A Primer for Trade Analysis

With the 2008-09 year completed and the draft order now declared the season of speculation begins. 

This will be an interesting summer for the Blazers for a couple of reasons:

First, I'm fairly sure you're going to see significant roster changes within the next year.  Given management's tendency to avoid in-season maneuvering there's a good chance you'll see moves this summer.  It's not clear yet what the changes will be (more on that in a minute) but we'll probably see a shake up in the mid-rotation players at least.

Second, most of the significant moves in the Pritchard era have revolved around the draft.  The landscape is different this year.  With the 24th pick being their biggest in-draft asset the Blazers don't have nearly as much ammo to fire.  They do have inexpensive, experienced players to trade if they want to move up but it's unlikely that any of the guys they'd be willing to offer would draw enough attention to make an exponential leap in position.  Also the team has spent the last couple of years trying to transition out of the developmental phase and into contention.  They took a major step this year.  They are unlikely to hinge their future on another young star unless they're absolutely infatuated with him.  This means we'll probably see any major moves happening outside of the draft context.

Here's a very general rundown of the possibilities available to the team.  It's general because you guys are going to exhaustively cover and analyze every specific possibility in the next few months plus a bunch of specifics that aren't possible.  This is meant as a guideline while forming those ideas.

The most important thing to remember when considering trades is that it takes two to tango.  There has to be value in it for both teams.  That means recognizable, verifiable, tangible value.  Every year there are rumors of teams who are willing to dump great players for cap space or who are out of sorts with one of their stars or who just look like they need to make a move...any move.  Every year we see trade suggestions that eagerly take advantage of, and bank on, these special situations.  How many of them actually turn out to be true in real life?  History shows us almost none.  Granted the economic situation is supposed to be different this year and that may shade things, but how big of a fire sale did we actually see at the most recent trading deadline?  General Managers are not going to make moves with nebulous, risky benefits to them and their team.  Nobody wants to wake up and read in the paper that they got jobbed.  Not only is it bad for the ego, it doesn't promote job security.  GM's aren't dupes.  A GM who acts out of desperation is going to have a short tenure.  99.999999% of the time you have to trade value in order to get value.

Let me say that again:  You have to trade value in order to get value.

If you have to rationalize a trade, explaining it with extenuating circumstances, it's not going to happen. 

The typical approach to trade speculation is to assign the maximum possible value to your own asset and the minimum possible value to your trading partner's.  A good rule of thumb is to reverse that mindset, at least if you want your trades to be realistic.  When you go to a used car lot you're not just going to take a look at shiny chrome and make your purchase.  You want to know everything about the vehicle.  Everything you find wrong with it lessens its value to you.  Millions of people who are less than solid car experts employ this principle on a regular basis every year.  Do you think that NBA General Managers, of whom there are only 30 in the world, who are also the premier experts in their field, are suddenly going to forget it?  If you want to determine a realistic price for your player, look at him with skepticism.  Also assume your trading partner is going to want a premium on the transaction.  They're looking to get better, not stay the same.  You have to at least look like you're giving them that, so you may have to inflate the value of their player a little to make the deal work.  Sometimes the extenuating circumstances we just mentioned can provide that premium but in no way do they substitute for base value.

A general valuation of the roster:

If the Blazers are willing to part with one of their Big Three--for these purposes defined as Roy, Aldridge, Oden--the sky is the limit.  You'll not draw one of this year's serious MVP candidates, but you can think about anyone else who's not already in the perfect position.  If you're dreaming of another team's #1 superstar this is what it's going to take.

If the Blazers are willing to part with young talent from their next tier, which we'll define as Fernandez, Outlaw, Batum, and perhaps Webster you could probably find extremely solid veteran rotation help or perhaps a star on the downside of their career who is out of place with their current team.  The latter is more likely if you're offering Fernandez.  You may be able to trade young talent for young talent but those situations will be more rare.  (Again, teams are leery of lateral moves.)

If the Blazers offer one of their solid vets or their wildcard rookie (Przybilla, Blake, Bayless) they should be able to get veteran help in return but it would obviously have to be at a different position from the departing player in the case of Przybilla and Blake.  These players would be more valuable if used as extremely attractive throw-ins to bolster a trade involving one of the players above.

If the Blazers offer players that didn't play or didn't perform well for them this year, which would include Channing Frye and Sergio Rodriguez, they're probably looking at a targeted, aging veteran...your 32-year-old point guard type who can carry a deep rotation spot for a couple years.  These players could also be throw-ins for other trades but their added value is marginal.

In certain situations a player may have more or less value to a trading partner.  If you want to argue that for certain teams Bayless belongs in the second tier and could bring solid veteran rotation help (not that star though) I wouldn't argue.  Because of the injury and the up-and-down career preceding it Webster may belong a tier down as well.  No matter what the situation, though, a back-up point guard is still a back-up point guard.  Nobody is going to give up an amazing player, or even an amazing potential player, for a reserve that you just happen to be eager to part with.

