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Behind the Scenes: NBA Trade Deadline from Different Perspectives

What is a typical trade deadline like for a player, an agent and an executive? We found out.

Alex Kennedy

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This article originally ran in January of 2014 as part of Basketball Insiders’ Trade Deadline Magazine.

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The NBA trade deadline is an exciting time for fans. You read the latest trade rumors involving your favorite team, search through Twitter for the latest news and watch the clock as the deadline approaches to see if your franchise makes a move. It’s a fun day for fans – both diehard and casual.

But what is the trade deadline like for the parties who are actually involved? What is that 24-hour period like for players, executives and agents?

Basketball Insiders wanted to give you a behind-the-scenes look at the deadline from each perspective so we sat down with a player, executive and agent to pick their brain.

The Player Perspective

Chris Kaman was dealt to New Orleans in 2011 and has heard his name surface in trade rumors countless times over the years. He discussed what it was like being traded and how players deal with the deadline.

“It’s just part of the business. There are people trying to save money, people trying to make money, people trying to get draft picks, there’s so many different angles that teams are playing. Each team makes their own decisions based upon that. You see teams trying to dump players right before the deadline and dump money. It’s just a business thing, I think, for the most part. Most times it’s financial, and a few teams it’s probably about getting better. It’s hard to get a good player because most teams that have a good player don’t want to get rid of them.

Initially, my first few times (being mentioned in trade rumors) it was kind of stressful. I didn’t know all the ropes. I didn’t know how to respond. I just didn’t know anything about it. I was wet behind the ears and didn’t know what to anticipate or what to expect, so I was kind of in a panic all the time until it didn’t happen and then the deadline came. Now it’s like, if you want to trade me, that’s fine, that’s part of the business. I’m kind of ready for it if it happens. Now I don’t think about it anymore, I just play. You can’t worry about that stuff. If you worry about that stuff, you’re going to go insane if you think about it.

It’s hard because as players, we have emotions like humans have emotions. It’s not emotions for them, it’s more financial. Does this make sense for them financially? And that’s all it is to them. You’re like a commodity or like a stock. ‘He’s down, let’s trade him.’ Or, ‘He’s up, let’s trade him and get our money out of him.’ Or whatever it is, it’s a business. The hard part is looking at it with emotions and as a person, trying not to get your feelings involved because that’s the worst way to do it. But still, you have a vested interest a lot of times and it’s not easy to just be numb to it and be like a robot. I understand it and I guess guys should understand it more, but these young guys don’t understand it. You don’t want to taint them and say, ‘It’s just a business, don’t worry about it’ but it really boils down to money. It’s the bottom line. It’s about money. If you’re doing a good job and they like you, then they’re going to keep you and they’re going to pay you. If you’re up and down, then they might get rid of you. There are so many things that come into play.”

The Executive Perspective

David Morway, who is the assistant general manager of the Milwaukee Bucks and former general manager of the Indiana Pacers, discussed what a typical trade deadline is like for him and his staff:

“It can be very hectic. You always do your homework on every team to make sure there isn’t something you might be missing that could help your roster. You have to be prepared for anything.  But as I am sure you are aware, many times, nothing happens. You may even think you are close to something happening, but for myriad reasons, nothing comes to fruition.

(The 24 hours before the deadline) are definitely stressful and can be exciting. Whenever you are talking about making a change, there is always stress that goes along with that. You are impacting your franchise, even if it is in a small way, there is an impact there. The exciting part comes after you make a deal – when you see the player or players you acquired helping your team in the way you envisioned.

Sometimes, what you think is a casual discussion may be interpreted by the other party as substantive, and vice versa. A lot of it depends on what is going on with not only your team, but other teams as well. What are their needs? What are their problems or areas of concern? Can we address those for them while getting an asset we like? What’s going on with us? Some seasons you may have several legitimate discussions going on while other seasons there may be not a lot to talk about. It just depends on your situation and the market place at that particular time.

(The biggest misconception is) probably that all front offices are on their phones 24 hours a day, seven days a week, until midnight every night, trying to hammer out a deal. Don’t get me wrong – we all work extremely hard, make calls, do our due diligence and make sure no stone goes unturned. However, I think some fans believe the phone is just ringing off the hook all day and night for weeks. Sometimes that might be the case, but usually it is not. Sometimes the best move to make is no move at all.”

