A lot of “experts” like to talk about potential NBA trades and what certain players might get dealt for.
But those people are ignoring some crucial considerations about how NBA trades work.
It’s HARD to make NBA trades. A lot harder than most people think.
Thought process in
First of all, let’s look at the foundational pieces of player value.
What do teams consider? Among the most obvious factors:
- How a player fits in with the personnel and coaching staff.
- The organization’s plan and overall direction for the future.
- The player’s contract in relation to the payroll and the aforementioned plan.
- How the team’s chemistry could be affected by a trade.
These are the things teams consider when evaluating potential NBA trades.
And more importantly, remember that BOTH teams–not just one side–involved in trade talks are thinking about these things.
The big man development role play in which we talked about post moves was fun, so let’s do another role play.
I originally wrote this essay years ago, when NBA fans paid close attention to the career and reputation of 2011 #2 overall pick Derrick Williams.
This exercise is still great. You should read it. But I wanted to offer that quick background to anyone thinking, “Why are we talking about a bust from ten years ago?”
If it helps, imagine we’re talking about a more recent player who isn’t living up to expectations but is still seen as having a lot of athleticism and potential.
NBA Trades Role play!
Let’s take the Derrick Williams trade, for example, in which Minnesota sent him to Sacramento in exchange for Luc Richard Mbah a Moute.
I heard a lot of people argue that the Timberwolves “should” have gotten more for the former #2 overall pick.
Here’s the thing.
There is no should when it comes to player value on the trade market.
The only thing that matters is what you can accomplish considering the overall landscape of the NBA, and what specific teams want and have to offer.
We’ll do the role play to illustrate this point team-by-team.
Looking at potential NBA trades
There are 29 NBA teams Minnesota theoretically could have traded Williams to, right?
Now, Williams is a young player making $5 million this season, and he’s owed another $6.3 million guaranteed for next year. He’s shown promise, though not the ability/readiness to make a significant contribution to a good team.
For a trade to work, a team needs to send Minnesota back a player (or a combination of players) making a similar amount of money this season, per the CBA.
So to make the trade at the $5 million salary, a team would send Minnesota either a veteran role player making roughly between $4 million and $6 million, or a combination (probably two or three) of inexpensive young players whose contracts total falls into that range.
The latter won’t happen, because Minnesota would like to make the playoffs this year. That’s their motivation and organizational direction.
Because of that direction, they’d prefer to receive someone who might help them now.
That means probably a veteran.
Just like that, we can nearly rule out any young, inexpensive players being options in a trade.
Any two young players on cheap contracts who would be good enough to help Minnesota make the playoffs hold too much value for another team to want to give up for Derrick Williams.
It wouldn’t make sense for them.
For those same reasons, Minnesota won’t build a package around a draft pick — with a presumably uninteresting veteran attached to make the salaries line up — because, again, they want to make the playoffs as soon as possible.
Trading a useful rotation player like Williams without getting one back runs counter to that plan.
So that means we’re talking about a team swapping a veteran for Williams.
And that veteran is going to make between $4 million and $6 million.
Or less likely, we’re talking about two even lesser veterans whose contracts add up to that amount. But those players probably wouldn’t be as useful to Minnesota as Williams is, because a veteran who makes less than $3 million and who is available for trade probably isn’t as good as Derrick Williams.
Given those considerations, let’s begin.
First of all, there are a few teams with championship aspirations who obviously want to clear their cap sheet for this summer as much as possible. Think the Lakers, Heat, and Mavericks, and maybe a few of the teams mentioned later too. With Williams set to make $6.3 million in 2014-2015, you can cross those teams off.
You also have teams like the Pacers, Bulls, and Nets who surely feel pretty set with their core of mostly veterans and don’t feel a particular need for Williams.
Other teams like the Thunder, Bucks, Suns, Jazz, and Rockets simply don’t have the financial pieces to make a trade that would make any sense, let alone one Minnesota would also benefit from in their quest to make the playoffs this season.
Teams like the Cavaliers and Wizards, meanwhile, are trying to add players like Luol Deng and Marcin Gortat, who are more proven impact makers than Williams would be.
And then there’s the mass of organizations who could theoretically have interest in Williams AND have salaries that could match up.
But those salaries belong to:
- Starters those teams don’t want to trade for Williams,
- Players the Timberwolves understandably like quite a bit less than Williams, or
- Players those other teams like a lot more than Williams.
In that category, you have a load of teams: the Knicks, Clippers, Hawks, Blazers, Raptors, Nuggets, Pistons, Spurs, Magic, Warriors, Sixers, Grizzlies, and Pelicans.
That doesn’t leave that many real suitors, does it?
We’re talking about a much smaller subset of the league now, and that’s before any real conversations even take place.
This is why it’s necessary to do this exercise when evaluating NBA trades.
Subtracting those teams mentioned above, we’re left with the Kings, Celtics, and Bobcats.
That leaves us talking about packages along the lines of the following:
- Luc Richard Mbah a Moute.
- Brandon Bass.
- Ramon Sessions, or some combination of Bismack Biyombo, Brendan Haywood, and Josh McRoberts.
In the Bobcats’ case, we’re talking about either another point guard who doesn’t space the floor (Minnesota has a collection of those already) or a couple decent big men.
Lump Bass into that last category too.
If Minnesota wants to trade Williams because he can’t play with Love and Pekovic, why would they trade him for another big man (or two) who can’t play with Love and Pekovic?
And now, at last, we’re left with Luc Richard Mbah a Moute.
Now, you may be asking, “Why not get a draft pick or something in addition to the player?”
If Minnesota has decided to deal Williams, this is already the best deal they’re getting. They don’t have the leverage to demand a draft pick or anything else. Why would Sacramento give up a draft pick here if Minnesota doesn’t have any better offers? They don’t have to!
Minnesota couldn’t do any better, or they would have.
That’s usually the case.
Sometimes someone screws up. It happens. But more often than not there just wasn’t a deal to be had.
Such is the life cycle of NBA trades.
When you’re thinking about trades from a basketball scouting point of view, considering a team’s (1) objectives and (2) inventory becomes a necessary part of the exercise.
You get a much clearer perspective on what possibilities exist.