Why You Should Stop Bitching About The Slow NBA Trade Deadline

The NBA’s trade deadline expired yesterday at 3:30 p.m. ET, and with it came one last deal, Indiana’s exchange of long-time wing Danny Granger for Philadelphia’s Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen. A resoundiing, metaphorical “HUZZAH” emanated from the denizens of NBA Twitter, with many believing the last-minute deal had somehow saved the trade deadline. Why does the trade deadline need saving, and when did we, as fans, collectively agree it was cool to commodify human beings simply to participate in the cutthroat game of pretend NBA GM?

Inspiring sympathy for millionaires who get to play a kid’s game is a tall order I’m not even going to attempt, but I will try and empathize with those guys who got traded, or who thought they may have been.

The Clippers plane yesterday sounds as if it was like a team fart, with rumor and innuendo wafting through the air like they all gobbled a ton of fast food and diuretics before climbing aboard. Eventually they found out two current players, Byron Mullens and Antawn Jamison, wouldn’t be making the flight. Here’s Matt Barnes — who was involved in a multitude of rumors, mostly surrounding Knicks wing Iman Shumpert — on the atmosphere:

“The plane was a sweatbox today. It’s just a business and it’s tough. We sat on that plane for almost two hours looking around in silence, looking at Twitter.

“No one was really talking. We were looking around and the captain said [the delay was caused by] bad weather and we’re like, ‘Yeah, bulls—, we’re waiting for that trade deadline.’ I’m just glad it’s over.”

During the night before the deadline was set to expire, vigilant fans and faux-GM’s yukked it up on Twitter as Steve Blake was busy trying to figure out how he was going to see his family after getting traded to Oakland. Blake — like all of us, except those principles involved in the deal — heard late Wednesday night the former Maryland *product* (see what I did there?) had been traded to Golden State. But then reality set in and Blake realized he probably wouldn’t get to see much (or any) of his family for the remainder of the season. He’ll be traveling around with the Dubs to finish out the year while his family remains entrenched in Los Angeles.



Holly MacKenzie recently spoke with a few players who have been traded mid-season, and they relayed how disorienting it can be to have to pick up and move all your stuff while in the middle of the season. Players who get dealt at the deadline don’t have time to go home and make all the necessary arrangements a large scale move entails. In a lot of cases guys have no idea they’re about to get dealt and have set down real roots in their soon-to-be former city.

But fans don’t care because NBA players have become Monopoly pieces in the game of amateur NBA GM.

Keep reading to see how the business of basketball’s usurpation of the games themselves becomes most evident at the deadline…

The NBA fan landscape has shifted in step with increased awareness and availability of player data online. The average fan can now crunch more numbers than the some of the top NBA minds had access to as short as a half decade ago. With this increased awareness and access to analytics, various player shortcomings have become more glaring to fans. That means spectators are well aware that Monta Ellis takes a lot of long two-pointers (the least efficient shot in basketball), and James Harden can loaf sometimes on defense.

These are all good things as we attempt to better understand the game we love. But the downside to the not-so-recent analytic trend has turned every fan into a possible NBA executive, or at least given fans the onus to go ahead and pretend like they know better than those in charge of a player’s destiny.

The average GM — even the dreadful David Kahn‘s and Joe Dumars‘ of the world — have spent more time watching basketball in person than the majority of loud-mouths on Twitter have even been alive. This is neglecting to mention how often we overlook ownership’s role in crafting a team — even if they’re like the fans, in that they have no idea of the work required and the luck it takes to create a successful franchise.

Not everyone can be R.C. Buford and Gregg Popovich, and not everyone can land Tim Duncan in the lottery, but the change from the game of basketball to the business of basketball has had a disastrous affect on the mindset of a lot of basketball fans. Players aren’t people anymore. As much as I hate to admit it — Bill Simmons’ mentioned this point in his recent piece on Steve Nash‘s “The Finish Line” — we think of players as cap hits rather than human beings.

I’m not excusing myself from this equation, either. But the difference is I do this for a living, and if I didn’t separate players by their ROI (return on investment) you would —rightfully — call me an a__hole because I had started to favor certain players and teams over others for personal, rather than objective, reasons (you do this already, but trust me when I tell you I no longer have a rooting interest in any team or player). Most basketball bloggers and NBA beat writers have to do this now because the business of basketball has superseded the game of basketball. It’s not about a fun new set play, a team’s defensive philosophy, or the outrageous way a player picks his nose on the bench, so much as it’s ‘how much cap space ya got?’

That divergence in how we enjoy basketball now is just a symptom, though. If you’re a casual basketball fan, or even a hardcore fan of a particular team, I’m not saying you shouldn’t be able to bitch about player x or player y, or that player y is totally overpaid; it’s that player x or player y isn’t just a number on a spreadsheet. This never used to be the case.

Plus, and this could have been a whole article unto itself, but facilitating trades after the 2011 CBA has become incredibly complicated. The estimable Mark Deeks went over that Steve Blake swap, which looked simple from an outsider’s perspective, but required a fully established understanding of the logistics of CBA minutiae. Larry Coon and Deeks understand it, but do you? I know I haven’t grasped all the complexities of the new collective bargaining agreement, and I write and think about basketball every day of the week and twice on the weekend (I should get out more).

Whether it’s fans own blustery self-worth that leads to bitching about the trade deadline in self-righteous Twitter chirps, or the advent of all these nifty statistical differentials every fan can access online, the trade deadline has become a game that fans want to play. That’s all well and good, and anything that drives more interest in the NBA, I will always support. But the problem boils down to the commodification of actual people when it’s not necessary to think in such a cold-blooded manner. This isn’t NBA 2K14 My Player mode, it’s real life.

Tweeting, “Man, what a slow NBA trade deadline,” is fine. I did it a lot last year when a Redick deal couldn’t satiate my own inherent desire for action. But Redick is a real guy, with real emotions and the trade deadline was a whirlwind for him and his loved ones. Same goes with Danny Granger, Evan Turner, Antawn Jamison, and all the rest who changed teams at the deadline this year.

But if a fan’s only stake in this whole process is how their team does as a result of the deadline deals, I think we can all agree that we should use a little more tact when complaining about how slow things are going on deadline day. A slow trade deadline isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and when did we all start caring so much about the business of basketball rather than the amazing athletes producing on the court?

Larry Bird had to cut ties with a long-time Pacers player, and a star just a couple years ago, when Danny Granger was dealt to Philly at the last minute yesterday. But even Bird, as cutthroat a competitor as any in the league, told Candace Bucker of the Indianapolis Star, “Danny’s always been my favorite.”

It’s Bird’s job to wheel and deal and create a title-contender in Indiana. So far he’s been doing pretty good because the Pacers have the best record in the East. But he had to admit that it wasn’t easy dealing Granger because he was Bird’s “favorite.” Remember when it was the fans who used to say stuff like that?

What do you think?

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