A Sign of the Times in the NBA

As I’ve been reading the great trade deadline analysis by John Hollinger of ESPN.com and Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus (check their work out, it’s extremely well done), I’ve been struck by how many of the deadline deals were motivated purely by financial reasons. Those two writers clearly understand the intricacies of the cap and the financial motivations behind many teams.

Whether they were positioning for free agency in 2009 or 2010, limiting luxury tax payments now or in the future, or simply saving a few bucks, many teams made some very astute moves. This might be a source of complaint for many people (my biggest gripe would have been the Tyson Chandler trade that almost was, but even then I can understand), but I’m impressed and fascinated at the same time by these moves. Teams clearly have a great understanding of every little loophole within the Collective Bargaining Agreement and are using them to their advantage.

A couple of minor deals prove this point very well. At first glance, Portland’s trade of Ike Diogu for Michael Ruffin makes little sense when you look at the skills and contracts of the two players. Both have expiring contracts, yet Diogu is younger and more talented. However, he was very expendable for the Blazers and the trade accomplishes two things. It lowers their luxury tax payments ever so slightly, and it gives them a $3 million trade exception that can be used within the next year (props to Pelton for explaining this well). Kevin Pritchard is no dummy, so you can bet that exception will turn into something useful.

The other team that intrigued me was the Memphis Grizzlies. They made two separate trades: one in which they gave up a player (Kyle Lowry) for a draft pick, and another in which they gave up a draft pick and received a player (Chris Mihm) along with cash considerations. The net effect is Memphis turning a conditional 2013 second-round pick (not exactly valuable) into a first rounder in next year’s draft, and being paid a few bucks in the process. Sure they gave up Lowry for Mihm, but Mike Conley is the point guard of the future anyways.

In case we forgot, the trade deadline reminded us that this thing we hold so dear is certainly a business. And I’m ok with that. I prefer teams to be scheming penny-pinchers instead of trial-and-error free spenders. The next goal should be to avoid giving out those bad contracts in the first place (easier said than done).

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