DALLAS — The Bank of Cuban remains open, but they’ve sent most of the tellers home and future transactions of any significance aren’t anticipated.
“Nothing going on,” Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said before his team returned to action Wednesday night. “Surprisingly quiet.”
Cuban said that goes for the league as a whole as the hours count down to Thursday’s 3 p.m. ET trade deadline. The normal frenzied action — even the rampant rumor mill — hasn’t developed. Save for a couple of low-level moves by the Houston Rockets on Wednesday, any seismic activity remains either bubbling beneath the surface or is simply nonexistent.
“I couldn’t explain what other teams are thinking,” Cuban said. “But at some point it has a market impact. So we’ll see.”
“It,” is the new CBA, the harsher, more punitive collective bargaining agreement, and Cuban, no fan of the revamped set of playing rules, knows it’s thrown a wrench into the trade machine more than he was willing to let on.
“Every team looks at it differently,” Cuban said. “I thought there’d be more activity, at least discussions.”
In the Mavs’ case, the Bank of Cuban might be stocked wall-to-wall with Benjamins, but it’s lacking the player assets needed to make a meaningful deal. Dallas isn’t going to take back salary because it’s dead set on keeping its cap space intact for next summer’s free-agent/sign-and-trade pursuit (Dwight Howard being 1A on its cross-your-fingers wish list). So there’s little sense in the Mavs dealing, say, hot commodity Vince Carter, one of the bigger bargains in the league at $3.1 million, if it’s not going to net a young player with tantalizing upside.
“We have lots of good pieces, but not that anybody’s going to give us back something better,” Cuban said. “No one’s going to do a stupid deal with us.”
Cuban said he’s not even getting many calls from teams looking to dump salary.
So what’s going on with the rest of the league during this buzz-less buildup to the deadline?
It’s the CBA. Teams are watching the luxury line closely for two reasons. Financial penalties become more punitive the higher you go over the tax line starting next season, so adding salary for 2013-14 is largely unwanted. Teams close to the tax line this season don’t want to go over even by a small amount because it starts the clock on the “repeater” tax — spend over the tax line in three of four seasons and another significant penalty is levied.
Then there’s the roster inflexibility that comes with being over the tax “apron” — $4 million over the tax line. Those teams will not be allowed to work sign-and-trade deals in the offseason. For instance, the Nets, well over the current luxury tax line, covet Hawks forward Josh Smith. If they can’t make a trade now they won’t be afforded the chance in the offseason.
Another factor for the lack of trades is that teams are less likely to cavalierly give up first-round draft picks to sweeten deals, a practice the Mavs made commonplace under the old rules throughout Cuban’s ownership. Now teams value rookie contracts as a form of cost control.
Cuban believes he was ahead of the curve when he decided to dismantle the 2011 championship team. He feared being stuck with an aging roster and not having the flexibility to alter it under the new rules. He decided cap space was the way of the future. So far, it hasn’t panned out. Deron Williams stayed in Brooklyn and odds of signing Howard are stacked against Dallas.
We’ve already seen two big deals go down directly related to the new order. Oklahoma City traded James Harden to Houston rather than make him a third max-contract player on their roster. Had they signed Harden to the max deal he wanted, and could earn elsewhere, OKC would have been over the luxury tax for years to come. A few weeks ago, Memphis traded Rudy Gay to Toronto.
Part of Cuban’s plan is to pull a Houston, in other words, accumulate enough assets in players and picks to make a trade with a team looking to (or forced) to trade a top player.
For now, that’s not going to happen.
And so with the trade deadline ticking down, the winds are surprisingly calm, the buzz eerily low.
“You never know,” Cuban said. “Maybe the last second, things will happen. But everybody wants a super-sweetheart deal and nobody wants to give it.”