Trades have always been a part of the negotiations in professional sports. In basketball, trades are hardly unique. In fact, some of the biggest storylines in the NBA have something to do with offseason and in-season trades. Therefore, these beg the question, why do NBA teams trade for players? What is a sign and trade deal in NBA proceedings? Read on, and you’ll learn more about how trades and “sign and trades” work in the league.
What Does it Mean to Be Traded in Basketball?
In the most basic sense of the word, to be traded in basketball means you are getting swapped or exchanged for another player or money. Most trades involve players, but yes, it’s also possible to get traded for cash. These transactions are often seen during NBA drafts where teams with second-round picks trade them for “cash considerations.”
In 2003, the New Jersey Nets selected Kyle Korver for the 51st pick but traded him for money to the Philadelphia 76ers. The Nets infamously used the money to purchase an office copier, which is crazy to think about. Korver carved a pretty nice 17-year career in the NBA and was selected to the All-Star game in 2015.
Why Do Basketball Players Get Traded?
Players get traded for various reasons. From a team’s perspective, they may trade their own players because they will get another player/s that they think can improve their team. Another reason is a salary dump.
What, exactly, is a salary dump? The salary dump is a common strategy in the NBA. Teams are usually trying to fight to stay under the salary cap and constantly pursue expiring contracts for more flexibility in the future.
And yet another common reason for a trade is when a player asks for it. NBA media news outlets are always reporting about player-initiated trade demands. Over the league’s history, there are a handful of examples of player trade demands such as James Harden to Philadelphia, Anthony Davis to the Lakers, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to the Lakers, and more.
Can NBA Players Refuse to Be Traded?
Yes, the players can refuse to be traded, but that option is not open to everyone. According to the latest NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement, players who may have a no-trade clause have at least eight years of experience or someone who has played four years with the team that agreed to have the prohibition.
Often, superstars who don’t have a no-trade clause also have a say about their trade destination. They often bring a list of “preferred” teams, which mostly include Miami, New York, or Los Angeles. With that being said, teams are not contractually obligated to yield to these requests or power plays and may trade a player to any team they see fit.
What Was the Biggest Trade in the NBA History?
There are a lot of trades that are either shocking or preposterous that a list of 20 is hardly enough. Instead of looking at a single biggest trade, let’s briefly review the 5 biggest trades in recent NBA history.
1. Anthony Davis to the Lakers (2019)
The Pelicans have agreed to a deal to trade Anthony Davis to the Lakers for Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, and three first-round picks – including the No. 4 overall in 2019 Draft, league sources tell ESPN.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 15, 2019
Let’s begin with the latest blockbuster trade and work our way down history lane. Probably the most significant trade in recent history is the Davis trade from the Pelicans to the Lakers. This is huge, mainly because it would pair AD with LeBron James, arguably making them the most prolific duo in the NBA.
The Lakers cleaned house and let go of three promising young players and a few first-round draft picks to get a premiere NBA big man. The result was a championship for the Lakers in 2020 and Brandon Ingram becoming an All-Star for the Pelicans.
2. Pau Gasol to the Lakers (2008)
Seeing a pattern here? Yes, the Lakers have been in the front and center of blockbuster trades over the years, and this one was no different. Most basketball pundits called this swap a highway robbery, and they may be right at the time. To acquire Gasol, Los Angeles did not even have to give up the first seven players in their rotation.
From then on, the Lakers made three straight trips to the Finals and won two. Down the road, Memphis saw Marc Gasol, Pau’s brother who was included in the trade, blossom into an All-Star and Defensive Player of the Year. In hindsight, that was still a lopsided trade mainly because of the results, but Marc’s development made it a little more palatable.
3. Kevin Garnett to the Celtics (2007)
After Minnesota made the West Finals in 2004, it’s clear that they were stuck in basketball purgatory. Kevin Garnett was wasting his prime years on a team that’s going nowhere. As a result, the Wolves did the honor of trading Garnett to the Celtics to pair with Paul Pierce. Then Celtics GM Danny Ainge executed a trade to acquire Ray Allen to form a Big 3. Ainge saw the immediate fruits of his labor, with the Celtics winning the 2008 title.
4. Dwight Howard to the Lakers (2012)
All three previously-mentioned trades resulted in championship success, but this one didn’t. It was a complete disaster right from the get-go.
This three-team trade involved Dwight Howard going to the Lakers, Andrew Bynum to the Sixers, Nikola Vucevic to the Magic, and Andre Iguodala to the Nuggets. Bynum ultimately did not pan out, Vucevic was at least serviceable, and Iguodala made the playoffs with an overachieving Denver squad. Howard, though, looked like a shell of his former DPOY shelf. If not for Kobe Bryant’s superhuman effort that eventually tore his Achilles, the Lakers wouldn’t have made the playoffs. They eventually secured the seventh seed but got swept by the Spurs.
5. CP3 to the Clippers
The Clippers were the laughingstock of the NBA, but the Chris Paul trade brought the team to relevance. They never made the championship, although it was clear that CP was the perfect captain of the ship in an ultra-talented Clippers squad.
The Pelicans, Paul’s former team, got a significant haul in this swap. They acquired Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman, Al-Farouq Aminu, a first-round pick, and two second-rounders for CP’s services.
What is a Sign and Trade Deal in the NBA?
The NBA collective bargaining agreement gives a considerable advantage to a player’s old team when it comes to signing free-agent contracts. Other competitors may only offer up to a certain amount and years while the incumbent teams may offer the max amount and years. To counteract this structure, teams are allowed to do a sign and trade deal.
What is a sign and trade deal in NBA proceedings? Simply put, this is a trade transaction that allows a team to sign a player in free agency for the purpose of trading him to another team. This is a win-win transaction for everyone involved. The original team gets compensation instead of simply letting a player walk away for nothing, the player gets paid, and the acquiring team owns the player’s bird rights.
Now, sign and trades also come with several restrictions. For example, the contract signed by the player should only be three to four years. Five-year contracts are not allowed. Sign and trades must only be done during the offseason when the regular season has not started yet.
Here are some NBA sign and trade examples:
- In 2021, the Rockets signed and traded James Harden to the Nets.
- In 2000, Grant Hill went to the Magic in a sign and trade deal that sent Ben Wallace and Chucky Atkins to the Pistons
- The Rockets acquired Christian Wood via sign and trade with the Pistons in 2021. Houston could only offer Wood $9 million in free agency due to salary cap restrictions. By sign and trade, they were able to ink him to a three-year, $41 million contract.
- In 2021, the Cavs acquired Lauri Markannen in a sign and trade deal with the Bulls
- The Chicago Bulls also acquired Lonzo Ball via sign and trade in the 2021 offseason.
Learn everything you need to know about NBA sign and trade deals here.
Wrapping Things Up: Why Do NBA Teams Trade for Players?
Trades are part of how NBA teams do business. In essence, trades are player swaps, although these transactions may involve trading one player for two or more players. A trade may also involve swapping a player for money, which is common among second-round picks.
A player gets traded for several reasons. First, the team may see it as an opportunity to improve. Second, the team may want to shed salary. And third, it may be that the player wants to be traded. Only players who have no-trade clauses in their contracts could veto or refuse a trade. Otherwise, it’s always the team’s call if they want to move on and do the deal.
Another popular type of trade outlined in the NBA collective bargaining agreement is “sign and trade.” What is a sign and trade deal in NBA transactions? It means a player signs with his original team to a three or four-ear contract and immediately gets traded to another team. This benefits his former team because they’d get compensation instead of letting the player walk away for nothing.
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