The NBA trade deadline is less than a month away. Outside of the Phoenix Suns, there are no truly dominant teams in the league, which opens the door for more moves. Some teams are in a clear selling position, other teams are in a clear buying position.
This doesn’t mean we’ll have many trades, for a number of reasons, but it means the ground is fertile for trade talks to grow in the coming weeks.
Here are six maxims to act as a guide for the 2022 NBA trade deadline.
1. Teams are more likely to deal from positions of opportunity than desperation
Fans most often want trades because teams are underperforming expectations, but a. those expectations have to align with the front office’s expectations, b. the underperformance has to be almost without any caveats (health, schedule, etc.), and c. potential moves have to clearly solve a problem.
Furthermore, if you’re trading because your season has gone off track, your trading partners know your leverage is compromised. You never want to be the one in the negotiation who needs the deal.
For example, two different executives I asked about the chances of the Boston Celtics making a deal at the deadline were skeptical:
“They’re not so off track that they need to just give up and trade Jaylen Brown and blow the whole thing up. They’re where they usually are, with a team good enough to compete but not good enough to scare you. They’ll look for a big upgrade without having to give up anything,” one said.
Additionally, the Suns haven’t rested on their laurels and have at least been involved in calls over the last few weeks. The Golden State Warriors are expected to be a presence as well. Teams that have championship aspirations and pieces to use have a stronger position. Teams don’t rest on their laurels and they try not to panic, even when they should.
That said …
2. When a team knows the jig is up, they’ll be sellers
To no one’s surprise, Atlanta is expected to make significant changes before the deadline, unless their season implosion compromises their leverage past getting an adequate return. In other words, they’re not selling just to sell, the directive from ownership is to turn the season around, according to multiple sources.
Atlanta has roughly $20 million in expiring contracts to use, including experienced bench scorer, Lou Williams, decent back-up point guard, Delon Wright, and veteran center, Gorgui Dieng. Danilo Gallinari only has one more season after this, and only $5 million of his $21 million salary is guaranteed for his final season.
John Collins grumbled early last season about how the team’s offense was structured. (It was a subtweet at Trae Young.) Collins signed a max extension in the offseason and is back to being disgruntled. Collins had significant interest from multiple teams last season at the deadline, including the Dallas Mavericks, Warriors, and Celtics.
Two sources told Action Network Collins is a player the Hawks are willing to engage in talks about, along with Bogdan Bogdanovic.
3. Politics are more important than basketball, always
There’s so much that goes on behind the scenes, and most of us (not all) in the media don’t know almost any of it, let alone the fans.
Trying to keep agents happy because their star client is a free agent in a year, trying to manage relationships with a difficult player because they’re friends with the star of the team. All sorts of things complicate situations.
Let’s look at the Indiana Pacers. Myles Turner felt his quote was out of context when he said he felt he’s been looked at as just a role player. The Pacers have had talks about Turner with teams for several seasons with nothing developing. The asking price for Turner is currently “one lottery pick or two late firsts,” according to two independent sources.
Multiple teams are operating under the assumption that Domantas Sabonis has wanted out of Indiana for over a year. Now, outlets in Indiana have refuted this. Maybe that’s being floated to media in order to try and pry him loose with tension.
It also must be noted that Turner sought a second opinion on a foot injury, and there’s concern around the league it might be serious, which would likely derail any talks.
Either way, it seems that the Pacers — probably the second-most disappointing team this season behind the Hawks — are going to make a move. The Pacers have received multiple offers for Caris LeVert, according to sources. It was previously reported by HoopsHype that the Cleveland Cavaliers are interested in LeVert and that’s a great fit.
Something to consider, owner Herb Simon bought the Pacers in 1983. Since 1990, the Pacers have never finished with fewer than 30 wins. They only have 10 seasons with fewer than 40 wins since 1990. Most of that is the financial realities of operating in such a small market with low attendance, but some of it is just Simon’s base operation that the team should compete.
It’s honestly admirable that Indiana continues to try and give the fans a good product even if it hasn’t led to a title (though it has come close a few times).
It also impacts what you can expect them to do. They may pivot to draft picks for the players they are currently looking to deal, but don’t be surprised if they look for pieces to try and compete sooner, especially given that they cannot trade Malcolm Brogdon until after this season.
