With cap set to soar, NBA trade deadline brought caution
In past years, a team like the Toronto Raptors almost certainly would have been looking to add some help for the stretch run.
They're holding down second place in the Eastern Conference, have been one of the league's hottest teams for the last month and seem poised to make a significant playoff push.
Yet on this trade-deadline day, they did nothing.
They weren't alone.
For the most part, Thursday's deadline came and went with most NBA teams seeming cautious, with the huge rise in the salary cap for next season -- and the uncertainty of how the free-agent market will react to that over the summer -- deterring clubs from making moves that might adversely affect their flexibility going forward.
"Yes, we are in a different situation from last year," Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri said.
He was talking about his team.
He may as well have been talking about the league, where there's a clear wait-and-see approach about how the massive cap jumps that are coming will inevitably change the way teams go about their business.
This season's cap was a record $70 million.
That seems like pocket change when compared to how next season will likely top $90 million, and a cap of $110 million or more for 2017-18 is possible.
"The spike is something we're all aware of ... as we're thinking about things and trying to create more financial opportunities in the coming summer, for us to grow and get better," Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer said. "I'm sure every team is similar."
There were several deals Thursday, but no blockbusters.
Cleveland landed Channing Frye and the Los Angeles Clippers got Jeff Green for perhaps the two biggest player moves among contending teams, while Miami got under the luxury-tax threshold and Orlando opened up about $45 million in a pair of key accomplishments with an eye toward the future.
Besides, with Golden State off to a 48-4 start, there probably aren't that many teams thinking they have a legitimate chance of winning it all this year anyway.
Hence, wait `til next year -- or at least `til next summer -- might have been the most prudent policy.
"We've been on the other side of it not too long ago when you never knew if you were one piece away or one move away or how a trade could impact a season either positively or negatively," Warriors guard and reigning MVP Stephen Curry said. "I like where we are."
Detroit was the most notable exception at trade time, with the Pistons adding Tobias Harris (his contract that runs through 2018-19), plus taking a chance on Donatas Motiejunas.
He'll be a restricted free agent, so Detroit will have a chance to keep him if it so chooses.
"I don't think anybody in the NBA knows exactly what the market is going to look like for guys this summer," Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy told the team's website. "You gauge it the best you can. ... We weren't going to give away assets for unrestricted free agents and so we feel good about it."
Most of the deals that were bandied about in recent weeks never happened.
Dwight Howard, Al Horford and Kevin Love -- all big names who got trade attention -- stayed put.
"Certainly the cap changes are going to make players under contract more valuable," Cleveland general manager David Griffin said. "But I think in some cases people who had a big expiring contract weren't getting the value they hoped to get because the guy was most likely going to walk."
That's likely why Howard is still with Houston.
It would have taken a strong combination of players and draft picks to get the Rockets to move him anyway, which some teams seemed willing to consider. But with Howard holding a $23 million player option for next season, he could -- and by all indications, will -- opt to become a free agent instead.
So landing him would have come at a huge cost for some team who likely would have seen him leave July 1 anyway, and no deal got struck.
"There's no question that the new cap impacted not only the fundamentals of this trade period, but maybe even more the psychology of it as well," Utah Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey said.
Minnesota GM Milt Newton understood why teams were hesitant.
"Why bring someone into the fold that might take away some of your cap space when you're not necessarily sold?" Newton said. "It may make your team better if you're a playoff team for this year, but how will it affect you next year?"
The NBA will know that answer in a few months.
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