It’s that time of the year for NBA front offices. Though the All-Star break is commonly believed to be held at the midpoint of the season, each NBA team has played at least 50 games already.
The Los Angeles Clippers have played a league-high 56 games.
In actuality, we are closer to the end of the season than we are to the beginning of it, and by now, we have a very good idea of which teams are contenders, which teams are pretenders, which teams need to burn it down and start over and which teams need to add one or two pieces to its existing core.
As the clock winds down to the deadline, players across the league will be nibbling their fingernails down to the cuticles.
Some front office executives will probably be doing the same thing, though. Rest assured, even as this is being read, deals are discussed.
For NBA fans, though, certain things should be kept in mind as we zero in on the deadline.
Usually, contenders stand pat as the trade deadline rolls by. Why mess with a good thing, after all?
Here’s the truth: Before trading James Harden to the Houston Rockets before the season began, the Thunder’s front office hoped that Eric Maynor could return to his pre-injury form and help the team replace some of the playmaking that it lost with Harden’s departure.
Kevin Martin, it was thought, would replicate Harden’s scoring off the bench.
Though Harden has become an All-Star and a 26.1-point-per-game scorer, Kevin Martin is scoring 15 points per game off of the bench, compared to the 16.1 Harden gave the Thunder last year.
But the playmaking ability that Harden provided off the bench is something the Thunder have sorely missed. Maynor hasn’t returned to form and Reggie Jackson doesn’t quite have the look of a full-time NBA player just yet.
The Thunder easily have assets to get a deal done, including first round draft picks from the Dallas Mavericks and the Toronto Raptors and youngsters like Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones.
Nobody should be shocked to see them make a move between now and Thursday, and knowing Sam Presti and his staff, it could be a move that affects the Western Conference playoff race and helps move the needle toward the Thunder repeating as conference champions.
Every conversation regarding player movement, free agency and trades have a recurring theme: money.
That’s no different than in years prior, but what is different is the impact that adding money to a team’s ledger will have on its luxury tax standing over the course of the next few years.
As eloquently outlined by Ken Berger of CBS Sports, teams will be reluctant to take on additional long-term salaries, mainly because being a hair over the luxury tax line makes a team a taxpayer.
And even if a team is a mere $100,000 over the tax line this season, the more daunting “repeater” tax rate could come into effect for the team within the next two years.
For that reason, teams that are at the cusp of the $70.3 million luxury tax threshold might not necessarily be quick to take on additional money.
Meanwhile, teams that are over the tax line already will be careful not to take on long-term deals, mainly because the team won’t want to add to its future payroll.
The bottom line is this, the economic playing field in the NBA has changed. Bigger markets will probably always have more money to spend than smaller markets, but what we have seen across the league, thus far, is hesitation and careful consideration before teams take on huge financial commitments.
That was a major reason why commissioner David Stern told the media over All-Star Weekend that the league believes the new collective bargaining agreement “is working.”
The days of the wild, wild west are over, and trade deadlines may be a bit more quiet than we've seen over the past few years.
One thing we can count on for sure is that there will be at least one or two blockbuster trades involving some big-named players.
After Kobe Bryant told Chris Sheridan of SheridanHoops that he did not particularly care whether the Lakers trade Dwight Howard or not, there has been a whole host of speculation as to whether or not Jim Buss will now do just that.
Josh Smith of the Atlanta Hawks, though, remains the most likely impact player to be moved, according to multiple media outlets.
The Utah Jazz have a collection of big men in Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors. The former two will be unrestricted free agents this offseason, so it would make sense for the Jazz to trade at least one of them and get assets in return.
On Monday, Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe reported that Monta Ellis of the Milwaukee Bucks is likely to opt out of his contract this summer. If that’s true, the Bucks may decide that it is in the best interest of the franchise to trade Ellis.
Ellis and Brandon Jennings—who will be a restricted free agent this summer—are fairly similar players on the floor and have remarkably similar numbers. Their long-term successful coexistence, especially on the defensive end, is easy to question.
With the two of them, the Bucks are not exactly world-beaters. So if Ellis lets it be known that he plans to opt out, the Bucks may be proactive and move him to a team that could use a scoring shooting guard.
Between Howard, Smith, Jefferson, Millsap and now Ellis, we should certainly expect to see at least one or two big-named players moved before Thursday.
It’s an old adage that often holds true: The deals that usually happen are the ones that you don’t hear much about.
Last year, Dwight Howard was being traded to the Brooklyn Nets for what seemed like six or seven months, but he ended up with the Lakers.
Before Carmelo Anthony was eventually traded to the New York Knicks, he was also rumored to be heading to Brooklyn (after taking a brief stop in New Jersey, of course).
Yet, James Harden became a Houston Rocket seemingly overnight.
Whether it be a trade involving a youngster like Eric Gordon—who did let it be known last summer that he was not fond of playing in New Orleans—or an established veteran like Paul Pierce, there is bound to be at least one trade that happens that seemingly came out of left field.
Back in 2008, the Lakers' acquisition of Pau Gasol seemed to come out of left field and back in 2011, everyone was shocked when Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge traded Kendrick Perkins to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
It never fails, there is bound to be at least one deal that takes everyone completely by surprise.