4. Teams need to have money to move
The Denver Nuggets‘ bench is a disaster. A train wreck. A hazmat zone. However, their bench also makes a combined $26 million — the average salary among those eight players is $3.25 million. That’s not enough to generate serious return without further compromising their already decimated depth.
There is confidence inside the organization that the team simply needs to get Jamal Murray back (expected back in late February or early March) and make the playoffs where the bench plays fewer minutes.
There have been talks regarding Jeff Green, as reported elsewhere, but Green has become too important to the team after Michael Porter Jr.’s injury and with how well he’s played as a small-ball five on the bench unit, which has almost no gravity whatsoever.
When it comes to role players or margin moves, the contract is often more important than the talent of the player. You also need to be able to reach a maximum return of 125% salary in a deal (plus $100,000).
Regarding the failed Bol Bol trade to the Detroit Pistons, he elected for surgery this week to repair the condition in his foot that caused him to fail the Detroit physical. That was a decision made by Bol and those close to him and he’ll miss 4-8 weeks.
5. Discussions are just that, discussions
This is the biggest hang-up on social media. I’ve reported on things that were discussed before because I had reason to believe there was real traction. However, these things are fluid. It’s not difficult for NBA reporters to get information on “two teams had a phone call about a player.”
The key is that there’s a big difference between that and taking the deal to discuss with ownership and putting into motion the mechanics to lead to a deal actually happening. Very few deals get to that point.
The better way to view reports from credible journalists is to focus on who’s available. If teams engaged in talks for a player, he’s not off the table. Very few players in the NBA are actually off the table entirely. However, it doesn’t mean a team is itching to trade a player if he’s in talks.
You have to be willing to have the discussion, but the biggest shutdown to talks is …
6. Investor value always trumps market value
It does not matter if a player is not highly regarded on the market. The team values what he gives them. They drafted that player in many instances, they spent time and money in developing him, they had moments of success with that player, and often times that player is seen as a win for the front office.
If a team is then going to trade that player, they have to get back what they feel internally is requisite value, not what the market will bear. This causes a world of hold-ups because every team likes its guys. That’s why the team drafted/traded for/signed them, because they think he is a good and valuable NBA player.
If you’re the Toronto Raptors, you’re willing to look long-term at the deadline because, sure, Masai Ujiri is as shrewd as they come. (He is absolutely above board, but the odds of the opposing team getting worked in that deal are high. Alas, only 30 shops to shop at.)
However, the players you have to trade with the most valuable are Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, and OG Anunoby. (Scottie Barnes on a rookie contract with his upside is too valuable unless it’s for a superstar.)
Those are all members of the team that helped win Toronto a title. The internal value on those guys will be much, much higher than the market value.
There are also guys essential to locker room culture, and players who the front office covets as their success story. (A badly-kept secret is this is why CJ McCollum was not actively involved in talks over recent seasons under the previous front office.)
There comes a time when you have to part with those players in many instances, but the return has to be a clear win for a team with a priority. Never underestimate how much a team values its own players.
Trade Deadline Notes
- As noted above, the Pacers have multiple options on trading Caris LeVert, I would say he’s the most likely to be traded among the players being offered, but don’t be surprised if other players like Justin Holiday are included in a larger deal.
- There’s some belief that the Los Angeles Clippers could be looking to move things around as they attempt to stay above water until their stars return, if they return this season. I have some skepticism about this as it doesn’t align with the front office’s larger, balanced approach. As always, there’s an agenda to leaks.
- Two sources told Action Network that Bradley Beal’s interest in being relocated has cooled even further. There was some thought that if the Wizards‘ season went sideways he might ask out, but the Wizards have stabilized after a hot start and big downturn. There’s a belief that Beal is focused on maximizing his next contract which is easiest in Washington.
- Duncan Robinson has played less than 20 minutes in the last three games for the Heat. Max Strus has played over 25 in the last three games for the Heat. There’s a belief around the league that Robinson is a player Miami is open to talks about. Bear in mind that a turnaround in his 3-point shooting (34.5%) would do a lot to resolve that situation.
- The Portland Trail Blazers have managed to get a little momentum behind Anfernee Simons’ offensive explosion the last few weeks. With CJ McCollum thankfully okay after a collapsed lung, there’s still confidence around the league that Portland will look to reshape the roster and Simons’ advancement only serves to increase that speculation.