Trade negotiations and inflation aren’t just topics for PBS and the network’s news channels. They are also part of what is happening in the NBA this offseason.
Now there has always been trade talks, a primary way of doing business in basketball. And anyone who hasn’t noticed the inflation – from David Robinson’s $5.7 million salary in 1992-93 to Kevin Garnett’s $25.2 million 10 years later to the $59.6 million dollars projected by Steph Curry for 2025-26 – did not pay attention.
But there’s a combination of the two in play these days that could have a chilling effect on the current and future whereabouts of Kevin Durant, Donovan Mitchell, possibly Kyrie Irving and potentially NBA stars in the future. .
It’s all thanks to the Minnesota Timberwolves deciding Utah center Rudy Gobert was worth it to them.
Gobert’s value, as established by Wolves in a deal finalized on July 6, was set by arguably the biggest trade in league history: four first-round draft picks (with only a slight protection in 2029), an unprotected trade in 2026 and five players (Malik Beasley, Patrick Beverley, Leandro Bolmaro, Jarred Vanderbilt and freshly drafted first-rounder Walker Kessler).
All this for a player known almost entirely for playing in the less glamorous half of the pitch.
Even as three-time Kia Defensive Player of the Year, three-time All-Star, six-time All-Defense honored and, with Mitchell, a pillar of the Jazz system for years, Gobert is, what, a top 20 overall? He’s been on an All-NBA team four times in nine seasons, missing out on third-team status in 2022 behind Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns.
Now they’re teammates, giving Minnesota either a new-age Twin Towers advantage or a comeback roster out of step with most of the rest of the league.
Either way, that’s what Wolves’ masterminds – new president of basketball operations Tim Connelly, coach Chris Finch and transition ownership from Glenn Taylor to Alex Rodriguez and Marc Lore – felt. that Gobert was worth them.
Does that mean it would be worth the same for other teams? Does that lock in a floor, a minimum set of assets, for any team trying to trade for a player as good or better than the 7-foot-1 “Stifle Tower”?
The Dejounte Murray trade that recently sent the young Spurs guard to Atlanta was also costly: first-round picks dropped by the Hawks in 2023, 2025 and 2027 with a pick trade in 2026, with Danilo Gallinari (quickly redeemed).
In real life, the value of an asset can fluctuate widely, ultimately only being worth what someone is willing to pay for it. Just because the neighbors dropped $40,000 on an in-ground pool doesn’t mean you’d want one. Again, the pool contractor cannot sell them for all that someone is willing to pay.
In that case, Brooklyn’s Sean Marks would come under fire if he dealt Durant – an all-time top 75 player whose 29.9 average, with a few more appearances, would have tied for second among the leaders in the NBA last season – for a package deemed less than what Utah’s Danny Ainge got for Gobert.
And Ainge, who just extracted that booty from Minnesota, isn’t inclined to get rid of Mitchell for much less. He might want more, which would drastically reduce the pool of potential buyers.
Historically, hit deals have focused on players switching teams, with a scale of quality versus quantity being applied. Salary cap rules dictated the amount of contracts accepted, requiring something close to break even. So an All-Star earning $20 million could be traded for a rising star earning $10 million, a rotation guy being paid $5 million, and two or three role-players added to make the math work.
Future draft picks, however, hit a team’s salary cap at zero value. The only real restrictions prohibit teams from trading picks more than seven years in advance or trading future picks in consecutive years. So any deal that involves choices in whole or in part boils down to the arbitrary value that participating leaders — and their fanbases — place on those building blocks of the future.
The latter group, the fans, are the most likely to lock in the picks, if only because Utah’s bounty for Gobert and San Antonio’s bounty for Murray included so many picks. Or maybe semi-prime, depending on what Wolves and Hawks do in the standings as those picks are made. Lotto or end of the first round? Still to be determined, with Gobert and Murray being counted out by their new teams to minimize the sting.
What about that other group, managers of interested rival teams? Would a GM or team president feel pressure to impress them, thus requiring bigger drives for their reputation now or reshoots later?
“I don’t think it matters much,” said Toronto Raptors senior basketball adviser Wayne Embry. “Ever since with LeBron a few years ago (joining Miami in 2010) the players made their deals, the players wanted to play together.”
This relegates teams more to facilitating than concocting trades. And in these times of “player empowerment”, a star’s preference for where they go can severely limit their current team’s bargaining power. No-trade clauses are rare, but concerns about a player’s willingness to re-sign with their new team or even cooperate on the pitch come into play.
For example, Durant might only want to go to Phoenix or Miami. And if the Suns or Heat have to give up too much — especially in current players coming out — then Durant might not like that team’s chances of winning. Meanwhile, will these teams dump draft picks for a star with an injury history who turns 34 before training camps open?
By the way, these recent agreements also involved heaps of choices: Four in Boston in 2013 when he shipped Garnett and Paul Pierce to Brooklyn, three in New Orleans in 2019 in the Lakers contract for Anthony Davis and five (plus two swaps) in Oklahoma City for Paul George four days later.
But in one of the NBA’s progenitor’s blockbuster deals – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s trade from Milwaukee to the Lakers in 1975 – people forget that two first round players were also involved, pre-salary cap days.
When the deal was publicly announced on On June 16, 1975, Milwaukee’s return on 28-year-old Abdul-Jabbar was center Elmore Smith, shooting guard Brian Winters, forward Dave Meyers and winger Junior Bridgeman. But the trade negotiations had unfolded over several months, with Abdul-Jabbar and the Bucks managing to maintain his October trade demand mostly internally through the entire 1974-75 season.
So between the time the details were agreed by Embry and Lakers general manager Pete Newell in mid-may and the announcement was made, the NBA held the 1975 draft. The Lakers held the No. 2 and No. 8 picks that year, taking Meyers and Bridgeman on Embry’s instructions.
Players Milwaukee got including Winters and Bridgeman were part of a retooling around Marques Johnson, Sidney Moncrief and Bob Lanier who saw the Bucks average 55 wins from 1980-81 to 1985-86. That and the fact that league peers knew Abdul-Jabbar had forced Milwaukee’s hand meant that Embry was never faced with any real doubts for the comeback.
Kareem was out of contract. Durant is still four years old, Mitchell three before his player option. Marks and Ainge therefore have more weight. However, it is not infinite.
“You end up having to do your best,” Embry said. “It’s not much different now.”
It doesn’t matter what Minnesota paid to have Gobert.
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Steve Aschburner has been writing about the NBA since 1980. You can email him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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