Pau Gasol looks good in darker colors. (Getty Images)
On Thursday, the silliest of leagues is about to hit its silliest part of the regular season. February 6 marks the beginning of the fortnight that leads up to the end of the NBA’s trading period. February 20 hosts the NBA’s trade deadline in late afternoon, and with the league’s seemingly disparate cultures apparently in flux, there figures to be quite a bit of trading action between now and then.
Or, there could be next to nothing, simply because of the fact that two (or three, or four) teams need to agree to tango in this instance. We’ve been promised much before, and let down many times – with two supposedly prominent trade deadlines in 2000 and 2006 only resulting in Anthony Johnson being dealt for very little in the waning hours.
Things went into hyperdrive this week when ESPN reported that the Los Angeles Lakers were considering dealing Pau Gasol to Phoenix for Emeka Okafor’s expiring contract, and potentially a lower-rung first round pick for what would figure to be two months plus the playoffs from Pau Gasol.
Apparently Phoenix’s considerations behind the deal weren’t really acknowledged, and on Tuesday evening the Los Angeles Times quietly confirmed that the Suns wanted no interest in dumping a pick and potential asset in Okafor’s massive expiring deal (to say nothing about using up their still available cap space) in order to bring in currently-ailing Gasol. Even if Pau was one of the West’s better players in January, averaging nearly 21 points and 12 rebounds a game.
This, coupled with Chad Ford’s insistence that this could be an “epic” trade deadline, and the ESPN-led discussions about LeBron James possibly forcing a sign-and-trade to the Los Angeles Clippers this summer (LeBron’s Miami Heat and the Clippers, “co-incidentally,” play on ESPN on Wednesday night) has the internet chatting away. For better or worse.
How can we tell which is motivated by page views or internet subscriptions or ratings-driven fodder, and what’s for real?
This very well could be an epic trade deadline, in much the same way that the 2014 offseason could shape up to be an epic offseason. Fears that the summer of 2014’s free agent class may not exactly come off as “epic,” though, with potential free agent superstars like James, Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony staying with their current teams, may motivate front offices to attempt to make their hay right now. Playoff-driven fears in New York, Brooklyn and Cleveland have turned those franchises into desperate outfits, and with the West looking as talented and wide open as ever, there are plenty of reasons why plenty of teams would be after plenty of talented players who are currently playing on plenty of terrible teams.
Of course, these teams still have to connect. Not only do these deals have to fit in under the NBA salary cap bylaws, but several other considerations have to be accounted for.
The luxury tax looks large, and several teams have spent their way right up to the edge of it without going over, smartly looking to avoid both first-year tax penalty or the massive financial slap that hits when teams dive into the repeater tax after working over the luxury line for multiple (not necessarily consecutive) years. Dealing for a player whose contract runs beyond this season, and (say) pairing him with a player on a rookie contract who is scheduled to make huge money starting in 2014-15, could spell the start of a luxury tax era for your team. You better have put together a winner, in that instance.
Then there are the scads of teams with cap room for this summer. Even if Kobe is already re-signed and the various superstars mentioned above stay home, there are still going to be desperate teams looking to cash in on all that “flexibility” they discussed in years’ past with their fans. Even if the free agent pursuit falls flat, teams can still deal for unwanted stars from frightened teams looking to cut payroll for next to nothing. Grabbing hold of and committing to a player midseason ruins that cheery, two-in-the-bush scenario for glass half full-general managers and owners, who always think they can build a champion once summer hits.
Adopting a player into your culture midseason is always a scary situation, because while there is always the chance that a star could reform your team (as we saw in 1995 with Clyde Drexler heading to Houston, or in 2008 with Pau Gasol heading to Los Angeles), more often than not it’s a tough marriage to consummate on the fly. Addition by subtraction helps teams in nearly as many instances, and adapting to a new roster, coaching setup, and culture (while living out of a hotel) isn’t exactly ideal. Witness Luol Deng’s rough first month in Cleveland.
Finishing it all off is the idea that, once again, teams with ever-increasing amounts of intelligence in the front office have to come to terms on an ideal deal that both sides think is the proper move for their club. That’s not easy, especially in a league and era with so many factions, so many new facts and realities to consider, alongside pressure from owners whose franchise valuations are growing and growing by the season.
Of course, there is that disparity. One that could bring the “epic.”
There are teams with solid players that are smartly trying to lose in order to receive a high draft pick in the 2014 NBA draft (as there are every year, hysterical people), there are teams looking to represent the West this year, there are teams looking to pounce on the free agent market this summer, and there are teams looking to quietly build assets to turn into a sneaky 2014-15 surprise. Even lumping groups of teams into five or six categories fails to hit the mark – there are genuinely 30 different agendas working here.
So, yes, things could become “epic,” and it may not just be a grab for page views and subscriptions. Because these front offices are getting smarter and smarter, it’s very possible that these various general managers and capologists can work together to strike up deal after deal after deal. We wouldn’t dismiss a 2005-styled trade deadline at all.
That deadline, and other busy deadlines, didn’t exactly work out for most teams, though. This is why things could go quiet, even as the chatter grows louder and louder.
We’ll just have to wait and watch, and hope that the frenzy behind this silly season doesn’t get the best of any number of NBA GMs. There’s always the summer, guys. We need something to write about then, too.
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