History is often the best teacher, and executives who have significant track records with their teams provide a clue about how they’ll act as this year’s trade deadline approaches. Some executives are well-known for swinging deadline deals, Rockets GM Daryl Morey chief among them, while others, notably Pacers president Larry Bird, seem loathe to dip into the fray.
I’ve examined the moves of each primary basketball executive who’s been with his team through at least three deadlines. That excludes long-tenured execs who’ve remained with their clubs for several years but are no longer running day-to-day affairs, like Kevin O’Connor of the Jazz and John Paxson of the Bulls. I’ve also held off from judging executives in Charlotte and Memphis, where it’s not entirely clear who’s making decisions.
I’ve given the term “deadline trade” a broad definition as any that takes place during February, when the deadline has fallen every year except 2012. That’s when the lockout-shortened schedule pushed it into March. For 2012, I’ve included March deals only. The executives are in order from busiest to least busy at the deadline.
- Daryl Morey, Rockets (Six deadlines, 10 trades): No one swings deals at the deadline quite like Morey, who’s never failed to make at least one trade this time of year. Still, none of them have involved superstars, aside from a prematurely aging Tracy McGrady, whom the Rockets gave up in the three-team deal that brought Kevin Martin to Houston in 2010.
- Sam Presti, Thunder (Six deadlines, eight trades): Presti made his controversial acquisition of Kendrick Perkins for Jeff Green at the 2011 deadline. A subtle 2009 swap with the Bulls that sent away the draft pick that became Taj Gibson in exchange for Thabo Sefolosha continues to affect both franchises.
- Danny Ainge, Celtics (10 deadlines, 11 trades): Most of these trades weren’t headliners, as Ainge usually saves his most earth-shattering moves for the summer. The most noteworthy of the bunch is the Kendrick Perkins–Jeff Green trade from 2011.
- John Hammond, Bucks (Five deadlines, five trades): Hammond acquired the pick that became Larry Sanders from the Bulls without giving up much at the 2010 deadline. He’s made fairly noteworthy trades at the deadline the past two seasons, but the Bucks have little other than Ekpe Udoh to show for deals that sent out Andrew Bogut and Tobias Harris.
- Billy King, Nets (Three deadlines, three trades): Last year was the first in King’s relatively brief tenure that he didn’t make a significant deal that sacrificed the future for the present. He gave up a package that included Derrick Favors and the pick that became Enes Kanter for Deron Williams in 2011, and acquired Gerald Wallace in 2012 in a much-maligned deal for the pick that became Damian Lillard.
- Gar Forman, Bulls (Four deadlines, three trades): Forman fleeced the Bobcats in 2010 when he acquired a first-round pick that could become a late lottery selection this year, but the same day, he gave up picks that became Larry Sanders and Isaiah Thomas for little in return.
- Ernie Grunfeld, Wizards (10 deadlines, six trades): Grunfeld sat out the first six deadlines of his tenure in Washington, but that changed in 2010, when he pulled off three trades, and he’s made a move at each deadline since. The Wizards netted little in exchange for their purge of Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison in 2010, and the only part of the team’s current rotation who came via any of Grunfeld’s deadline moves is Nene, who arrived in 2012.
- R.C. Buford, Spurs (11 deadlines, five trades): The Spurs have been quiet at the deadline under Buford, as you might expect with a team that’s kept its core of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili together for so long. The most significant deadline move might have been Buford’s first, in which he gave up a first-round draft pick that eventually became David Lee for Nazr Mohammed, the starting center on San Antonio’s 2005 title team.
- Donnie Nelson, Mavericks (11 deadlines, five trades): Owner Mark Cuban clearly exerts influence, but Nelson has handled at least the day-to-day operations for the Mavs for more than a decade. Nelson showed his creative side when he included a retired Keith Van Horn in a move that brought Jason Kidd from the Nets in 2008. The procedure was later outlawed, but Kidd helped Dallas win the 2011 title, which probably absolves the loss of the first-round pick that became Ryan Anderson.
- Pat Riley, Heat (Five deadlines, two trades): Riley has undoubtedly had a strong influence on Miami’s personnel ever since coming to the team as coach in 1995/96, but for our purposes we’ll count Riley’s moves since the 2008/09 season, when Riley left coaching for good and former GM Randy Pfund stepped down. His only deadline move of note was the acquisition of Jermaine O’Neal from Toronto in 2009, a deal in which he acquired the first-round pick that became Jonas Valanciunas. Riley later sent that pick back to Toronto in the Chris Bosh sign-and-trade.
- Joe Dumars, Pistons (13 deadlines, five trades): Trading Greg Monroe or Josh Smith would go against character for Dumars, who’s made just one significant deadline swap. That move to acquire Rasheed Wallace in 2004 set up the team’s title run.
- Mitch Kupchak, Lakers (13 deadlines, five trades): Kupchak has largely avoided deadline deals, and the Pau Gasol acquisition in 2008 barely qualifies, since it came on February 1st, nearly three weeks before deadline day. His only other deadline move of note was in 2012, when he traded for Ramon Sessions, but Sessions turned out not to be the answer at point guard and was forced out when Kupchak recruited Steve Nash the next summer.
- Dell Demps, Pelicans (Three deadlines, one trade): Demps’ only deadline move was a controversial one, since the swap of Marcus Thornton and cash for Carl Landry added money to the payroll of a financially troubled franchise that was owned by the league at the time.
- Larry Bird, Pacers (Nine deadlines, one trade): When Bird sent cash and a second-round pick to the Raptors for Leandro Barbosa in 2012, it was the first deadline deal he ever made. He took last year off, but unless the Barbosa deal was the start of a trend, don’t expect Indiana to get involved in any trades this year.