Last year’s NBA trade deadline was a dud. Owners and general managers had just over a year to absorb and understand the new realities of the league’s Collective Bargaining Agreement and they didn’t like what they saw. They put down the phone and lived to fight another day.
Aside from major new rules penalizing teams for staying above the salary cap for too long (simplified definition), the monstrous contracts from the old CBA jammed up the system. Teams that would normally have no problem absorbing a large contract didn’t want to take on that type of money, because eventually they’d have to get their payroll down in order to avoid the repeater tax and other significant penalties.
On the other end of the spectrum, small market clubs fell in love with the story of Sam Presti and building like the Thunder did through the draft. The rookie scale is undoubtedly the best way for teams to save salary cap dollars on artificially undervalued players, so if you’re a franchise that’s cash-strapped or unable to attract high quality free agents for whatever reason – tanking suddenly made more sense than ever*.
*If you’re a proponent of tanking. Opponents of tanking contend that losing for a ‘chance’ at a good player is a losing strategy. I tend to think that there is a time and place for everything and it is college.
While the concept of tanking has gained steam in recent years it’s not exactly groundbreaking. Examples have ranged from the obvious (83-84 Houston for Hakeem and the 02-03 ‘Keith Smart’ Cavs for LeBron) to circumstantial (96-97 Spurs, Admiral and Sean Ellion injuries to get Tim Duncan). Likewise, the Utah Jazz were always held out as an example of what not to do by securing a low playoff seed every year.
In a league with so many moving parts, these were the exceptions and not the rule, however.
The Jazz were able to do well at the gate with all of their winning teams and they never entertained tanking for all of those years. Playoff contenders had no problem going over the salary cap and into the luxury tax, especially if they felt they had a shot to advance deep into the playoffs. Even if a team didn’t have playoff aspirations, the only thing truly stopping them from paying a player was the limitations of their own pocketbook.
Now teams of all sizes have to keep their payroll in check for fear of these new CBA repercussions, so tanking became a pseudonym for aggressive cap management and teams no longer wanted any form of ‘bad money.’ At the deadline draft picks and expiring contracts were worth more than an above-average player with a so-so contract that might be able to take a roster to the next level. The fabled draft classes of 2014 and 2015 were on the way, and like middle schoolers at their first dance nobody made the first move.
In retrospect, we all should have seen it coming. But following two years of trade deadline madness fantasy owners were on red alert after watching leagues turn upside down. Rumors are the currency of publishers at this time of the year, and each rumor represented the potential changing of players’ fantasy values. By definition, owners are correct to be vigilant about the market. If you faded the chances of a hyped-up trade deadline guy to be traded, like say Al Jefferson, you may not have invested in Derrick Favors. In fact, if you faded 90 percent of the rumors out there you probably made out pretty well last year. Likewise, if you bought the one rumor that did pan out, that Jordan Crawford was getting moved, then you probably held onto or acquired Bradley Beal last season.
Of course, much of the bonanza surrounding the trade deadline is captured by being quick in a first-come, first-serve league, or making the right selection at the next waiver wire run. That doesn’t change the fact that Spencer Hawes is getting bought and sold about two rounds lower than he’d normally go for right now, or that Lakers centers Jordan Hill and Chris Kaman are a lot more interesting now that talks surrounding Pau Gasol and the Suns have picked up. Speculation drives markets and it’s our job as owners to figure it all out.
So the operative question is whether or not this year would be any different than the last? I think it will.
For one, noted scribes Sam Amick, David Aldridge and Adrian Wojnarowski say it’s shaping up to be exactly that. That’s usually good enough for me. For two, the system has had another full-year to work the kinks out.
Old-CBA contracts are phasing themselves out, reducing the amount of bloat in salary cap calculations everywhere. Owners and GMs also have had a year to get a handle on the new landscape. Teams have a better handle on what those mythical rookies from the 2014 and 2015 draft classes are worth.
Whether you’re playing for pride or for big money, the time is now to become speculators. We’re going to kick off this year’s trade deadline coverage with a loose update here on some of the more substantial rumors, and we’ll provide periodic updates as the situation dictates until the week of the deadline when we’ll gear up like normal. As usual, the player news page will be your best bet for breaking news.
In the end it will be up to you to decide what is fact and fiction and where to make or hedge your bets. Sitting still is also a bet. That’s what makes the deadline so great. It’s the last time during the season that the balance of power in your fantasy league can change without an injury, and no team is immune from its potentially far-reaching impacts.
So let’s try to tip the scales in your favor.
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IT’S VERY SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA
This is the least surprising fantasy analysis you’ll get out of deadline coverage anywhere, but it’s also the most potent and important. The Sixers are a fantasy goldmine for the pace with which they play and the fact that the fantasy assets are virtually unchallenged for playing time. Spencer Hawes, Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young will be among the most talked about trade assets for the next two weeks.
The Sixers are trying to procure a first round pick for any one of them, and so far nobody is jumping out of their seat to get in line for that action but it’s very early in the process. The chance of a significant, if not fatal blow to the fantasy value of Hawes and Turner is almost a foregone conclusion if they’re traded. Young’s value would also take a significant hit, but at least his fantasy game is strong and could possibly work out in a new location. Young has a reasonable contract that Philly isn’t dying to move, which conversely gives him the best value in a trade – lending itself to the first round pick that Philly covets. Phoenix is the only credible rumor that has come up for Young to date, and even that rumor was from a rival GM speculating off the record with Sam Amick.
Hawes is probably the best bet of this group to get traded for a late first rounder because big men don’t grow on trees. The going rate on any of these guys should be a round or two discount for Young and 2-3 rounds for Hawes and Turner. Your job as a buying or selling owner should be to get ahead of that curve and figure out which way the smoke is blowing before it becomes totally obvious. Unless we get blindsided, we won’t know that for a week or so at least.
Teams that have been identified as active in the trade market through various reports and sources are the Kings, Bobcats, Cavs, Nuggets, Clippers, Wolves, Pelicans, and Suns. The Knicks are reportedly desperate to trade for Rajon Rondo but don’t have a clear path to do that, while Carmelo Anthony rumors are mostly benign for now according to Sam Amick. Teams like the Celtics and Rockets are historically active, but this year they’re not making headlines so far. The Cavs may get scratched off this list if new GM David Griffin’s hands are tied in his first few weeks on the job. Then again, maybe not. They have every reason to shake things up and intrepid reporter Tim Kawakami has a great trade scenario including Luol Deng, David Lee and Dion Waiters.