Putting Your Hope in Doing Nothing at the NBA Trade Deadline

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Mary Schwalm / Associated Press

The NBA trade deadline is normally a whirlwind of activity. Deals made, almost made and rumored to be made go flying constantly over several days. Picture each trade as a bill in those boxes of flying money you see in casinos. The number of bills in there compared to how much your average half-drunk tourist is able to catch is probably about the same ratio of potential trades to actual trades at the deadline. It takes a lot of work, talk and luck for a team to nab even one of those bills, so good for them.

That’s not what I’m interested in, though. What I think is fascinating are the teams that clearly have the opportunity to catch one of those bills and just decline. That crisp bill is just sitting in their hand and the team just doesn’t close their fist. Let’s go over some of the teams that did that very thing a week ago.

Boston Celtics

The Celtics have an entire bank vault’s worth of assets with which to deal, and once again they opted against parting with any portion of it. These guys are the most amazing to me and I admire their patience and resilience so much. Had they wanted to go for it, they easily could have gotten Jimmy Butler, Paul George or DeMarcus Cousins. Ultimately, their response was “nah”. That’s incredible.

No matter how many of your assets you’d have to part with, turning down an opportunity to get one of those superstars has to be difficult. Danny Ainge must have felt that one of those players wasn’t going to be enough to get past LeBron James and the Cavaliers. Ainge has been living in fear of James since 2009 so he understands what he’s up against. He chose to wait for a more opportune moment. One that may never come, if LeBron’s powers remain intact. Life in the Eastern Conference is rough, man. Speaking of…

Indiana Pacers

This is Paul George’s team. Now, this was the player that would have been the most difficult for Boston to get. This is because Larry Bird was definitely listening to offers for George, but also no one has ever known what’s going on in Bird’s head. He may have been leading on Ainge just to tank other offers Boston was working on. Larry is the master of messing with your head.

But if he was truly dealing with Boston, then there had to have been a number of tasty assets being thrown around in those talks. First round picks and young players on cheap contracts are NBA catnip, and that’s what the Celtics can give out. Larry is intensely hard-headed so his declining anything less than the monster deal he required (that definitely wasn’t coming from Denver, either) isn’t a surprise. Most likely he’ll intimidate some lesser GM into a more favorable deal somewhere down the line.

Los Angeles Clippers

This is just Doc Rivers staring at a ticking time bomb, realizing there’s enough time left to disarm it later, and leaving it be. And I can’t blame him. One of his three superstars always seems to be hurt and two of them, along with JJ Redick, will be free agents this summer. After a hot start to the season when it finally seemed to all come together, Blake Griffin got hurt, followed by Chris Paul. Things looked much bleaker by the time the deadline rolled around. But Paul was coming back, DeAndre Jordan had just been an All-Star, and as always with the Clippers, this year could be the year.

When you have that many good players assembled, despite all the bad luck and failures they’ve had, it seems criminal to not give it your full effort at least one more time. Sorting out everyone but Jordan’s contracts over the summer will hurt, especially if they bow out before the conference finals once again. But how can you not want to see what this team can do at full strength? Doc will find out in a couple months, perhaps for the last time.

Everyone Else

Most teams made no trades or minor ones, which made sense for many. Those three stars mentioned earlier were really the only ones available, and weren’t going to change most teams into instant contenders. One more star that should have been more available in Carmelo Anthony. The Knicks should be trying to unload him at all costs. Of course, because they’re the Knicks, they gave him a no-trade clause, and he loves being in New York. Good luck with that.

Another team that just isn’t working is Detroit, where Stan Van Gundy was apparently thinking of dealing one or both of Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond. I don’t know if either trade would be an answer for them or how they’ll work going forward. I do know that I would trust Stan Van Gundy with my life, so I’ll let him play this one out.

Everyone I haven’t mentioned that isn’t a playoff lock right now is irrelevant. I’m sorry. Good luck with the draft, we’ll see you next year.

– – –

So there are a lot of reasons to do nothing at the trade deadline. There’s the hope of better deals down the road, the hope your current assets will work for you better what you could trade them for, and the hope that your current team will finally break through. If you’re the Knicks, it’s because you’ve put yourself in a position you can’t get out of. But neither hope nor the Knicks win championships.

Are these teams right to do nothing? It may take years to answer that. We do know the Celtics (who did nothing) are humming along and the Pelicans (who actually traded for Cousins) are 1-3 since his arrival. Toronto pulled the trigger for Serge Ibaka and Kyle Lowry immediately got hurt. But that doesn’t mean they still shouldn’t have tried. Basically, this whole thing is a crapshoot. Doing something is hard to accomplish, and doing nothing may be even harder. Being an NBA GM must really suck.

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