Lessons from the Melo Non-Trade

I think big trades are interesting because whether they happen or not, they give big insights on why things happen in the NBA that we don't usually get to see.

* Why don't we see these insights under normal circumstances? Because everyone's a liar. For example, you've got Avery Johnson saying

Coach Avery Johnson relayed a message to reporters Wednesday that he gave his top draft pick: Ignore the rumors, Favors is special and not being traded.

"One of the agreements we made was, 'If you don't hear me say anything about you then it's not accurate,'" Johnson said, before discrediting an ESPN report stating the Nets were offering Favors in a package for Anthony.

"You know how it works out. One story or one source hits the wire and then it just goes crazy."

Read more:

Yeah, right. Translation: We don't want to tell the kid, who would be pissed, that we just offered him up. So we'll blow smoke up his ass.

* And don't get me wrong, it makes sense for everyone to be a liar and to speak in blithe non-statements. For instance,

Forman said he spoke to Noah and Luol Deng, who both have been mentioned in reports about trade talks for Denver Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony.

"If there's an opportunity to improve our team, we're going to explore it," said Forman, who said he wants to be transparent with both players.

Translation: Yeah, we don't want to trade Noah, but we're also negotiating a contract with him, so we don't want to tell him we wouldn't trade him for Carmelo. Because that's ammo to say he should be paid like Carmelo.

* Despite this, teams are practical about putting their players in untenable positions, and aren't going to leave a trade on the table forever. It messes with folks' heads and makes it hard to actually, you know, work on basketball.

Nets obviously/rightfully want story to die so Harris/Favors don't get trade questions every day. Safe to say, though, Nets still want Melo
Annoyed as they were by delays/Denver indecision CHA & UTAH lose out if new deal develops: Bobs on PG upgrade w/Harris; Jazz on big savings

Wojnarski writes

Meanwhile, the uncertainty that’s surrounding teams involved in the talks is starting to take a predictable toll on egos and emotions at training camps. Even if a deal for Anthony never materializes, New Jersey coach Avery Johnson has serious repairs to make with Nets point guard Devin Harris(notes), a league source told Yahoo! Sports on Monday.

Harris had been a huge advocate for Johnson with former Nets officials by endorsing the hiring of Johnson over the summer, and a source says Harris is feeling "a little put off" that the coach is so quickly looking to send him out of New Jersey as part of a trade for Anthony.

As part of the original four-team trade proposal, Harris was destined for Charlotte and wasn’t terribly enthusiastic about the move. And that was especially true after Johnson had spent the summer selling Harris so hard on how much he needed him to help sell the coach’s program in New Jersey.

Johnson and Harris had an up-and-down relationship in Dallas, but Harris believed the Nets desperately needed Johnson’s discipline and structure, and pushed hard with former president Rod Thorn for Johnson’s hiring. Harris, 27, came to the Nets in 2008 as part of the Jason Kidd(notes) trade with Dallas. He had his best season as a pro in 2008-09 when he averaged 21.3 points and 6.9 assists.


* Teams, especially teams that have just fired their brain trust, will attempt to be gamed by other teams. And nobody's gonna offer squat if the player himself won't commit (from the Woj article)

Sources said the Nuggets had strong interest in trying to do a deal with Philadelphia that included swingman Andre Iguodala, but the Sixers’ inability to get a commitment out of Anthony that he would sign a contract extension with them made the point moot.

* Too many leaders means no leadership at all. All of this is especially a problem since

One of the biggest obstacles with cutting a deal with the Nuggets, league executives said, continues to be the peculiar and unclear power structure of the Denver front office. What had been the case under the previous regime has carried over with new vice president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri, the owner’s son, Josh Kroenke, and adviser Bret Bearup: No one talking to the Nuggets is sure who’s in charge, who’s making the decision and who can get everyone in agreement.

* And as always, what things really come down to is money.

The four-team trade fell apart when Denver kept trying to include more of its players in deals to spare themselves a bigger luxury-tax bill that would’ve come with the arrivals of Kirilenko and Favors, sources said. The proposed trade would have added $4.5 million in salary to their payroll plus another $4.5 million in luxury tax.

This is one of the strangest things about the proposed Melo for Favors/AK47 deal in the first place, at least to me. And it points to the previous point, that the Nuggets were sending mixed signals about what they want. Perhaps they weren't and still aren't sure. Or perhaps the new guys they hired simply don't know how the luxury tax worked and what guys made. It certainly strikes me as possible.

* Now that they're (presumably) up to speed, let me suggest one final push for the Bulls. The obvious deal to make for the Nuggets is one that puts them under the luxury tax. As things stand, they're approximately $12.5 (S2 Salaries ~ I haven't gotten around to adding their training camp fodder in yet)-$14M (Trade Machine) over the luxury tax.

Since most teams are over the cap, even sending back expiring contracts doesn't help the Nuggets much. For instance, instead of paying Melo $17M and being over the tax, if the Nuggets dealt for Eddy Curry, they'd have to pay him $11M and still be over the tax threshold. Which would suck.

So the right deal for a team trying to get the Nuggets to let go is going to give the Nuggets major savings, not major cost. There are two teams that could plausibly help here; Cleveland and Toronto. They both have big trade exceptions from losing their star free agents this summer. Big enough exceptions to absorb Luol Deng's contract without sending anything else back.

By happy circumstance for the Bulls, they both have fairly obvious holes at their small forward position. So they might at least plausibly be interested in Deng. Toronto's Brian Colangelo has reportedly been a fan of Deng (and all things European), so maybe he's the first guy to call.

So if you can swing that, here's how this trade works for all involved:

+ Raptors get Luol Deng for nothing using their trade exception

+ Bulls trade Deng to Toronto, Taj Gibson and James Johnson to Denver

+ Nuggets to Melo to Chicago ($17.1M in salary going out) and receive Gibson, Johnson ($2.8M in salary coming in), future picks and perhaps some cash on top.

This reduces the Nuggets team salary by $17.1-2.8 = $14.3M dollars. That is $14.3M the Nuggets don't have to pay to players as well as about $14M in tax they don't have to pay the league. On top of that, getting themselves under the tax will make them eligible for a couple million dollars of escrow payments and tax distributions from the league, which only teams under the tax threshold receive. In short, such a deal stands to benefit the Nuggets roughly $30M. So, um, I think they'd go for it.

If I had to guess, I think Melo is only going to be traded:
1. Where he wants to go (reportedly New York, LA or Chicago... maybe grudgingly New Jersey).
2. Where the team receiving him can offer significant savings (which basically means they can get the Nuggets under the tax). For the Bulls, that's dependent on the Cavs or Raptors help, but that's true of the other teams as well. Do any of the other potential destination teams have a player the Cavs or Raps would prefer to Deng?
3. Or, the team receiving Melo would be willing to somehow offer a deal so good its worth leaving $30M on the table.

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