The final 45 minutes before the NBA trade deadline last year were hectic. Twitter was exploding. It was called the craziest NBA trade deadline day ever. There were 11 trades with 40 players involved. This year: not so much. Unless you are in the fan club of Jeff Green, Lance Stephenson or Markieff Morris — aka the better Morris twin — the 2016 NBA trade deadline really didn’t move the needle. There are several reasons for the lack of action, but one of the biggest is the business side of the game.
The CBA and the effect of the new NBA TV deal have been topics of discussion that commissioner Adam Silver has had to address almost from the day he became commissioner. The effects of the television rights agreement really take effect next year, when the NBA salary cap will sky-rocket from this year’s $70 million to $90-$100 million by some estimates in the 2016-2017 season. I know . . . what does this have to do with the trade deadline in 2016?
A lot of the bigger names on the trading block — Dwight Howard, Al Horford — are impending free agents. The way the salary structure in the NBA works is that veterans are eligible for a certain percentage of the cap based on years in the league. Trading for Howard or Horford could essentially be a rental, especially if they demand max contracts upwards of $25-$30 million per annum. It doesn’t make sense for the Celtics to trade Jae Crowder (four years left at $28 million), Avery Bradley (two years/$17 million) and a draft pick for a few months of Horford. GMs would be giving up bargain cost certainty for a big name. With the increasing cap, they could just chase the star next year without giving up assets.
The CBA works against players who have longer contracts as well. Kevin Love was brought up by multiple insiders, but there’s no reason for the Cavaliers to trade his four-year, $23 million per salary because it will be a bargain once the new cap number kicks in. The Cavs would’ve needed value that other teams with first-round picks and players weren’t up for dealing.
There could have been more certainty had the NBA and NBPA came to an agreement on salary smoothing, but that didn’t happen and a lot of owners and GMs decided on the wait-and-see approach. There’s no reason to give up efficient assets while the next few years are still confusing, especially with the CBA opt-out.
Conventional knowledge has four teams with a legit shot at winning the NBA title this year — Warriors, Spurs, Cavs and Thunder — so making a big-splash trade wouldn’t have made economic or on-court sense for a lot of buyers and sellers. At least with the lack of moves, Adrian Wojnarowski, Sam Amick, and Zach Lowe can get some rest. They — and the fans — can thank the CBA and new NBA TV rights deal.
Michael Colangelo is Managing Editor of The Fields of Green and Assistant Director at the USC Sports Business Institute.