The Agent Perspective

Roger Montgomery of Montgomery Sports Group has represented NBA players for over a decade. Several of his clients have been traded at the deadline, such as Desmond Mason and Maurice Evans.

“Around the trade deadline, I’m monitoring the wire services and making phone calls. We all have allies in front offices so we’re talking to those executives to see if there’s any chatter about our guys. But generally it gets really quiet right around the deadline. It’s sometimes difficult to get the pulse from a GM because they’re really busy and have potential deals lined up. A lot of times you really don’t have a lot of dialogue (with teams). That’s been my experience. You’re kind of at their mercy, waiting to see what may or may not happen. Unless, of course, you’re in a situation where you know your player is going to get moved and you’ve been working with the team to get him moved. Otherwise, you’re really just waiting. You’re waiting for that deadline to pass to see whether or not you’re going to get a call. Whether it’s exciting or stressful really depends on if the player wants to be moved or not.

It’s a time of anxiety for players because this is their livelihood and they want to know where they may be going. I’m always talking to my players, especially around this time of year. I’m telling them what I’m hearing, reassuring them about rumors, going over whether a trade rumor they heard even works salary cap wise and things like that. Really, I’m just trying to help them maintain their composure and get through this period of time the best that I can.

I represented Desmond Mason and Mo Evans when they were moved before the trade deadline. Both moves were surprising, they were trades that you didn’t hear about leading up to them. When they happened, it was kind of difficult. For example, when Desmond got traded he was playing in Seattle, and he liked Seattle. He got traded with Gary Payton to Milwaukee for Ray Allen, it was a major trade. When it happened, he was really disappointed and unsure of what was next. That’s when I start digging to find out what’s next for my guy and what the future looks like.

After a trade, you try to reassure your guy and tell him that if you got traded it means someone wants you. I know people don’t think that NBA players have to deal with rejection like normal people do, but they have to deal with it too. First and foremost, I’m reassuring my client. Then, I try to find out what the new situation is going to be like for my client, from a playing standpoint and from a living standpoint. From a playing standpoint, I’m trying to help them get integrated into the new system, finding out what their role is going to be and talking to the new team. From a living standpoint, it’s a little bit tougher if your player has kids and a family. That’s a little bit more added stress because you’re trying to figure out what to do with your family in terms of moving them and all of that. If it’s just a player who doesn’t have a family, it isn’t as a difficult. But they still have to get accustomed to the new situation, just like any of us would if we got moved to a new job in a new city. If that happened to anyone, they’d immediately wonder who they’re going to be working with, what their role is going to be, whether their workload is going to increase or decrease, if they’re going to like the city and if they know anyone there. Those are the first things that anyone would think about. I’m trying to help them through all of that.”

 

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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Looking Toward The Draft: Power Forwards

Basketball Insiders continues their NBA Draft watch, this time with the power forwards.

David Yapkowitz

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We got some updated NBA draft news this week when the league announced that several key dates have been pushed back including the draft, the start of free agency and the beginning of the 2020-21 season.

The 2020 draft was originally scheduled for Oct. 16, but it will now likely occur sometime in November. Obviously, with the COVID-19 pandemic still wildly out of control in the United States, all of these potential deadlines are fluid and subject to change.

With that said, we’re continuing our position by position breakdown here at Basketball Insiders of some of the top 2020 draft prospects. We looked at the point guards and shooting guards last week, and this week we’re covering the small forwards and power forwards.

The power forward crop, like the draft overall, doesn’t appear to be as strong as recent years, that doesn’t mean there aren’t potential contributors and high-level NBA players available, as well as one who might just turn out to be a star-caliber player.

Onyeka Okongwu, USC – 19 years old

Okongwu is the player who just might develop into a star on some level. He was actually underrated in high school and was snubbed for a McDonald’s All-American selection his senior year. He established himself early on at USC as the team’s best player as a freshman and now appears to have turned some heads.

He’s been mentioned as a lottery pick and in some mock drafts, he’s top 4-5. He possesses a great all-around skill-set; he can score in the post, he can put the ball on the floor and attack and he can shoot. But perhaps his biggest attribute is his versatility on the defensive end. He’s got quick feet and mobility and can guard multiple positions.

Okongwu might actually play center in the NBA, especially in small-ball lineups, but he’s mostly played power forward and so he’ll probably see time there in the league. His skill-set fits perfectly with today’s game.

Obi Toppin, Dayton – 22 years old

Toppin is one of the older players in the draft, and in recent history, players that age tend to slip on draft boards. In Toppin’s case, it looks like the reverse might actually be true. He’s been projected as a lottery pick, and even going in the top 3.

