10 NBA Questions: Trade ‘Rumors’ Time

You probably knew this already, but doesn’t it kind of blow your mind that the highest-trafficked portions of the NBA season are Free Agency, Trade Deadline and the Draft?

That’s no joke. The hypothetical season indeed outweighs the concrete stuff like Opening Day, the Playoffs and even the NBA Finals by a pretty significant margin. And this isn’t some anecdotal thing, either. I routinely saw the traffic numbers during my time on the NBA editorial staff at Bleacher Report (2012-2017).

It’s true everywhere else too.

We can get all psychological about why we as fans (and humans) like “what if?” so much, dreaming big and chasing rumors over fact, but let’s just accept that the market has clearly established itself for such things as trade rumors.

And since everyone pulling the strings at click/views-based media outlets (big and small) knows this, you start to quickly understand why we’re awash in hypotheticals both plausible and (mostly) ridiculous 24-7.

The bad news (if you get fatigued by the “anonymous sources” overload of it all) is that the next few weeks get even worse.

The good news is we here at TBW launched this site in no small part due to our belief that while there may be a place for substantiated rumors—and even the occasional speculation, which is part of what makes being a fan so much fun—there’s no room for clickbait, story twisting and even outright lies that besmirch the game itself and pander to the lowest common denominator.

We don’t pretend to break news here, and we’re as transparent and selective as humanly possible when it comes to what we source or even analyze.

So let’s tread carefully around a handful of questions/topics surrounding the NBA Trade Deadline and its accompanying Rumor Season.

And if you missed last week’s column, here it is:

10 NBA Questions: End-of-the-Decade Edition

How do I know who to trust when there’s So much noise out there this time of year?

Sep 24, 2018; El Segundo, CA, USA; LeBron James answers a question during an interview session with reporters during the Los Angeles Lakers media day at the UCLA Health Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Track record and results matter. A lot.

Reporters who are trusted enough to be on reputable sports news outlets got there by not only having actual sources but also by being right at least some of the time. As TBW co-founder and Ombudsman Ray LeBov likes to point out: “99.9 percent of these ‘rumors’ never ever happen,” but a very small segment of national reporters fall into that 0.1 percent pretty consistently.

You probably know who they are (hi, Adrian Wojnarowski!) because they’ve earned that reputation. They’re the ones that all the wannabes are always quoting, linking to and/or outright stealing from anyway. So follow the source of the sources, but keep track of how well they do over time.

Official team beat reporters are also about as plugged in to that specific team as you’re going to get.

You can trust that the scuttlebutt they’re hearing is at least that much, but don’t gobble it up without understanding a few caveats. As we’ll talk about in a moment, there’s often a reason those gals and guys are getting their scoops, and it’s not so that you’re informed about the team’s actual trade plans.

Oh, and if your favorite third-tier Milwaukee Bucks reporter from Kenosha (for example) starts randomly talking about Brooklyn Nets rumors that no one else has mentioned, you probably should pass. Those trying to make a name for themselves aren’t above click-baiting, regardless of the masthead.

Finally, no kid you’ve never heard of who just appeared on Twitter and starts “breaking” news about your favorite team is worth putting stock into. You’ll know who they are because: A. They’re saying wild, illogical stuff that no one else is reporting. B. They’re saying the exact same thing as everyone else but claiming their own sources and not giving credit to the actual ones.

That said, every true reporter gets their start somewhere, and it’s usually small. Sometimes a newcomer turns out to have real insight (hi, Shams Charania!), but you gotta wait to see an actual track record of accuracy before you should start buying what they’re selling.

Why is there so much noise in the first place? 

Nov 15, 2019; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka (left) talks with his Sacramento Kings counterpart Vlade Divac before their teams play at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

It all starts with who is often “leaking” these “rumors”…

Ever wonder why so many sources are anonymous, yet seemingly completely accessible during this time of year? Ever wonder why teams don’t seem to be working very hard to find the seemingly endless amount of moles within their organizations and snuff out all this information leaking?

That’s because this too is all part of the game.

A player’s agent will call up the reporter(s) he/she has granted “access” to and tell them what he/she is “hearing”, which is often about his/her own client or even a rival. This exercise is to either drum up the appearance of interest or scuttle someone else’s market. IT IS NOT FOR YOUR OWN EDIFICATION that they are leaking things to the media.

It’s for creating noise in the shadow war played between teams and teams, agents and teams, and agents and agents.

But why would a team lie?

Front offices are often playing the exact same game.

