A total of 74 NBA players who signed new contracts this past offseason will become trade-eligible next Thursday, on December 15.
A handful of players will remain ineligible to be traded until January 15 or other specific dates, but December 15 is considered the unofficial start of NBA trade season, with all but a handful of players free to be included in deals.
While it’s true that teams may start to get more serious about making trades after December 15, the notion that the floodgates will immediately open on the trade market is misguided. Generally speaking, the market is slower to develop, with most deals not being completed until much closer to the February trade deadline — or at least until after the holidays.
Here’s a look back at how the trade market has developed in recent seasons, as we look to get a sense of what to expect in the coming weeks and months:
With the NBA back to its normal schedule following a pair of seasons affected by COVID-19, dozens of players became trade-eligible on December 15, but no in-season deals were completed until January 3.
On January 3, nearly three weeks after he became trade-eligible, Rajon Rondo was sent from the Lakers to the Cavaliers in a three-team deal that also involved the Knicks.
In an abridged NBA season, the trade eligibility date for most offseason signees was February 6 rather than December 15. A pair of trades were completed before February 6, though both of those deals involved unusual circumstances — the Rockets granted James Harden‘s long-standing trade request by sending him to Brooklyn and the Cavaliers sent Kevin Porter Jr. to Houston following a locker-room incident.
On February 8, the Pistons and Knicks agreed on a trade that sent Derrick Rose to New York, but no one involved in that trade was newly trade-eligible, so the timing looks like a coincidence. After that deal, no trades were finalized until March 13, more than a month later.
The first in-season trade completed in 2019/20 occurred on December 23, eight days after the December 15 trade eligibility date. However, neither player involved in that swap – Jordan Clarkson heading to Utah and Dante Exum going to Cleveland – was among the players who became trade-eligible on the 15th.
Following that Clarkson/Exum deal, the next trade wasn’t made until January 16.
In an unusually eventful fall, three trades were made prior to December 15 in 2018/19, including the blockbuster that sent Jimmy Butler from Minnesota to Philadelphia.
The ’18/19 season also featured a rare December 17 trade, involving a player who was newly eligible to be dealt: Trevor Ariza. However, it’s worth noting that the agreement sending Ariza from Phoenix to Washington was preceded by an aborted three-team deal that would have involved the Grizzlies along with the Suns and Wizards. Those trade talks, which were first reported on December 14, fell apart due to confusion over whether the Grizzlies were including MarShon Brooks or Dillon Brooks.
While we may never see that mistake repeated by another NBA team, it’s possible that the embarrassment of that situation has since served as a cautionary tale for teams eager to make trades right away on December 15.
Two trades were made before December 15 during the 2017/18 season, but all was quiet on the trade market for several weeks after Dec. 15 came and went.
The season’s third deal wasn’t finalized until January 29, when the Pistons acquired Blake Griffin from the Clippers. Griffin had become trade-eligible on January 15.
Outside of an early November trade that sent Jerami Grant from Philadelphia to Oklahoma City, the 2016/17 in-season trade market was quiet until the new year. The second trade of the season was made on January 6, and didn’t involve any players who became trade-eligible on December 15.
If we were to keep going further back, we’d find that the pattern is typically similar, with little action occurring immediately after offseason signees become trade-eligible on December 15.
We have to go all the way back to 2010 to find the last time a trade was made on December 15. That three-team deal involving the Rockets, Nets, and Lakers included Joe Smith, who had become trade-eligible that day.
It’s possible that next Thursday will bring our first December 15 trade in 12 years, but recent NBA history suggests the odds are against it — we’ll likely have to wait a little longer for the trade market to really heat up.