“They” say to expect a quiet trade deadline. “They” might be right.
Only one superstar is available, and he will only consent to certain teams. Most of the teams with summer time cap space ambitions are holding on to them, in the faint hope that Dwight Howard and/or Deron Williams want a piece of that sweet free agent money. Only 15 trade exceptions exist in the entire league, disabled player exceptions for Darrell Arthur and Eric Maynor expired yesterday unused, and with the offseason amnesty clause claiming seven bad contract casualties, less dead salary exists than usual, Stephen Jackson excepted.
A couple of biggish, non-superstarry names are being talked about — Rajon Rondo as ever, Pau Gasol as ever, Monta Ellis as ever, and Andrew Bogut for a change — but each wears some significant handicap to the likelihood of their being traded, be it injuries, their contract, or it being illogical to do so. Some teams can spend more, some are still sitting on plenty of cap space, and some teams might wish to further cut costs. In general, however, the NBA’s hard line towards leveling up payroll parity has had its way, and uniform payroll balance is getting closer.
As of today, seven teams are projected to be luxury tax payers. Of those seven, only two (Atlanta and Memphis) can or will realistically be able to dodge it. However, they must also do so while improving their teams. Capped out, these are two playoff teams who nonetheless have big holes, without readily available means of filling them.
Atlanta’s bizarre insistence on keeping Jerry Stackhouse all year has pushed them into the tax territory, despite sorely needing better point guard play and size to offset the loss of/compliment a healthy Al Horford. Meanwhile, Memphis also has on-court needs to fill as Jeremy Pargo has struggled mightily at backup point guard and the team also ranks amongst the league’s worst in three point shooting percentage.
The Grizzlies are good, but they are built weirdly. Huge amounts of money are invested in a frontcourt that is not up for sale, point guard Mike Conley also pulls in an entirely justified $8 million a year, and his backcourt teammate Tony Allen is too valuable to be expendable (while also being a large part of why the team has shooting problems). In terms of contracts for trade assets, they have scant little, particularly when they also need to be concurrently dumping salary. The perennially available O.J. Mayo is perennially available, and perennially sought over, but he’s also the team’s only shooter, even if he is also their only significant trade asset. The formerly valuable Sam Young is now out of the rotation due to his defensive rotations. A salary dump of him would sort out the luxury tax issue, but Memphis needs to be buying as well.
Some fallen starlets are supposedly up for grabs. Monta Ellis, Brandon Jennings, Tyreke Evans and JaVale McGee are all young enough that teams feel they can maximize their as-yet-unmaximized talents. They might be right.
Ellis is not good enough to be a number one guy, and probably isn’t good enough to be an elite number two either, but he could potentially be a mighty fine number three for a team needing that one last kick-on. Jennings has struggled badly with efficiency since his 55 point outing, and it’s never a good a sign when a rebuilding team considers (and then re-considers) trading its 22-year-old leading scorer, but enough talent exists to justify taking the gamble. The same is true of Evans, whose complete inability to fit into a team concept on both ends of the court rather undermines his statistical output, yet whose talents, both physical gifts and ball skills, will always tantalize. And if you can live with the sideshow that is McGee, you have a big man as productive as almost any other. But struggling teams dealing productive youngsters is not what trade deadlines are normally made of. Definitely being “available” is not synonymous with definitely being traded.
There are always the rentals, too. New Orleans has been trying to find any future asset for a rental of Chris Kaman that it can, while the Lakers are searching for point guard help and his incredibly poor season for the Blazers has put Raymond Felton’s name out there. Less publicly, Denver seeks to turn Andre Miller’s expiring contract and still incredibly productive play into another future piece, and would sorely love to give the Lakers Al Harrington as well.
Then there’s Indiana, who have achieved the rare feat of straddling the line between competitive and flexible, and who can afford either one of the above via their swaths of cap space for the mere cost of a low first-round pick. While Kelly Dwyer makes a strong argument that they needn’t spend for the sake of spending, Andre Miller should be the exception.
Of course, almost everyone’s still looking for a big. Boston (if they choose to patch up rather than blow up), Orlando (same), San Antonio and Miami all need one extra big body to patch up weaknesses, and they can’t realistically get Kaman to do it. And short of turning to Dan Gadzuric or D.J. Mbenga on the waiver wire, this universal itch is a tough one to scratch. There are options — Chris Andersen, Jason Maxiell, maybe even Amir Johnson and Omer Asik- – yet never as many as there are suitors.
And while some seek to patch up, others ought blow up. Detroit, Phoenix, Miwaukee and the very anti-climactic Portland Trail Blazers are amongst those teams who really need to think about identifying one or two pieces and then starting again. Even further down, Charlotte and Washington are so poor right now that they need pretty much everything. They can’t get everything, and Charlotte might have to settle for Jordan Farmar and a non-lottery first, but they need at least something
There exists, then, scope for many deals. But for a variety of reasons, we may see a deadline almost as boring as the one of 2007, which Fred Jones highlighted. The result of the lockout and the CBA seems to be that saving money is the priority now above all else, and that being under the salary cap is now noticeably more beneficial than just being under the luxury tax. The expiring contracts that were once so valuable as trade assets may, under the new CBA, be more valuable to keep instead. And the new amnesty clause, that didn’t necessarily have to be used this summer, may claim yet more of the bad contracts that are normally passed around this time. This deadline, for all the posturing, may well be a quiet one.
Boris Diaw might be going to New Jersey and the Lakers might get a point guard slightly better than Steve Blake. That’s the level we’re talking about. Think big, but expect small.