They can “keep the fanbase happy” by floating names (after the fact) that they supposedly aimed for but missed on. (Hi, New York Knicks!) They can muck up another team’s plans by spilling secrets or muddying the waters. They can leverage the price point of acquiring or retaining a target. The spin is often endless, but you can be darn sure that very little, if anything, isn’t “leaked” for a reason.

But what about all these nba ‘Personalities’?

Separate between actual reporters and “talking heads”, please. (This would be good for your political consumption too, but that’s another story for another time…)

Though the reporters often become inadvertent (or purposeful) mouthpieces for the agent/team spin cycle above, the good ones are typically working very hard to find what’s out there while also decently straining out at least the very worst of what they know is junk.

Talking heads, on the other hand, are tasked with drumming up viewers, clicks, etc. in order to bring in the advertising dollars that such quantity affords. They “keep things interesting” by endlessly pontificating, speculating and exaggerating. Though a few of them have been around the industry long enough that they may indeed have a few sources / friends who occasionally throw them a bone, their typical hyperbole and gaslighting should be major red flags about their objective newsgathering capability.

It’s just not their job.

How come every free agent or trade target seemingly gets linked to the knicks or lakers?

Sep 25, 2017; Greenburgh, NY, USA; New York Knicks president Steve Mills (left) and general manager Scott Perry speak to the media on media day at MSG Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Sure, the biggest markets still have cachet with plenty of players due to the non-basketball opportunities that come with suiting up there. But this one is actually pretty simple:

The Lakers and Knicks’ fanbases absolutely dwarf all others. Yes, even other big markets like Miami, Boston, Philadelphia, etc. I’ve seen the subscriber numbers at former employers and elsewhere, and it’s not even close.

It’s no coincidence that the reporters, writers and talking heads with the biggest potential client bases are often the ones you see originating a new “rumor” almost daily during the high season. Whether they’re ever right or not is immaterial. Plenty of clicks, subscriptions, papers, etc. were sold by that splashy headline and/or juicy throwaway line.

But what about when a bunch of media members are reporting the same thing?

So, yes, it’s often true that where there’s smoke, there may be a little fire. That’s a good indicator of at least a modicum of plausibility if the rumor is coming from multiple trusted sources.

But keep in mind how quickly one tasty nugget gets thrown into the “Telephone Game”.

Suddenly, every second-tier writer and rumor aggregator is parroting each other, often “forgetting” to cite the original source. Then it seems like so many people are hearing/saying the same thing when it’s all really just a lot of squawking.

So what really even counts as a ‘rumor’ anyway?

Sep 27, 2019; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant (7) poses for a portrait during media day at HSS Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

Speculation does NOT count: That’s simply someone stewing around their own ideas or opinion. Even we do that from time-to-time here at TBW because it can be a lot of fun. An educated voice can add insight to what’s even realistic (or, better yet, not) when it comes to team moves, salary cap wrangling, etc. There’s nothing wrong with that!

The problem is how often speculation purposely gets packaged as “I’ve been hearing…”, and people eat it up without ever questioning the difference.

Worse, plenty of sites and voices jump on that speculation and then quote that source as if it was a rumor when it clearly wasn’t meant to be. But the Telephone Game has already begun as the insatiable lust for scuttlebutt gets ahold of such a statement and passes it off as fact.

Finally, it’s INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT to remember that just because a reporter says they’ve, “been hearing that Team X inquired about Player Z with Team Y”, for example, that could be as simple as Team X called Team Y and got hung up on immediately. That does NOT mean there was ever any possibility of it being a thing.

This happens all the time. Teams talk about tons of players. So do agents. Conversation does not equal intention.

Does any of that really sound like a “rumor”?

That said, every now and then, a trade or signing is actually made. Most of the time, it comes out of left field with little forewarning and/or includes parameters that were never, ever part of any reported tidbits. That just proves how little of the good stuff the public actually ever has access to.

But, very occasionally, trusted reporters actually nail some fairly accurate predictions and insight.

And it’s just enough to keep us all hooked for the next round.

So where’s kevin love going to end up?

Jan 4, 2020; Cleveland, Ohio, USA;Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love (0) prepares to enter the game in the second quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Yup, this is speculation because it’s fun despite all I wrote above. But it’s often far more edifying and responsible to narrow down what isn’t likely than pretend to know what is. So here’s what we can logically piece together:

Though Kevin Love is a multi-time All-Star and an NBA champion who possesses a modern skill set of shooting, rebounding and superlative passing, he’s also a 31-year-old non-defender who’s playing on a 4-year deal at nearly $30 million per season. He also just kicked the Cleveland Cavaliers’ trade leverage squarely in the nuts with his recent on-court sulking/tantrums and plenty of reported off-court grousing as well. (Yes, there’s been a mea culpa, but that is absolutely trade value damage control as much as it is Love being a good soldier.)

