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.
IN THE CROSSHAIRS
There are some players like Greg Monroe that are in the crosshairs for reasons similar to Al Jefferson last year, the roster is clogged down low and Monroe is the only movable asset. Josh Smith isn’t going anywhere with his bloated contract and Andre Drummond is too good to consider moving right now. Embattled GM Joe Dumars reportedly doesn’t believe that Monroe is worth a max contract and the thinking around the league is that Monroe can get that elsewhere even if his production has been down. Getting something for him rather than nothing makes a lot of sense if you're Detroit, and a trade out of town can only help his borderline value in 12-team leagues.
In Phoenix, the domino that could kick off the whole deadline this season is Emeka Okafor. His $14.5 million expiring contract will be paid nearly in full by an insurance company due to his neck injury. That’s a sizeable chip to help catalyze a deal with a cash- and/or cap-strapped team.
Pau Gasol might be the best combination of cachet and likelihood of being traded, as the Lakers don’t need him this year and he’s sitting on a massive ($19M) expiring deal. L.A. and Phoenix stopped talks surrounding Gasol and a first round pick after he suffered a groin injury, but mostly because it was too premature to assign that type of value to the big man with no other suitors in play. Similarly, it was too early for the Lakers to move the needle on their demand for a first round pick, and as expected the sides are back talking again. Aside from Gasol’s injury risk at this stage in his career, there is no landing spot that profiles as well as the shallow Lake Show, and he’s a prime sell-high candidate if owners aren’t already spooked.
Rajon Rondo has been in plenty of rumors all season but none of them have been credible to date. If that changes we can all cross that bridge when we get there.
As alluded to earlier, Deng and Waiters are both guys that need a change of scenery. The Cavs have already started showcasing Waiters after a 21-shot effort on Sunday, and it doesn’t get much better than Deng if you’re looking for a playoff mercenary. Waiters couldn’t do much worse than he’s doing in Cleveland and for Deng his value projects to be better elsewhere, though owners shouldn’t rule out a partial rehabilitation of his value in Cleveland if he isn’t moved. The team will settle down and he’ll be assimilated by then, perhaps with less distraction if the bad apples are dealt with.
Anderson Varejao’s $10 million contract next season is only partially guaranteed, with some sources saying that $4 million is what teams will be on the hook for next year. Because his value is still in that ballpark anyway, he’s among the most mentioned names in the rumor mill right now and the salary flexibility is a big reason why. The fact that the Cavs don’t want to lose Kyrie Irving a la LeBron will go a long way toward motivating them to improve the roster, which should make them buyers at the deadline.
Angry Andre Miller is a man without a team right now even though he technically plays for Denver. There’s not a lot of fantasy value here but he’s still good enough to tilt the scales somewhere. It would be somewhat shocking if he isn’t moved now that he and the team aren’t talking.
Omer Asik has been all-but traded from the Rockets by some reporters, but he has a real tough deal to move with $15 million owed to him next season. It’s not awful money if he can play at last year’s level, but the knee issue and his fish-out-of-water act this season are hard to overcome objections when talking about that kind of money. In an 8-cat league where his turnovers don’t hurt he has some upside, but without any rumor about a landing spot in play it’s hard to get excited about a stash.
The Kings desperately want to move Marcus Thornton, Jimmer Fredette, and Jason Thompson. Carl Landry’s name even popped up in one rumor. It’s a soft market out there for those guys, and though the Kings want to be splashy and improve the roster as fast as possible they’d need to throw in Ben McLemore and/or Isaiah Thomas to do that – and I don’t think that’s happening even if it can’t be ruled out. To be clear, Thomas shouldn’t be discounted at all right now.
Austin Rivers’ name is as hot as most in the trade rumor mill, but even in a prime situation it’s unclear if he could return any real fantasy value in standard leagues. He’s certainly somebody owners can watch from the wire throughout the next two weeks.
Kyle Lowry was a hot name right around the time Rudy Gay got traded, but he has played so well that he has lost all trade buzz. In other words, he’s lifted his own value higher than what teams are willing to pay, primarily because of his attitude, injury history and questions about whether or not he can keep up that level of play over the long haul.
Either the Magic are playing a lot of good writers or they’re truly in listening mode, as was reported by USA Today. Jameer Nelson is perhaps the easiest asset to move with his $8.6 million deal next season only being guaranteed to the tune of $2 million. Arron Afflalo was a presumptive trade deadline candidate as a solid, but unspectacular veteran on a rebuilding team according to preseason reports. But then he went on a tear and moved into something much more than that, and opposing teams don’t know what exactly that is just yet. His market value has yet to be set, and at this time it seems doubtful that a team will be willing to pay more than what he is worth to the rebuilding Magic right now – a solid No. 1 guy that would be a No. 3 on any contending team.
Of course, the buy low hit on Victor Oladipo has been out for a while and unlike other young stashes, he’s already producing.
The Clippers will attempt to move Jared Dudley and the $8.5 million he will earn in the following two seasons. Considering he looks about three steps slow he’ll be a liability for the Clippers in any deal, so unless the Clips get a wing in return it doesn’t make a ton of sense for them to trade him.
SELL BY THE EXPIRE DATE
Kris Humphries has a $12 million expiring deal and Danny Ainge is reportedly willing to move him. His value will be tethered to any landing spot so there’s not enough to grab on here for a guy that has fallen off the radar lately.
The Bobcats are sitting on expiring deals for Ben Gordon ($13.2M) and Ramon Sessions ($5M) and that’s among the reasons they’re believed to be an active team for this deadline. Bismack Biyombo’s name has been included as a sweetener to any deal, though the slowly developing big man isn’t going to swing any deal.
Chris Kaman is on an expiring mini mid-level deal and assuming the Lakers are comfortable rolling with Robert Sacre and injury risk Jordan Hill as their only centers, Kaman is a guy that can be moved to a team with playoff aspirations. With Gasol’s future in L.A. cloudy right now, he is positioned as well as an owner could hope for. In any event he’ll be worth watching as the deadline goes down.
While Greg Monroe will get all the trade deadline attention in Detroit, it’s the expiring contracts of Rodney Stuckey and Charlie Villanueva that are most likely to be dealt with $17.1 million between them combined. Jonas Jerebko could also be on the move with a $4.5 million player option for next season as he’s buried in Detroit and he still carries some mild appeal around the league.
In Utah, they have as much cap room as any team in the league and they’ve embraced tanking like never before, though I don’t think they thought they’d be this bad. Ty Corbin and the development team there have some splainin’ to do after the seasons that Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter have had. Or haven’t had. In any event, the Jazz have $31.5 million locked up in expiring contracts for Marvin Williams (who has played well), Richard Jefferson, Andris Biedrins and Brandon Rush. It feels like something has to give there.