The NBA trade deadline is as unique of a phenomenon as there is in sports. Somehow, for a few weeks in the middle of the season, the games don’t seem to matter all that much. Wins and losses happen and people react, but the context through which we view basketball changes, because the trade deadline is looming, and everything, for one reason or another, has to be viewed through this lens.
Wins are proof of two things. Either a team is in a good spot and doesn’t need to make a move, or the players that win the games are showing off their value to potential suitors. Losses? Well, that just shows that a team has to do something, anything, to get better in preparation for the postseason, or maybe it means everything is hopeless, and sooner rather than later, they need to embrace the tank. We’ll worry about gauging things later, because baby, there are buyers, and there are sellers, and there are teams that will act as a third party to make deals happen if you give them something for their time. And then there’s the Warriors. They’re probably fine.
The deadline has taken on a life of its own, going from A Thing That Happens every year at 3 p.m. on a day in the dead of winter to a weeks-long event, rife with rumors and rumblings about major decisions that radically impact the lives of human beings most of us will never meet, people who rarely have a say in the decisions a few people in suits make that involves uprooting their lives, leaving the communities in which they’ve become ingrained, and starting anew.
The evolution of the deadline as an event is an awfully fascinating one, and in the eyes of Zach Lowe and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, it stems from one simple principle: For folks at home, the transactional aspect of basketball is really, really fun.
“I think that there’s such an appetite for how deals come together,” Wojnarowski told Dime, “the mindset of teams and players and agents and owners in doing deals, and I think there’s such a sophistication of the audience that they know more about how this league works, I think, largely because of how we’ve all reported on it.”
“People like trades, I think people have always liked trades,” Lowe says. “I think a lot of the genesis of fantasy sports is that people like trades, people can’t pretend to be players, but people can pretend to be GMs, and I think trades are fun, I think that’s all it is, just on a fundamental level, trades are fun and interesting.”
This hunger the public has to learn about trades has manifested itself in ways that impact the pair (as an aside, this is your informal reminder to make sure you have notifications on for Wojnarowski’s tweets, because a #WojBomb can come at any time). One such way will be on display on Wednesday at 5 p.m. ET, when ESPN2 will air the latest broadcast of Woj & Lowe.
It’s not the first time the pair have teamed up — as Wojnarowski tells it, of the 200 or so podcasts he’s done, none have been listened to more than when he’s joined by Lowe, who he calls “the New Yorker of NBA writing and reporting.” He’s been joined by the likes of Steph Curry and DeMar DeRozan, but the partnership with Lowe is one that fans loved above all else. This sparked an idea in the mind of Cristina Daglas, ESPN’s deputy NBA editor and the person whose role in the entire thing coming together warranted Wojnarowski getting in touch after we spoke to emphasize her importance in the creation of the program: Why not give basketball fans more? It manifested itself in December, when the first episode of the show made its debut.
“She knew the reaction that people had had to the podcast,” Wojnarowski recalls. “She knew that there was an audience … out there that was really enthusiastic, and it was big, and could be bigger, and it would translate to TV.”
As Wojnarowski recalls, Daglas’ general idea was to put a podcast on TV, giving the two the opportunity to go back-and-forth on the goings on around the league at the time. It’s easy to see then how this would be an idea that is applicable for something like the trade deadline, and how there may not be two people more well-equipped to see the idea through.
Both Lowe and Wojnarowski have their own pods, which have helped them develop skills applicable to doing television. Lowe, in that regard, calls podcasts “reps,” with both guys noting that hosting a podcast helps them develop a form of conversational skills that are unique to forms of media. Lowe cites things like “feeling out a conversation and when it’s time to stop it and go somewhere else, when it’s time to just sit back and let the person talk, when it’s time to interject so you get a conversational rhythm going, when it’s good to interject with a joke and when it’s not” as techniques you develop as you do more and more podcasts.
There’s obviously an adjustment that has to happen for television, namely cutting down on the amount of riffing and diving deep into topics that are hallmarks of both of their shows — Wojnarowski stresses the importance of “discipline” when you have to pack a 22-minute window with as much information as possible. Still, the pair agree that one particular topic in the NBA zeitgeist will take up a pretty decent chunk of the conversation.
“For a show like this, there’s gonna be stuff you can really sink your teeth into,” Lowe says. “My hunch is we’ll talk about the Anthony Davis situation quite a lot, and so there’s room there to go into the weeds a little bit of maybe cap minutiae and what teams X, Y, and Z might have to offer. For other stuff, it’s gonna be lightning round, and you gotta just be cognizant of that.”
While other potential trades will certainly be on the agenda on Wednesday evening’s program, the Davis trade is the hottest topic in the NBA right now heading into the All-Star Break. Doing a live television show 22 hours before the trade deadline presents the possibility — however obscure it is — that Wojnarowski or Lowe will get wind of the trade on the air, causing them to report and react on live television. When asked about the possibility that would happen, Wojnarowski made it clear this wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.
In fact, after recording the episode of Woj & Lowe earlier this season, he says there’s something exciting about potentially having to adjust on the fly for a piece of news that monumental.
It’s all part of the craziness that envelops this portion of the NBA calendar. Trades supersede games, rumors are bigger stories than results, and fans spend their free time over-analyzing every word, every tweet, and every cryptic LeBron James post on Instagram. It’s something that exists to get broken down and combed over, as it’s the sort of event that impacts every team in one way or another, not just for the next few months, but potentially for years.
All if it justifies putting together something special. Woj & Lowe is just that sort of thing, a detailed breakdown of what basketball fans need to know as we enter the stretch run of this time of year. Fortunately for those who tune in, Lowe believes his co-host is just the guy to help them achieve this.
“He’s got information that doesn’t exist anywhere else,” Lowe says when asked about what he hopes the broadcast accomplishes. “I think trying to get that information out to the world in this vehicle so it gives you something that you haven’t heard before and that you’re not gonna here anywhere else would be the hope, and to get it well-timed so that it sets you up for the next 24 hours or whatever it ends up being of craziness.”
Perhaps the nuggets of information regarding where things stand will eventually become harbingers of what’s to come. The deadline always comes with the potential for complete and utter chaos — Wojnarowski cites 2015 (in which he tweeted “Good lord” amid a late frenzy of deals) and last season’s active deadline as examples of this. But ultimately, the beauty of the deadline is that anything can happen, as evidenced by Wojnarowski saying “you’re not going to know until you get closer to it, for sure.”
At the very least, though you can be prepared. For Wojnarowski, the best way to do this as a reporter is “knowing what [trades] people have ruled out, and not having to spend time on those things.” For basketball fans, there might not be a better way to get ready for the craziness than tuning in and seeing what Woj and Lowe have to say.