He’s an incredibly athletic player who thrives in the open court. He looks like he’ll do well in an up-tempo offensive system that has capable playmakers who can find him in transition. He’s extremely active around the rim and he can finish strong. A decent shooter too, something he’ll need at the next level.

Toppin has the physical tools to be an effective defensive player, but that’s where the questions marks on him have been. In the NBA, he’s likely going to have to play and guard multiple positions. Whether or not he can adapt to that likely will answer the question as to what his ceiling can be.

Precious Achiuwa, Memphis – 20 years old

Achiuwa is another intriguing prospect. this writer actually got to watch him play in person while he was in high school and he was very impressive. He looked like a man among boys. He’s projected to be a late lottery pick.

He has an NBA-ready body and he’s got some toughness around the rim and in the paint. He was a double-double threat during his one season at Memphis and his knack for rebounding is something that should translate to the NBA. He’s a very good defender too, in particular, as a rim protector. He’s very quick and has the ability to guard multiple positions.

One of the main knocks on Achiuwa is his shooting ability. He didn’t shoot that well in college and power forwards being able to space the floor is almost a requirement in today’s NBA game. It’s something he can certainly work on and improve on though.

Honorable Mentions:
Paul Reed, DePaul – 21 years old
Xavier Tillman, Michigan State – 21 years old
Killian Tillie, Gonzaga – 22 years old

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Looking Toward the Draft: Small Forwards

Basketball Insiders’ examination of the 2020 draft class continues with a look at the small forwards.

Drew Maresca

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It was announced on Wednesday that the NBA Draft would be delayed from Oct. 16 to Nov. 18. The rationale is that the extra month gives the league and its players association more time to negotiate changes to the CBA. It also grants teams additional time to procure information on prospects and allows the NBA to establish regional virtual combines. But nothing is set in stone.

Still, draft prep must continue. This year’s draft class has more question marks than usual – which was complicated by the cancellation of the NCAA tournament (along with the NIT and a number of conference tournaments). There are incredibly skilled offensive players with limited offensive upside and jaw-droppingly talented defenders with incomplete offensive packages. But if (recent) history serves as a guide, there will be a few guys who make an immediate impact – and some of them very well could be small forwards.

The small forward position is key for the modern NBA. Want proof? Survey the league and you’ll find that most – if not all – contenders have an elite small forward – Milwaukee, Los Angeles (both), Boston, Miami, Toronto.

But the list of can’t miss small forward prospects feels smaller than usual. Scanning the numerous legitimate mock drafts (including our own by Steve Kyler), it becomes apparent that we lack a consensus on which small forwards will be selected (and in what order) after the top 3 or 4. Can any of them grow into a star? Maybe. Maybe not. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s identify what the top few bring to the table.

Deni Avdija, Israel – 19 years old

Avdija is a relatively well-rounded prospect who’s played professionally since he was 16. He boasts good height (6-foot-9) and uses it effectively to shoot over and pass around opposing defenses. Further, Avdija is an exceptional playmaker and he’s incredibly confident, enabling him to take chances many players would be apprehensive trying. Avdija is a high-IQ player. And what’s more, he’s a surprisingly strong defender. His height and above-average athleticism allow him to block shots, and he’s more physical than you’d expect him to be.

But there are drawbacks to Avdija, too. His main issue is around shooting. Avdija shot only 28% in the EuroLeague last season, and he shot only 60% from the free-throw line. Further, while he’s a decent athlete, he’ll struggle to secure a role in the NBA. He’s going to need to add speed to stay with modern wings, and he’ll also have to bulk up to bang with power forwards.

Still, Avdija’s upside is alluring. He’s only 19, and his smarts, confidence and grittiness should provide him cover for much of his rookie season. Avdija should be the first small forward off of the board.

Isaac Okoro, Auburn – 19 years old

Avdija might be the flashier name currently, but Okoro will give him a run for his money in terms of which small forward is first off the board. Okoro is built like a traditional NBA wing; he’s 6-foot-6 with good strength packed in his muscular frame (215 lbs). Okoro finishes well around the rim and he converts well through contact. He’s an exceptional athlete who excels catching the ball on the move. Like Avdija, Okoro has the poise and composure of a more experienced player. Also, like Avdija, Okoro looked the part of a high IQ player in his lone season at Auburn.