It’s a foregone conclusion that he wants out, (albeit an understandable one), which means teams know they can bid low, even as they probably wouldn’t have been offering a king’s ransom anyway.

And remember, you gotta find a match for that huge salary. Good teams usually have their good players locked up for those types of contracts, so they typically don’t have the cap ballast and assets to land a star like Love without severely messing what made their team good in the first place.

And while bad teams more often have the picks, expiring contracts and prospects that a rebuilding franchise like the Cavs would seemingly prefer, Love has very clearly indicated that he’s not going to thrive (much less, function) very well while playing for a loser. That his time with the Minnesota Timberwolves also ended with sulking corroborates this.

So elite teams like the Lakers, L.A. Clippers, Milwaukee Bucks, etc. probably have the wrong cap fits while the true bottom-feeders aren’t a good cultural match.

That leaves some of the middle-tier contenders as the only reasonable options unless something really comes out of left field.

The Portland Trail Blazers have been “rumored” for a long time and can start around Kent Bazemore and/or Hassan Whiteside’s contracts for ballast while also sprinkling in some of their nice prospects. Then again, that’s not a lot of defense if you’re trotting out a Lillard-McCollum-Carmelo-Love-Nurkic five by next season.

The Orlando Magic and Detroit Pistons are both stuck in the middle, desperately flirting between playoff hunting and full rebuilds (again). They also have interesting salary matches (Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic, Blake Griffin, etc.) and young prospects that might interest the Cavs. They make even more sense than the Blazers at this point.

The Miami Heat and Houston Rockets always seem to be sniffing around stars like this and have a history of actually pulling it off. That said, the Rockets lack the type of young assets the Cavs would presumably want (unless Cleveland just winds up salary dumping because Love’s market craters), and the Heat seem inclined to hold onto their best young guys like Bam Adebayo, Justice Winslow, Tyler Herro, Kendrick Nunn, etc. As well they should.

Love would be an incredibly interesting fit with the Indiana Pacers, but it’s hard to find salary matches with young-ish guys they presumably aren’t ready to give up on yet (outside of Domantas Sabonis’ currently too-small deal) and who fit the Cavs’ timeline.

I love the in-my-head idea of the Phoenix Suns pairing Love with DeAndre Ayton and Devin Booker, and they could build a salary match pretty quickly using Tyler Johnson and Frank Kaminsky as ballast. But it would certainly mean losing Cameron Johnson and/or Mikal Bridges. Maybe with Kelly Oubre Jr. playing so well, the Suns would be willing to part with their other young wings?

What about Andre Drummond?

Jan 4, 2020; San Francisco, California, USA; Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (0) reacts after being called for the foul during the fourth quarter against the Golden State Warriors at Chase Center. Mandatory Credit: Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

Drummond is a young, walking double-double who also nearly averages two blocks and two steals per game. That said, trading centers might be the hardest proposition right now.

Most teams have a pretty decent one already, and most of them are built around far more stretchier options than Drummond. He’s just not a great fit on more than half the rosters in the league. (That said, give the guy credit as he’s shown he can handle the ball, pass more and even shoot from further out seemingly every year.)

Drummond is young enough that a rebuilding team could talk themselves into him—and more easily assemble the types of pieces the Pistons would need—but he’s also 26 and on the verge of that career point where he’s more inclined to be looking for a real winner.

Maybe the Magic and Pistons shuffle each other’s decks, or maybe the Charlotte Hornets stupidly part early with some of their youngsters in an attempt to cut the corner to relevancy.

Otherwise, a deal centered around Clint Capela and Drummond could make some sense for the Rockets and Pistons, as could the Heat or Knicks continuing to star chase. I absolutely love the idea of the Atlanta Hawks or Dallas Mavericks getting in the conversation, but that’s probably only happening if Drummond’s market is really cold and they can add him to their young cores without eroding them.

Where is kyle kuzma going?

Hell if I know, but Kuzma is the type of player who could fit on most rosters. He’s young enough to be part of a young core and heady enough to help a playoff team. And there certainly does seem to be a decade-long track record of young LeBron James teammates entering the rumor mill AND then indeed getting traded. (But also remember how often Chris Bosh and Kevin Love were also named and weren’t moved.)

That said, if Lakers GM Rob Pelinka convinces anyone that Kuzma is worth more than a fellow role player in return, we need to start giving him way more credit than we have.

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