Breaking Down Why Major Rumored Deals Fell Through at NBA Trade Deadline
And the 2013 award for "Best Player Dealt at the NBA Trade Deadline" goes to...J.J. Redick? To the Milwaukee Bucks?
Or maybe to Thomas Robinson, the fifth pick in the 2012 NBA draft, who was acquired by the Houston Rockets on Feb 20.
Not so much?
Alas, after all the usual hubbub surrounding the NBA's annual frenzied swap meet, Josh Smith is still with the Atlanta Hawks, and Dwight Howard has yet to depart the Los Angeles Lakers.
The New Orleans Hornets and the Charlotte Bobcats were unable to wash themselves of disgruntled shooting guards (Eric Gordon and Ben Gordon, respectively), and the Utah Jazz will ride out the rest of the season with Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap.
Moreover, of the front-runners in the race for the Larry O'Brien Trophy, only the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat made any moves at all.
And if you do not consider Miami dumping Dexter Pittman on the Memphis Grizzlies and OKC ousting Eric Maynor and bringing in Ronnie Brewer to be moves of any real consequence, then...well, you're plumb out of luck in your search for landscape-shifting trades.
The San Antonio Spurs dabbled in discussions concerning Redick and "J-Smoove" but ultimately opted against any sort of shakeup.
The Los Angeles Clippers probably could have had Kevin Garnett, but only for the steep price of Eric Bledsoe and DeAndre Jordan.
The needs of the New York Knicks were tough to gauge, given the age of the roster and streaky nature of their three-point-dependent playing style.
Had Danny Granger not been sidelined all season by injury (and saddled with a $14 million-plus salary next season), the Indiana Pacers might have been players on the market.
Instead, hoops heads seeking a transactional thrill or two are now left to ponder Sebastian Telfair's future as Kyle Lowry's backup with the Toronto Raptors, the Golden State Warriors sliding in under the luxury tax threshold and how long it'll be before the Boston Celtics faithful are fed up with Jordan Crawford and his penchant for taking wild(ly upsetting) shots.
But why wasn't there more substantive action leading up to the deadline? Why was Feb. 21 so anticlimactic?
To start, one of the biggest and most available names of the season (Rudy Gay) was snapped up in a three-team swap more than three weeks ago. As such, the potential trade market was down a significant chip from the get-go.
Each of the other possible blockbusters hit a snag along the way. Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak made it clear that the team would hitch its wagon to Howard and couldn't deal an injured Pau Gasol.
Not without getting fleeced, anyway.
KG's mid-range shooting, all-world defense and overall leadership would have been a boon to the Clips' title hopes, but at what cost?
DeAndre Jordan's presence was a prerequisite to acquiring Chris Paul from the New Orleans Hornets in December 2011. Jordan remains limited relative to his pay grade (about $10 million per year), but his game has grown some this season. His youth, athleticism and energy remain vital to what Los Angeles does.
As for Bledsoe, his minutes as Paul's backup have been critical to the Clippers' success in 2012-13. It behooved the Clips to keep Bledsoe as an insurance policy against CP3's potential departure via free agency this summer.
And if Paul does re-up with the Clips, they can always shop Bledsoe during the offseason, when they'll have ample opportunity to peruse the market without temporal restrictions.
The Hornets would have been hard-pressed to find a taker for Eric Gordon, who both offered plenty in return and gave his blessing for a trade. Gordon's gifts as a strong, athletic wing who can attack the rim and launch from long range are enticing, albeit much less so when his recurring knee problems and massive contract come into play.
Speaking of knee problems, Danny Granger wasn't about to go anywhere unless/until another team was feeling bold enough to take on an eight-figure salary for a guy who hasn't played a single minute this season. Instead, the Pacers will have to find a way to work their former All-Star into the mix as they continue their pursuit of the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Rough life, I know.
The biggest disappointments of the day, though, were far and away the deals not made by the Jazz and the Hawks.
Utah approached the deadline with a clear need for an upgrade (or two) in its depleted backcourt and a pair of quality bigs in Jefferson and Millsap available. Their abilities and expiring contracts made them appealing to a wide swath of teams, contenders and otherwise. Deals including each had been bandied about, with a Millsap-for-Bledsoe-and-Caron-Butler rumor seemingly gaining the most traction.
Instead of bringing back some talent at guard and clearing out more minutes for Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors, it appears that the Jazz will ride Big Al and the Mini-Mailman to a bottom-three seed in the Western Conference and a first-round ouster.
After the playoffs, Utah stands to either lose its bigs for nothing in free agency or overpay one (or both) of them to stay, leaving Kanter and Favors to continue to ride the pine.
And so continues Utah's pursuit of a cozy spot in the NBA's Jimmy Eat World Zone.
