Many expect a lot of deals to go down before the February 20 deadline, with the common assumption that a big trade or two could lead to a domino effect throughout the rest of the league. For the second year in a row, Rudy Gay has been the centerpiece for an early in-season blockbuster. The Luol Deng deal between the Cavs and Bulls followed, and there are many more names on the trading block, many of which we’ve highlighted in our Trade Candidates series. There is also a pretty clear line between teams at the top and bottom of each conference, with a handful of teams on the playoff bubble. Teams with title hopes are generally buyers, and teams that have draft hopes typically sell during the trade season, with an oft-lamented tendency for losing teams to “tank” away their season in order to improve their chances at a higher pick. This disparity is a condition that theoretically makes for easier matchmaking for teams with clear needs.
Timberwolves team president Flip Saunders is skeptical of a lot of movement this trade season, describing a gridlock due to heightened values for draft picks. Teams are certainly hanging on to picks more tightly than they have in some previous eras, careful to build rosters around as many inexpensive contracts as possible to avoid paying the increasingly punitive repeater tax levied under the current CBA against franchises that exceed the luxury-tax line in consecutive seasons. Another dampening CBA component is the Stepien Rule, which prohibits teams from trading away first round picks in consecutive years. This rule prevents a team like the Nets from parting with upcoming picks they hold, even though they would otherwise meet the profile of a team willing to deal picks to bolster their short-term championship window.
Those teams on the playoff bubble could swing league activity, depending on how their next couple weeks go and how strong the commitment to a playoff run is in their front office. The Pistons, for example, have won four home games in a row and edged just a half-game behind the current eighth-seed Bobcats. A run like that could remove the temptation for a team like Detroit to give up on their core and part with any of their players for future assets.
What do you think? Will this trade season be “epic,” as ESPN’s Chad Ford has predicted, or will it underwhelm as it has in many years before?