Trade deadline week used to be the busiest of the NBA season, with team executives making deals at a frenzied pace as buyers tried to load up for a playoff run and sellers tried to unload onerous contracts to give them some flexibility for the next season.
Something different appears to be taking place this time around. There’s been plenty of talk, but very little action so far with the deadline looming at 3 p.m. Eastern time on Thursday.
The big moves that were the hallmarks of trade deadlines past could still be coming. But if they don’t, it could be because teams across the league are bracing for a much harsher economic reality starting next season. The “Super Team” era could be over.
The new collective bargaining agreement that was born out of last year’s lockout will impose much stiffer penalties for teams that exceed the salary cap. Teams started bracing for it ever since play resumed on Christmas Day in 2011, and the reckoning is just around the corner. Owners are keeping one eye on the court and the other on their wallets.
“Every team is watching what it can do and how it can improve its team in connection with the much higher luxury tax,” Commissioner David Stern said just before the All-Star break.
The new CBA may not be responsible just for slowing down the amount of activity around the trade deadline. The total number of players traded in the week leading up to the deadline was 45 in 2010 and 49 in 2011, according to STATS LLC. Last year, that number dipped to 27. As of Wednesday night, just two deals made by the Rockets involving six players filled out the total for this year.
When owners and players agreed to a new deal that ended the most recent lockout, the players insisted on not having a hard salary cap — like in the NFL — that teams could not exceed under any circumstance. In the name of leveling the playing field for big and small-market teams, the owners responded by getting new restrictions put in place to make it as painful as possible for teams who go over the cap to continue doing business that way for any length of time.