Not that it's entirely the fault of Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey. The Clips were reluctant to part ways with Bledsoe from the jump. If they weren't going to part ways with him for an all-time great with two more years on his deal, then why would they consider surrendering him for a borderline All-Star who might bolt in July?
Jefferson had been mentioned in connection with the Spurs (per Chris Sheridan of SheridanHoops.com), but with the way San Antonio is rolling, perhaps relinquishing core players like Tiago Splitter and Stephen Jackson was seen as too risky in the eyes of general manager R.C. Buford.
A similar package might have landed Josh Smith in a Spurs uniform. Instead, the basketball world will be deprived of a Smith-Gregg Popovich "partnership" and all the unintentional comedy that might have created.
We might just as easily have seen Smith join the Milwaukee Bucks to form a group of gunners with Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, the likes of which the league has rarely (if ever) seen. According to NBA insider Ric Bucher, the Bucks had a deal in place to acquire Smith in exchange for Ekpe Udoh, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Beno Udrih and a protected first-round pick.
Apparently, those players weren't enough to blow Atlanta out of the water. Now, the Hawks will have an opportunity to evaluate Smith over the stretch run and into the playoffs before deciding whether to pursue his signature on a near-max contract, send him packing in a sign-and-trade or let him walk and hoard the remaining cap space.
Running through all these "wouldas," "couldas" and "shouldas" are a few common threads. For one, the trade deadline was likely as quiet and inconsequential as it was because most general managers are simply averse to risk. If the motivations and rewards behind a move are not so compelling as to outweigh the downside, then why bother pulling the trigger?
These attitudes have only been amplified further by the new collective bargaining agreement. In addition to the usual pro vs. con discussions regarding the disparate values of players received and sent away, the NBA's brain trusts must now take into account a more stringent set of rules regarding the salary cap, the luxury tax and the ramifications for breaching each.
No longer can teams simply accept players with massive contracts attached without concern for their roster flexibility or their bottom line.
Which player are you most surprised to see in the same uniform after the trade deadline?
By the same token, the overall value of first-round picks has skyrocketed since the new CBA came about. Most organizations are no longer so willing to dispense with draft considerations in exchange for short-term help now that they understand how helpful it can be, on all fronts, to add a young player on a cheap rookie deal.
Thus, those teams with picks are none too willing to relinquish them, and those with useful players to trade are more likely to hold out for first-rounders.
And if the latter can't get what they want, then so be it. Teams like the Jazz and the Hawks are willing to risk losing their guys for "nothing" because "nothing" has value in and of itself these days. That's to say, cap space (i.e. the absence of actual, material assets) has become a powerful tool for GMs because of the flexibility it affords in both free-agent signings and trades.
Those under the salary cap and/or the luxury tax line are granted different (and more) mechanisms with which to reshape their rosters than those teams—like the Lakers and Brooklyn Nets—that have already committed to trapping themselves in "cap purgatory" for the foreseeable future.
It certainly didn't help the excitement (or lack thereof) at the deadline that the top contenders were so comfortable standing relatively pat for the stretch run.
The Heat already own a commanding five-game lead on the top spot in the Eastern Conference and remain the prohibitive favorites to repeat. With wins over each of the West's top three teams, they have proved this season that they can hang just fine with their likeliest NBA Finals adversaries.
As for that Western triumvirate, the top-seeded Spurs might have streaked their way to a title last year had it not been for a pair of fluky performances from OKC's bit players in the conference finals. The Thunder already made their big move when they shipped James Harden to the Houston Rockets in October, and the Clippers have a deep and talented cast that's just now rounding into health.
Each of those three teams has reason to believe it can and should advance to the NBA Finals with its current cast. As such, any deal damaging its future prospects wasn't warranted.
Does all of this mean we should expect the trade deadline to be as uneventful in the years to come as it was this time around?
Surely, teams will be more willing to wheel and deal during the midseason once they get a more comprehensive grasp of the NBA's new front-office rules and their ramifications. Once contracts signed under the old CBA have come and gone and GMs have (presumably) dispensed their dollars more wisely, the league's trade partners should loosen up a bit when talking shop in January and February.
Likewise, if the new CBA levels the playing field as intended, it'll be incumbent upon teams to do more to differentiate themselves from one another when prepping for a playoff push.
As of now, the league's clear-cut contenders don't have as much incentive to improve because the deals aren't there for them to do so. And, especially in the East, the legitimate challengers from the lower rungs of the playoff picture are few and far between.
Once truer parity takes hold, though, the impact of each potential move will presumably grow and, along with it, the incentive to take a risk in order to jump from "pretender" to "contender." The more room there is for teams to join the championship conversation, the more prevalent the deals will be to allow teams to either move up a rung or protect their existing turf at the top.
But for now, we'll just have to settle for whatever satisfaction can be derived from watching J.J. Redick step into Ray Allen's long-vacated shoes or Thomas Robinson jumping into the Rockets' next round of "Power Forward Idol."
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