Behind the NBA trade deadline (Part 1)

This is the first in a five-part behind-the-scenes look at how the NBA trade deadline works.

The weeks before the NBA trade deadline are so chaotic that nobody could possibly know everything that’s being discussed — not players, not agents, not even general managers, and especially not reporters — even though they’re all constantly mining each other for information.

You will hear dozens of trade rumors between now and Feb. 8, the large majority of which will never come to fruition, and the few deals that do actually go down will probably surprise you. This week’s Blake Griffin trade was in the works for six days before leaking in its final stages.

So, I reached out to several NBA agents whose clients are currently on the trading block, asking if they could peel back the curtain on the craziness, and here’s what Parquet Post discovered.

 

ISAIAH THOMAS AND INTELLIGENCE GATHERING

“I’m on the phone with teams all day every day,” said one agent with an extensive client list. “You have a general sense of teams who are going to be more active and teams who aren’t going to be as active. You’re constantly talking about clients with teams about the players who are on that team and how their role has evolved and how things are going with the season — if things are going well or if you think that maybe a change of scenery might make sense.”

The Celtics are in first place, stocked with young talent under contract for the foreseeable future, and Brad Stevens will go 12 deep into his rotation, so it’s hard to imagine them being among the more active teams or their players being dissatisfied with what seem to be clearly defined roles.

But these conversations evolve from the draft, through free agency, throughout the season and over again. And GMs aren’t just asking agents about clients on their team. They’re also trying to determine who’s on the market elsewhere and what other teams might be looking for in return.

“You’re always just exchanging ideas and concepts and trying to understand what teams are trying to accomplish,” an agent said, “and also I think teams are interested to know players who might be unhappy, who might be looking for a change of scenery, guys who might be available.”

So, agents are also mining info from GMs in an attempt to play matchmaker for their clients. Take Kyrie Irving, for example. He was unhappy in Cleveland and gave the Cavaliers a list of preferred destinations. Boston was not one of them. Irving shares an agent with Jayson Tatum. Might that connection have helped the Celtics get a better feel for how unhappy Irving was, what it might take to acquire him and whether or not he would be open to Boston as a long-term fit?

That’s where relationships get complicated. GMs don’t want to show all their cards, for fear of losing leverage in negotiations, so they will often keep agents on a need-to-know basis. Or …

“Teams tell you little and lie,” another agent said. And if your client isn’t the unhappy one, “They never let you in until it is done.” Now you get a feel for why Isaiah Thomas was so stunned.

“Isaiah was blindsided because his agent did not know,” one agent said. And it might’ve cost Thomas’ agent his job. He changed representatives shortly after the trade — devastating, since agents make as much as 4 percent of every contract, and Thomas is a free agent this summer.

“But how can you know unless someone clues you in?” an agent said, recounting the time ESPN’s Brian Windhorst informed him his client was being shopped after the GM had told him he wasn’t. “He was right. I was clueless or not clued in, depending upon your perspective.”

Communication is a commodity between GM and agent, agent and player, player and GM.

“This is a relationship business,” said one agent, “and credibility is so important at all levels. When I have conversations with people, we’re being very transparent with each other.”

Nobody wants to be uninformed and everyone is wary of trusting one another. This is the NBA’s dark side, where credibility is tested and alliances are hard to come by. No wonder players, agents and GMs rarely stay in one place for long. This is basketball’s version of “Survivor.”

“Agents lie to players and tell them what they want to hear to get them,” said another agent. “Then teams lie to agents to keep them off their backs. They never tell them what they are up to. Some are straighter than others, but for the most part everyone tells you what you want to hear.”

Part 2, “Anthony Davis and rumor mongering,” will be published tomorrow. If you liked Part 1, tell your Celtics fan friends to subscribe, so they don’t miss out on this Parquet Post goodness.

All subscription fees for the month of January were donated to the ALS Therapy Development Institute in honor of fellow basketball writer Tom Haberstroh’s mother, who was recently diagnosed with the disease. Haberstroh launched the #ALSPepperChallenge last year.

The first $50 in subscription fees from February will match fellow hoops scribe (and Parquet Post subscriber) Jared Weiss’ annual $50 donation to the JDRF Diabetes Foundation in honor of his brother Jordan, who died from Type 1 Diabetes 15 years ago. As always, if there is a cause you would like Parquet Post to champion, email me at ParquetPost@gmail.com.

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