Seeing Double at the Trade Deadline

Has anybody noticed that Steve Blake and Alex Smith look like the same guy playing different sports?

Unfortunately for sports fans, they are not the only look-alikes during the NBA trade deadline.  It seems that all of the innocuous deadline deals are starting to look like doppelgangers.

The discussion surrounding the trading deadlines often dwarfs the actual games.  This trade hype usually begins when an “insider” announces a rumor which is then blasted over every media outlet as if it were the seventh game of the world series.  But only rarely does a trade take place near the deadline that rocks the sport and changes the very power structure.

Once such deal took place in 1993, and it led to one of the most painful heartbreaks in San Francisco Giants history. On July 19, 1993, the Braves were eight games behind the Giants and they acquired the highest paid Padre, Fred McGriff,  for three no-names.  The Braves ended up winning the division, and even though the Giants won 103 games that season, they missed the playoffs!

The Lakers made another such momentous deal on February 1, 2008, when they acquired Pao Gasol from the Grizzlies and proceeded to win two championships with him.

For all the articles and hype given to deadline-day deals, it is very unusual for a trade to make a difference as impressive as the attention it receives. The only thing worse than the endless discussion of trades that may or may not happen, is endless discussion of trades that are just about meaningless when they do happen. And today in the NBA, the deals are becoming less and less impactful.

The culprits are the new collective bargaining agreement and the salary cap.

A deadline deal is usually made by a team trying to make an advantageous trade for a player in the last year of his contract, who may not be coming back.  Or, as in the case of McGriff, it can happen when a team is going through a “fire sale” where they are trying to dump big salaries to save money and build for the future.

But as a recent article in the Bleacher Report explains, there is a reason why the latest trade deadline deals were so lackluster.  There is a new luxury-tax system that charges teams $1.50 for every dollar they go over the threshold.  This penalty makes the even biggest-spending teams think twice about spending the big bucks.  Put that together with the salary cap and it equals b-o-r-i-n-g!

In the case of McGriff, the Padres were partially dumping his salary, but they also received young players in return who they hoped would succeed.  What does it say about the current NBA trade deadline that the player move now receiving a lot of attention as being the biggest addition to a championship contender was not acquired through a “fire sale”–but just a player who was fired?

Four days ago Glenn “Big Baby” Davis was “bought out” by the Magic.  Being bought out is essentially a code word in the NBA for being waived because all contracts are fully guaranteed.  The Magic decided they would rather pay Davis to not play for them anymore and in return receive no players back. Yet Davis is 28 years old and after this buyout he was then reportedly recruited by the playoff bound Clippers and Nets.  Davis signed with the Clippers who appear to be celebrating like they just added a key piece.

It’s fun to read about potential trades that could make a big difference.  But when the trades all look the same and player buyouts take center stage–there seems to be something dead about the deadline.

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