Why Was the 2014 NBA Trade Deadline Such a Dud?

Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistFebruary 20, 2014

Feb 12, 2014; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Philadelphia 76ers small forward Evan Turner (12) dribbles up the court during the first quarter against the Utah Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

The 2014 NBA trade deadline tried its best to finish with a flurry this year, but even a last-second deal sending Danny Granger to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for Evan Turner and LaVoy Allen wasn't enough to keep "disappointment" from being the most commonly used descriptor.

Without question, the deal, reported by Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, between the Sixers and Indiana Pacers was the biggest one consummated on Thursday, but not because it was a league-altering game-changer. That move featured the most significant names in Granger and Turner, but it made the most waves because of how incredibly brilliant it was for Indy.

We're not here to discuss the specifics of each deal, but it'd be wrong to gloss over the perfection of that move. The Pacers swapped out a woefully unproductive Granger for a younger, better wing in Turner. The Ohio State product isn't a great player, but he's a heck of a lot more useful than Granger and his 35.9 percent shooting from the field.

Better still, Indiana didn't take on any guaranteed money in the bargain, as it can simply hold off on qualifying offers for Turner and Allen this summer if it so chooses. The Pacers get flexibility, a big boost in their championship push and an insurance policy in case Lance Stephenson is too expensive to keep.

Slick as it was, the Granger deal probably didn't shake up the NBA's balance of power. It wasn't the kind of trade we hope for at the deadline. And unless you consider Spencer Hawes, Steve Blake or Andre Miller big names, that was as significant as the exchanges got.

So, what gives? Why was the deadline, yet again, mostly underwhelming?


Careful is the New Reckless

B/R's Ric Bucher wondered before the deadline whether the contrast between the league's new- and old-school general managers might prevent deals from being struck. An influx of younger, more analytically inclined executives simply don't speak the same language as many of their senior peers:

It’s not that the old-school GMs aren’t business-savvy along the same lines, as that is now a prerequisite for anyone who holds the job. It’s that they literally don’t know with whom they’re dealing. As progressive as the league may be on all fronts, business transactions still rely on an age-old denominator: relationships, and the trust borne of long-standing ones.

We saw the unfamiliarity—and perhaps the old-timers' fear of getting swindled by a hot shot—limit the number and scope of moves at the deadline. General managers were extra careful this year, and it's hard to fault them.

Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

The league is getting smarter as a whole, and rash decisions seem to be dwindling on all fronts—especially when it comes to trades. Now, it's all about the smaller moves. It's impossible to screw up too badly when the stakes are lower.

Because so many executives wanted to avoid a bad deal with someone they didn't yet know very well, it's no surprise that caution won the day.


Assets and Urgency Aren't What They Used to Be

The trade deadline was more of a feeling-out process this year, which could account for the lack of big-time activity.

But there are other factors at work.  The landscape of the league has changed, along with its valuation of once-prized assets.

There was a time when bad expiring deals were easy to come by, but not anymore. The new collective bargaining agreement has shortened the duration of contracts, limited them in total value and generally prevented teams from getting completely ruined by a bad long-term agreement.

There are still plenty of opportunities for clubs to screw up (hi, Joe Dumars!), but we're pretty much out of the Theo Ratliffs of the world these days. Now, we've got guys like Kris Humphries, Emeka Okafor and Pau Gasol: players with valuable expiring deals that stayed put at the deadline.

It seems teams are realizing an expiring deal is just as valuable for the cap space it'll create as the potential return it could generate. After all, taking on the kind of money necessary to move a guy like Gasol (whose cap figure is a whopping $19 million) doesn't really help a rebuilding team as much as letting big bucks come off the books.

The in-season market for expiring contracts has largely dried up (Granger's deal notwithstanding), but that simply means teams are waiting longer to make their big moves:

So, we've got a combination of factors at work here: Teams are getting smarter about how to evaluate assets, and the sheer number of horrible contracts is dwindling because of the CBA.

It also seems as though the pervasive desperation that once marked so many trade deadlines is diminishing:

Or maybe the lack of major activity has another explanation:

The truth is, there's just not a good reason to panic anymore. Most teams don't have horrendous deals they want to move and even when they do, they're simply letting them expire on their own instead.


Irrational Exuberance

ESPN's Chad Ford (Insider subscription required) said before the deadline that we might be in for an "epic" amount of player movement.

As much fun as it'd be to pile on Ford for that miscalculation, it's probably not fair to do so. The conditions for a lot of moving and shaking seemed to be in place. There were inordinate numbers of teams either bottoming out or looking to add one final piece for a championship push. The idea of being in "the middle" had grown so repugnant to so many that there was reason to believe we'd see the haves and have-nots at the bargaining table with chips in hand.

Logically, an abundance of buyers and sellers would lead to a busy market.

But it didn't play out that way.

For starters, we can blame the reasons already enumerated. And we now know most championship chasers didn't have the kinds of assets (lottery picks and young players on cheap deals) necessary to coax tankers out of their valuable pieces.

If we're being honest, we should probably also admit that we expected a bigger splash than we got because we wanted some excitement at the deadline. Wishing didn't make it so, though.


What's Next?

So, nothing big went down at the NBA's annual swap meet. That might seem like a bummer, especially because all signs point to deadline inactivity becoming a trend for the foreseeable future. That could change if the CBA gets a face-lift or if David Kahn manages to reinstall himself in a position of power.

For now, we should expect quiet deadlines.

That's fine, though. It just makes the summer more interesting. And it injects even more excitement into the draft. Teams are still going to buy, sell and trade; they're just not going to do it in February anymore.