s trade to the Boston Celtics.

Here's an excerpt from the June 2007 article:

The proposed trade that would have sent Kevin Garnett to Boston, agreed to in principle by ex-teammates Kevin McHale and Danny Ainge, was taken off the table Thursday after Garnett got word to the Celtics that he doesn't want to play for them.

Garnett, according to sources close to the situation, is hoping for a trade to the Phoenix Suns if he has to leave the only team he has ever played for.

"The Boston trade isn't happening," Garnett's agent, Andy Miller, told's Chris Sheridan. "If a trade were to happen, that's not a destination that we're interested in pursuing."

Who’s involved in the trade talks?

Most organizations move in synergy, with a franchise’s front office working closely with coaches. Still, different coaches are more involved than others.

Some just turn the keys over to management:

 Christopher Dempsey of the Denver Post wrote:

Nuggets coach George Karl is so disinterested in the gossip leading up to the NBA trade deadline that he has mostly sworn off keeping up with the rumors, even if they involve his team. Ultimately, he leaves all of this up to Nuggets general manager Masai Ujiri.

Some coaches seek certain additions:

Golden State Warriors owner Joe Lacob told Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News: "This team is performing well and as Bob (Myers, the general manager) has stated, we need to see this team perform as a group over an extended period.”

A Misconception of How GMs Operate

Alex Kennedy of did a nice job breaking down a mistaken belief that GMs are openly chatting away with one another:

However, there’s a common misconception about trade talks. Most people think that two general managers get on the phone and work out a trade. In reality, that’s not how the process works. Most trades start with a conversation between lesser executives. These executives talk with as many other executives as possible and see what potential trades are on the table. Only then are the possible deals brought to the general manager, who then decides which trade to make.

Kennedy goes on to say that rumors often surface once potential deals have already died.

It's an interesting note how the media tends to follow a deal as if it's in real time, when in reality the chase is hours, or days, behind. On Tuesday, the potential Garnett to the Clippers deal heated up only to be called dead by the end of the day (per Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski).

Still, one never knows. Stein ( reported on Jan. 29 that the Toronto Raptors were determined to land Rudy Gay, just a day before the official deal was announced. 

The Player’s Perspective

Most players are going to address the topic of the trade deadline with the standard response: “Those decisions are not up to us” or “I’m just trying to help this team win games.”

Than there's Charles Barkley.

Hoopsworld NBA analyst Travis Heath cited a Barkley quote from the mid-90s:

“They are shopping me around like a piece of meat, which is typical of the insensitive organization that I’m associated with,” Barkley told the media in the early 90s during his final season with the Philadelphia 76ers prior to being traded to the Phoenix Suns. “It’s just unfortunate. All athletes realize that they are a piece of meat, but I wish the Sixers would realize that I’m not a piece of meat. This is my life we’re talking about."

Garnett, the recent superstar rumored at this season’s deadline, didn’t seem to embrace the thought of being moved out of Boston.

A. Sherrod Blakely of quoted Garnett: “I bleed green; I die green, that's what it is," he said. "But it is a business. If it crosses the path, I'll deal with it. But trades are a part of this league. Every year, you're going to hear things."

While superstars may be closely involved in deals that send them away, other players learn with the public that they're being shipped out.

Monta Ellis said he found out at the same time as everyone else when he was traded from the Golden State Warriors to the Milwaukee Bucks last season in exchange for Andrew Bogut and others.

Ellis was quoted by Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: “I read it on the TV. I don’t have a problem with that. It is what it is.”

It’s Not Easy

Roadblocks exist at many turns, proving what we already know: These deals are tough to get done.

Even if the wants and needs of both buyer and seller are met, that doesn’t mean salaries will work out. Anyone who has tried the trade machine understands that headache.

Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge told Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald:

There’s been a lot of conversation around the league, and we’ve been very busy. Trades are very challenging to make, and then on top of that we like our guys. I like watching this team play. I like the personality of our team. We just need to find a way to give them the best chance to win with the resources we have.

No one is giving any information that hurts business.

It’s why the fan is uniformly left to conjecture within the cesspool of gossip.

It certainly makes for an interesting week of NBA news.

Follow @jimmypspencer on Twitter for more NBA news and analysis.


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