And while all that is great, the main allure of Okoro is his defense. He’s a fairly advanced defender given his age, and his athleticism and timing make him an effective weak side help defender.

While Okoro’s raw abilities are exquisite, his refined offensive skills leave something to be desired. Okoro shot 28 percent on three-point field goals and he struggled from the free-throw line (67.2 percent). His mid-range jump shot also needs work, and he struggles in isolation situations.

If Okoro can hone his offensive game, he could grow into an All-Star. He has the ability to guard multiple positions, and his strength and athleticism give him a leg up on most prospects. But even if he doesn’t become an All-Star, he possesses a fairly high floor given his defensive abilities — and the guy definitely fills the state sheet (12.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, .9 steals and .9 blocks). He has lockdown defender potential and he’ll put his stamp on the game beginning on night one.

Devin Vassell, Florida State – 20 years old

Vassell played two seasons at Florida State, but he came into his own in his Sophomore season. He averaged 12.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. He shot a more than respectable 41.5% on three-point attempts, and he demonstrated a strong stroke from the free-throw line (73.8 percent) and on two-point field goal attempts (53.2).

Vassell is an extremely athletic leaper, who can rise up for a highlight dunk and sprint down the floor with ease. He has good body control and demonstrated a strong mid-range game, especially his step-back jump shot. But Vassell must generate more free throws through decisive moves to the hoop, which would be bolstered by a more muscular frame. Additionally, he must improve his ball-handling to get more from isolations.

Vassell will have an adjustment period in terms of scoring the ball at the next level. Fortunately, his defense and shooting should get him by. If he can bulk up and improve his handling, Vassell could grow into a serious player.

Aaron Nesmith, Vanderbilt – 20 years old

Nesmith probably has a lower floor than any of the other top small forward prospects given that he’ll be 21 by the draft. Still, he looked quite good in his Junior year, averaging 23 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game on a scorching 52.2 percent shooting from deep. Nesmith is an incredibly gifted shooter who has impressive range. His ability to catch-and-shoot and create space with fakes makes him a promising prospect – for the right team.

Nesmith is a high IQ player who uses his smarts on the defensive end. He’s also quite strong, can get buckets in the open floor and demonstrates above average ball-handling skills, as long as he’s not taking the ball to the hoop.

But there are inherent limitations in Nesmith’s game. He’s doesn’t create for his teammates too effectively and he turns the ball over more frequently than one would like with. Further, Nesmith is plagued by robotic movements that limit his athleticism. His ball-handling breaks down when taking the ball to the rack – something he’ll certainly have to work on in the NBA if he wants to be a versatile scoring threat against the bigger and stronger competition.

Still, Nesmith’s positives give him an excellent chance at being selected in the first round. His range alone will intrigue teams in need of a shooter.

Honorable Mentions:

Saddiq Bey, Villanova – 21 years old

Jaden McDaniels, Washington – 19 years old

Robert Woodard II, Mississippi State – 20 years old

With the uncertainty around small forward prospects, expect to see a revolving door of names enter the discussion after the first four wing prospects are off the board prior to Nov. 16 – assuming the draft is held then. But regardless of how you have them ranked, all of the aforementioned prospects have question marks. But all have had far more time to improve than they would have in years’ past. Let’s hope that shows come next season.

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NBA Daily: Opposite Plotlines for Today’s Matchups

With the two matchups going on today, Matt John examines the two teams who could be in the most trouble because of one of their individual stars for opposite reasons.

Matt John

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The second round of the NBA playoffs was hyped up to be one of the most entertaining we’ve had in years. So far, they haven’t fallen short of expectations. We knew that Houston and Los Angeles’ battle of opposite philosophies would make for some twists and turns. We knew that Boston and Toronto would duke it out in an Atlantic Division showdown. We knew that Miami would push Milwaukee to new heights. We didn’t really know if the Nuggets would give the Clippers a good series, but the fact that they have so far has made an intense postseason all the more gripping.

Anyway, today we’re getting two games from two series in completely opposite places. The Lakers and the Rockets will face off for the series lead, while the HEAT will try to finish off the Bucks once and for all. Below, we’re going to focus on two teams who have an individual star that either may be more flawed than we thought or one that may not be as flawed as we thought.

Bucks vs. HEAT: Giannis is great and all, but…

We all pretty much knew this was going to be a good series. We did not expect this.

