Every time a trade deadline passes in a sport that trades a lot of players around, such as the NBA, I’m obviously interested to see what players are traded and what impact that will have on their new teams. As an expert sports handicapper, though, I’m almost as interested in the players that don’t get moved and the deals that don’t get made. Every year the intensity of trade deadline coverage increases online and on TV. That means that more players are mentioned as possible – or even likely trade targets – and they hear more about it from more places. Time and again we hear about how hard it is on NBA players to be the subject of serious speculation. The only thing harder than being the subject of all that speculation is being speculated about and then not being traded. That can really affect how well players perform on the hardwood and what they can add to their team after the deadline. Before you can judge what the impact of speculation is going to be in a particular situation, here are five factors to consider:
Contract status – If a professional basketball player has recently signed a long term contract then they probably expected that they would be staying in town for a while – even though contracts don’t usually guarantee that. Because of that, they are going to be surprised and probably a bit hurt if they are being shopped around just a year or two after inking their deal. On the other hand, if a player in the NBA is about to become a free agent this season or next and it seems unlikely either from the perspective of the player or the team that they will be signing a new contract then trade speculation isn’t likely to be a surprise, and it’s not likely to particularly affect a player regardless of what happens – they know they control their own destiny soon enough.
Did he want to be moved? – If a player is in a very good situation – on a decent NBA team with good chemistry in a city that he likes – then he’s likely going to be happy about sticking around and playing in the home arena. There could be some frustration with being on the market, but that will likely be outweighed by the relief of staying in the place. The worse the situation is, though, the more likely a player is interested in being moved, and the more disappointed they could be about staying in the same place. Needless to say, the happier the player is the better he is likely to play, so his happiness with his situation is a huge factor.
What’s the status of his team? – The competitiveness of a NBA team can have a big impact on how well a player adjusts to his feelings of not being wanted. If the team is competitive and in a good position to make the playoffs and do well once they get there then their feelings of frustration can be overcome by the intensity of the end of the season, and the situation could easily be diminished. If the player is stuck playing on a lousy team in a basically hopeless situation, though, then the frustration of that will be multiplied by the frustration of the speculation, and the situation could get ugly.
Surprise factor – This factor really comes to mind with O.J. Mayo on the 2011 NBA trade deadline. In a surprising move – in that Mayo was not rumored to be on the move in a serious way – Mayo was dealt by the Grizzlies to Indiana right before the deadline. To make matters worse, the deal wasn’t registered in the league on time, so it was voided. Mayo was not only surprised to learn he had been dealt, but then he had to return to a team that obviously wasn’t totally committed to have him around. The fact that Mayo was surprised by the trade action could only have added to the frustration of the situation, and could have a lasting impact on him in a number of games following the deadline – and beyond. It can’t help but be awkward when Mayo interacts with management after the deal didn’t happen and plays on the home court in front of fans.
Media reaction – The more positive the media reacts to the NBA player sticking around, the happier the player is likely to be. Most players have big egos, so if the media – and the public by extension – are happy he’s sticking around then the basketball player will likely be as well. If the media is negative about the player and the situation then it would be very easy for the player to pout and become a problem – or at least a distraction. Consider this and the four other points when handicapping NBA teams and making winning picks.