Portland Trail Blazers fans waiting for a miracle move at the 2018 NBA Trade Deadline can take comfort in an article by Ben Falk of Cleaning the Glass, which recounts the story of just such a move that happened to the Trail Blazers themselves while Falk was part of their analytics staff. The year was 2012 and the deal would send Blazers forward Gerald Wallace to the New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets in exchange for a draft pick that would become Damian Lillard, the cornerstone of the franchise in this decade.
Falk begins by setting the table for the big deal:
It was March of 2012 — the deadline had been pushed back from its normal February date because of the 2011 lockout. Though we were only a few games out of the final playoff spot, the team was in a free fall... By the time the deadline rolled around, Chad Buchanan, our GM at the time, had made a decision: this season wasn’t going anywhere, and the priority was to create as much flexibility as possible for the coming offseason.
He describes how the Nets, having dealt for star point guard Deron Williams, wanted to pair other veterans with him, convincing him to re-sign when his contract came up. Having missed out on Dwight Howard, they felt strongly towards Wallace. Interim General Manager Chad Buchanan approached his staff with the news:
“So they’re definitely interested in Gerald,” he said. “It sounds like he’s a player Deron Williams wants to play with and they think will convince Deron to re-sign this offseason. They’re offering their first rounder in this upcoming draft for him.”
Everyone in the room looked around at each other, wide-eyed. The Nets were 15-29, the 5th worst team in the league. There were only 22 games remaining in a shortened, lockout season. This was potentially a very valuable pick.
“What are they talking about for protection?” one of our executives asked.
“We’ll have to go back to them about it,” Chad said. “But sounds like it’s not going to be too strong.”
The protection turned out to be Top-3. The pick slotted into the 6th spot, from which the Blazers drafted Lillard. Wallace would play only a season and a half for Brooklyn, averaging 9.1 points and 5.1 rebounds per game.
After remembering that watershed event, Falk details the machinations of trade deadline week.
In the week or two before the deadline teams are regularly reaching out to each other to get a sense of what everyone is trying to do and whether there’s any fodder for a deal. One GM might toss out a concept to another...and if there’s mutual interest they’ll each bring it to their respective staffs. From there the teams will discuss, flesh out offers and counteroffers, and continue to engage. Once a concrete proposal is made they’ll put it on their trade board and decide whether they want to continue further. All of that usually happens in the days before the 3 PM Eastern time Thursday deadline, not hours.
He also describes interactions with the final arbiters, the owners.
Owners will rarely veto a deal outright, but they can push back and strongly disagree if it’s not something they like at first blush. If that happens a GM has three options: spend their political capital with ownership to convince them to approve the deal, go back to the other team and see if they can make any adjustments requested by ownership, or let the deal fizzle.
There’s much more to the article, well worth a read for Trail Blazers fans pining for a miracle move at the 2018 Trade Deadline.