If you're banking on moving up in the draft you're almost certainly going to have to part with an existing player to make a significant move.  The Blazers do have a trade exception available which could be used to accept a pick that a team is simply giving away.  The Blazers also have the ability to buy a pick outright.  Maybe in these economic times with the draft being considered weak you will find somebody who just wants to dump a first-rounder to avoid paying salary.  However remember these things:

--That pick isn't going to be a high lottery pick.  Nobody's going to be giving those away.  If they tried, somebody else would certainly make a more attractive offer than a trade exception or a cool $3 million.  In fact I'd be surprised if any pick north of the late teens was dumped.

--Seeing what happened to Phoenix with Rudy, teams are going to be more wary of this scenario.

--The number of teams willing to do this will be quite small.  The Blazers won't be targeting a pick in general, they'll be targeting a specific player with that pick.  You have to find somebody willing to dump their pick whose position allows you to select the guy you want.  That's a tall order.

There is a possibility of the Blazers acquiring a second first-rounder and then packaging both picks to get higher.  However this isn't the NFL.  There aren't 20-odd positions to fill and there aren't multiple dozens of players who are quality candidates for those positions.  If you consider the draft weak the incentive for trading one high pick for two lesser ones decreases.  Why get two risky or mediocre players instead of one?  Also that trade means the team now has two guaranteed salaries to pay instead of one, so you can't subscribe to that theory and also lean on the weak economy argument.

You also have to remember that no matter how regular the numbers look the spacing between them is not equal.  Moving up from 30 to 20 is child's play compared to moving up from 20 to 10 even though the difference appears to be 10 spaces in each case.  As the picks get better the premium required to move up gets higher.  The price of moving from 4 to 3 in this draft may be exorbitant.  Nothing short of a superstar will move you up from 2 to 1.

The value of the Blazers' 24th pick will fluctuate depending on what they are attempting to parlay it into.  You want to look at something from 19 on down?  Maybe if you get a team that would value Sergio or a couple second rounders you could swing that deal.  If you want to move up higher you have to look at the higher tiers of what we'd have to offer.  Travis Outlaw might get you more places in this draft than he would have in a stronger one.  He won't get you into the stratosphere though.

Keep in mind that this distance rule also applies in spades to second round picks.  In certain, limited situations a second-rounder can become valuable.  Most often it's when a team realizes that a player they want is going to be available at that spot.  However that doesn't happen until the actual pick approaches, so you won't see first rounders being dealt for second rounders in that scenario.  The picks near the first/second round border can be exchanged for contract purposes.  The 30th pick mandates a guaranteed contract.  The 32nd pick doesn't.  The guy with the 30th pick may want to trade down two spots to relieve his team of the potential burden.

Outside of these specific circumstances, however, second round picks don't have a lot of trade value except for acquiring other second round picks.  You could not package all of the Blazers' second rounders this year and move up much.  The distance between them and the money picks is too great.

A good rule of thumb for trades is this:  Envision the situation being reversed and ask yourself if you'd be happy with your GM making that deal.  If you held the 10th pick and had just gone through a sucktastic season you'd be pretty darn angry if Kevin Pritchard dealt it away for the 24th pick, a couple second-rounders, and some cash.  Rudy Fernandez is a hot young prospect for the Blazers.  How would you feel about Portland trading him away for another team's stalled reserve forward and their third-string point guard?  Torch and pitchfork sales would go through the roof.

Also keep in mind that multi-team trades are possible to a point but each party you add makes the deal more difficult.  Three is hard.  Four is near-impossible.  Just forget about five-team deals or greater.  That's like seeing a pretty girl's top slip off at the beach.  If it happens it's something you'll remember for sure, but if you go around looking for it something is wrong with you.

(Apologies to the female half of the crowd who might not be able to resonate with that analogy.  If you are so inclined and can think of something that fits you better, please chime in with it in the comments.  I know seeing a guy's trunks slip down is not the same.  That's hide your eyes and call the cops time.  I won't even hazard to guess what could work.  And please, guys need not either.  Leave it for the ladies among us.)

Finally, it's wise to keep your logic consistent through all parts of a deal if you have to explain why teams will go for it.  For instance you'll hear things like, "It's a weak draft so we should acquire pick #5 from the Wizards for cash.  Then we should package the 5th pick plus Steve Blake for Established Star X."  OK...is it a weak draft or isn't it?  If you assume the 5th pick has depreciated enough that it's available for cash then how does it suddenly have enough pull to be the main asset in acquiring an established star?  More to the point, why wouldn't the team with the established star simply fork over the cash if they wanted it that badly?  If you establish a certain value for an asset in order to make a trade work that value has to remain consistent through all parts of your trade in order for it to make sense.

I would suggest that people contunue the trade and/or draft drawers every day or two in the sidebar to harbor such talk.  Any simple suggestions or questions that fit under those categories should go in there.  I would also suggest that more nuanced and researched trade and draft topics could still merit their own posts.  I always cringe when people yell at other people for missing the designated drawers.  I've had enough of folks getting super-snotty with each other supposedly in the name of site guidelines when in reality the site guidelines exists precisely to limit our super-snottiness with each other.  So don't do that.

It's going to be an exciting couple of months.  I hope this helps with the trade talk a little.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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