The NBA trade deadline passed Thursday without any superstars being dealt.
The biggest name that moved was forward Danny Granger, who is years removed from his days as an All-Star because of injuries. He was dealt to Philadelphia for forward-guard Evan Turner and forward-center Lavoy Allen.
Shedding salaries and adding draft picks are becoming the norm for teams wary of paying luxury taxes, especially teams out of championship contention.
Trades not only are about improving for the present but also saving money and collecting ways to replenish a roster without inheriting big contracts. It's a reason the Los Angeles Lakers would deal Steve Blake to the Warriors for two players who spent most games at the end of the bench -- Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks.
Teams aren't eager to take on big contracts for a postseason push, either, even if that player (like the Lakers' Pau Gasol) would be a free agent in the offseason, especially if it means parting with draft picks.
"We've seen a trend toward teams being much more cautious and careful about how aggressive they are about trading for longer-term contracts, and that's because of the luxury tax," said Tom Penn, an ESPN analyst and former Portland Trail Blazers vice president of basketball operations. "The other major change in the new deal is draft picks have become more coveted, and that's because teams can no longer throw cash into trades as aggressively."
Teams are allowed a maximum annual cash limit to include in trades under the collective bargaining agreement. That figure is $3.2 million this season. Under the old CBA, teams could include up to $3 million in any trade, Penn said.
"Draft picks are the only real non-player assets that get exchanged freely," Penn said.
And if a team is going to deal draft choices, it better work out. If not, a franchise could be saddled with big contracts and no way to improve with young talent.
"Draft picks fundamentally sell hope," Penn said. "You have to be very careful of giving up your chance for hope in the future. The Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks are perfect examples, having mortgaged their future giving up multiple future first-round picks to build mediocre teams that they have now. And there's no help coming on the horizon via the draft for those teams."
The Nets have the league's highest payroll and are below .500 but should make the playoffs.
The Knicks have the second-highest payroll and are 51/2 games behind Atlanta for the final Eastern Conference berth. New York dealt its potential lottery pick in this year's draft to Denver to acquire Carmelo Anthony in 2011.
To make prospects worse for the Knicks, Anthony could leave as a free agent after the season. And it's hard to rebuild without draft picks, which the Knicks might soon find out.
The Houston Rockets have surged to third in the Western Conference and trail the San Antonio Spurs by 21/2 games in the Southwest Division.
By winning eight of their last 10, the Rockets have put themselves in position for homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs, even if they don't win their division.
Homecourt will be crucial in the loaded West, where a team like Golden State could start a series on the road.
Philadelphia was predicted to be one of the worst teams in the NBA before the season, and the 76ers are playing at that level.
The 76ers have dropped 10 in a row and piled up double-digit losses. The Sixers' point differential this season is minus 10.5, 1.2 points more than Milwaukee, which has the worst record in the league. Philadelphia traded two of its most productive players -- Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner -- in its quest to stockpile draft picks.
"I'm probably not the coach of this team if not for Danny Granger. I want to thank him publicly for being my biggest supporter when (I was) the interim coach here and trying to turn that team around back then and obviously trying to earn a job. To have your best player be your strongest supporter is something I'll always be grateful for with Danny."
-- Indiana coach Frank Vogel, as quoted in the Indianapolis Star. Granger returned this season after missing most of last season because of injury.
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