Behind the NBA trade deadline (Part 3)

This is the third in a five-part behind-the-scenes look at how trades in the NBA come to pass.

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.

Part 1: Isaiah Thomas and intelligence gathering
Part 2: Anthony Davis and rumor mongering

MARCUS SMART AND FINANCIAL PLANNING

The trade deadline revolves around expiring contracts. GMs are trying to decide whether to retain impending free agents or get value in return for them now. Players can force the action by informing teams of their intentions or hold them hostage with indecision. It’s all a power play.

“Everything is about that last year,” said one agent.

An expiring contract can hold value, simply in the form of cap space with which to chase free agents come July. Or it can be a burden, if a valuable player plans to leave in free agency or will command more money than you’re willing or able to spend. Teams get desperate when the reality of losing a quality player for nothing settles in, and agents get desperate, too, if an underperforming client isn’t in position to maximize his earning power.

“If your guy is not looking good, you’re pushing, doing everything you can to change things,” an agent said. “That last year is quite problematic, especially if your guy is not looking good.”

It’s a tough road to hoe for agents. Inform a team of your client’s unequivocal intention to stay, and risk losing your negotiation power in free agency. Keep a team guessing, and either risk alienating the incumbent team or your client getting dealt to a situation he might not like as much. It’s a balancing act.

“Those are conversations you’re having all during the year,” an agent said. “You can’t make deals for the future, but I think you certainly have conversations about what’s going on in terms of a player’s intentions, what he’s trying to accomplish, what a team’s goals are, how they’re trying to build their team, so all of those things definitely play a role. No question.”

All of which brings us to Marcus Smart, a restricted free agent this summer. After the Celtics and Smart failed to come to terms on a contract extension just prior to the season, we discussed the opportunity in front of him — the possibility of earning a massive contract with a career year.

Except, Smart has plateaued. His defense and intangibles are as impactful as ever, but he still can’t shoot, and he’s still immature — evidenced by his recent run-in with a picture frame. Few teams have cap space, even fewer are in need of point guards. The emergence of Terry Rozier and the poor performance of players who have left Stevens’ system won’t help Smart.

Then, there’s this harsh reality.

“His agent will mess up Marcus Smart as he did with Nerlens Noel,” a rival agent said. “He has promised him $57-60 million for three years — not happening for a good backup.”

Happy Walters represented Noel when he turned down a four-year, $70 million offer from the Mavericks at the start of free agency last year, believing he could land an even bigger deal elsewhere. Except, that deal never came, and by then the Mavs offer was rescinded. Noel fired his agent, signed a $4 million qualifying offer, and now there’s no way he’s earning anywhere near that $70 million figure this summer after landing in the Dallas doghouse.

Did Smart lose his gamble, too? Can he still win big with a solid second half and postseason run? Will he still demand $19-20 million annually? Will the Celtics lower their offer from before the season? Can Smart get that kind of money from another team?

Both the Celtics and Smart’s agent are gathering as much intel as possible to fill in those blanks as best they can, because the answers will determine whether Smart becomes a surprise trade piece. And, as if on cue, reports this weekend emerged that Smart could be had for a first-round pick.

Part 4, “Kyle Lowry and demanding trades,” will be published on Monday. If you liked Parts 1, 2 and 3, tell your Celtics fan friends to subscribe, so they don’t miss out on this Parquet Post goodness.

Here’s me at Yahoo Sports NBA on the Celtics signing Greg Monroe, who, if you remember, was No. 2 on Parquet Post’s holiday shopping list. The C’s are also among the suitors for Tyreke Evans, the No. 3 player on that list.

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