Bored by the NBA Trade Deadline? Let Speculation Season Begin.

A quiet deadline could lead to fireworks this summer. From LeBron to Zion, NBA front offices are trying to forecast who could become available. “There will be a lot of parts moved this offseason,” predicts one East executive.


Bored by the NBA Trade Deadline? Let Speculation Season Begin.

If you were bored by the NBA trade deadline, if you found yourself yawning through the frenetic shuffling of second-tier players and second-round picks and it all felt sort of anticlimactic and disappointing, well, blame James Harden. And Kevin Durant. And Kyrie Irving. Or to put it more simply: Just blame the Brooklyn Nets.

In January 2021, Harden forced his way from Houston to Brooklyn—a deal that came well before the deadline (March 25, due to a late start to the season), but by virtue of the calendar had the feel of a midseason blockbuster. In February 2022, Harden forced a trade to Philadelphia, in a swap for former All-NBA guard Ben Simmons, just hours before the February 10 deadline. And in February 2023, it was Irving and Durant, each demanding trades out of Brooklyn at the eleventh hour.

That’s three straight years in which one or more certified superstars bounced in the Ne...

So if your expectations were raised unreasonably this year and your mood was soured by a humdrum string of transactions—18 trades in the final 26 hours, though none involving a marquee player—you can again blame James Harden. In fact, blame him twice, because Harden did force another trade this season, but this time got dealt way back at the end of October, to the Clippers, robbing us of any February drama. (Author’s note: This is just a rhetorical device. We’re not literally blaming James Harden for anything. Please stand down, Beardbots.)

No Splash, But Plenty of Substance

Boredom, of course, is subjective. For fans of the Sacramento Kings and Detroit Pistons, this year’s deadline was a thrill — their teams engineered fascinating and unexpected trades. For enthusiasts of salary-cap maneuvering, it was a bonanza of moves with future cap implications. For observers of The Process, the Philadelphia 76ers’ deals to acquire Tyrese Maxey and several others signaled the franchise’s commitment to adding talent and depth.

And then there were the Miami Heat. They landed Kyle Lowry in a sign-and-trade deal that bolstered their championship hopes and solidified their already solid reputation for landing marquee free agents. But this year’s in-season trade market was missing one thing: a real star acquisition. There were All-Star-level players on plenty of teams who needed help at point guard, on the wing or in the frontcourt. But practically nothing happened.

Looking Ahead to Free Agency

This was a quiet trade deadline. But brace yourself for what’s next. While the Feb. 10 swap-’til-you-drop bonanza didn’t bring any major player additions, it did free up a lot of capital for teams looking to make a splash in free agency. The New York Knicks and Miami Heat, for example, are reportedly hoping to use their space to pull in an A-list free agent this coming summer. The Atlanta Hawks will be in the mix for two upper-middle-class players to round out their roster, as well. And let’s not forget the Brooklyn Nets. They finished the deadline still looking to improve their roster, and they are expected to make a serious run at adding an impact player this summer.

The free-agency market holds far more allure for teams, but some fans may still feel a bit let down. That’s because the trade deadline has evolved to have a 24-hour news-cycle sensibility, with major deals breaking or nearly breaking as the clock winds down. The popularity of the whole process means that players, agents and teams have learned to angle for their best position, creating speculation that lingers long after the buzzer. Still, major acquisitions like those that happened with Harden and the like all remain more suited to the summer, when the NBA will pause to enjoy the Olympics and gather itself for another run.