The buzz surrounding Bucks v. HEAT was that Miami was going to make Milwaukee earn every win they got in this series. If that was the plan, then Miami has failed miserably, because until Khris Middleton went supernova on them on Sunday, Milwaukee had come up terribly short.

Let’s first give Miami the credit that they are due and more. With Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler alone, Miami was going to be a tough matchup for Milwaukee – but to see the Bucks all but roll over in this series is an unpleasant sight. Acquiring Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala has paid huge dividends and it’s showing. There are other factors involved, but Miami’s defensive efforts have limited Giannis to 21.8 points a game and that’s played a role in the HEAT being in the driver’s seat of this series.

Speaking of Giannis Antetokounmpo, this series has not been a good look for the Defensive Player of the Year. Especially since it looks like his second consecutive MVP (presumably) is right around the corner. So, to see both him and Milwaukee, once an unstoppable force without an immovable object in sight, get stopped by a sturdy but not immovable squad is saddening.

Nearly a year ago, Basketball Insiders compared these current Bucks to the Dwight Howard-led Orlando Magic from the late-2000’s/early 2010’s. To oversimplify things, both were contenders led by a superstar with a rare physique that made them tough to stop. To put the superstar in the best position, they surrounded them with playmakers and three-point shooters.

While the teams’ roster constructions weren’t exactly the same, their strengths as a team certainly were. Now we’re seeing the Bucks’ flaws just as we did the Magic 10 years ago. If you have the personnel to make the lone superstar uncomfortable, the team doesn’t function as well.

Giannis is near impossible to stop, but the one major flaw is that if you take away his ability to drive and force him into a jumper, he loses his rhythm. Even if his shot is on – never a guarantee – his opponents will let him beat them that way until he makes them pay. Hardly any team can pick on this, but the HEAT are one of them, and now they’re one win away from their first Eastern Conference Finals since LeBron James took his talents out of South Beach.

This ultimately is what puts Antetokounmpo below the likes of LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard for now. Those guys are rare physical specimens like him, but their elite games don’t revolve entirely around their natural gifts as he does or Dwight did. At 25 years old, there’s plenty of time for him to change that and, for all we know, he will, but to see him struggle at a time when the conference was supposed to run through him has ignited tons of questions.

Milwaukee’s technically not out yet, but they’ve shown their mortality against Miami. If this really is it for them, then they’ve got to find a quick fix for this problem because if they don’t, then the unspeakable may happen.

Lakers vs. Rockets: Westbrook has been bad and all but…

Shaking off the rust and recovering from a balky knee would be tough for anyone. For Russell Westbrook, it’s killing his productivity and, in turn, the Rockets’ playoff chances. He’s averaging 15.6 points on 39/16/47 splits with a most recent 10-point, 4-of-15 effort from the field which included seven turnovers and air balling wide-open threes sticking out like a sore thumb.

It also doesn’t help that he’s playing the Lakers of all teams. When Westbrook has been in, the Lakers have taken advantage of his shortcomings offensively and it shows both on the court and the stat line.

Most of Westbrook’s damage is hurting Houston on the offensive end. With the All-Star guard in the game, Houston is minus-13.7 with him on the court, the worst offensive rating on the team. The 12 turnovers he’s coughed up in this series probably have something to do with that.

With Westbrook’s struggles and his predecessor Chris Paul coming off of his best individual season since 2016, this, of course, has led to many second-guessing the swap last summer. Or let’s rephrase that: People have been second-guessing that trade since the moment it was announced and, in light of recent events, they’re piling on now more than ever.

Maybe they’re right. Even after playing in the NBA for over a decade now, Westbrook still hasn’t proven that he can control himself enough to reach his potential as a team player. We’ve seen glimpses. On the other hand, Paul showed that he can still pick apart defenses while holding his own on that end.

But replacing Paul with Westbrook was Harden’s idea. He didn’t want to play with Paul anymore and chose to play with one of his closest friends. You may think that the better fit is what’s best for the team, but we’ve seen the damage that can happen when your team’s best players have friction with one another. It hurt Utah this season. It hurt Boston last season. It destroyed the Lakers back in 2013. There’s no telling what it could have done to Houston this season.

Besides, we know that as bad as Westbrook has been, he’s capable of being better. Not a knockdown shooter, not even an efficient scorer, but he has done better in the past when the focus was on him. The more days he takes to shake off the rust from his knee, the more optimistic the Rockets ought to be.

The Rockets have to take the glass-half-full on this one because they don’t really have a choice otherwise.

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