Recent NBA trade deadlines have been especially hectic. In the 2020-21 season, more than two-thirds of the 30 teams made a trade on deadline day for the first time in NBA history, and that record was broken again last year when 24 teams moved or received a player within a 24-hour span.

This year’s deadline, however, may be different, as it is the first under the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) and the last before the CBA’s harsh restrictions on extravagant spenders kick in. Starting this offseason, franchises whose payrolls are $17.5 million above the luxury tax threshold, a new cutoff referred to as the “second apron,” will be severely limited in their ability to make transactions. Those teams will not be able to:

  • Aggregate contracts to trade for a single player making more money
  • Send out cash in trades
  • Use trade exceptions from prior years
  • Take back more incoming than outgoing salary in a deal.

A team that finishes the 2024-25 season over the second apron will also not be able to trade its 2032 first-round pick.

To understand how restrictive these rules are, note that none of the NBA’s recent blockbuster trades would have been possible under them. The Phoenix Suns aggregated contracts to acquire Bradley Beal in June, the Milwaukee Bucks took on more salary than it sent out in their Damian Lillard deal, the Boston Celtics did both to get Jrue Holiday and the Los Angeles Clippers did both in the James Harden trade.

Five teams are currently projected to finish the 2023-24 season more than $17.5 million over the luxury tax threshold, per Spotrac: the Suns, Bucks, Celtics, Clippers and Golden State Warriors. An additional four teams are strong candidates to get there by 2024-25. The Memphis Grizzlies were on track to exceed the second apron next season before they dealt Steven Adams to the Houston Rockets on Feb. 1.

National Basketball Association (NBA) (Organization) | hobbyDB

Big-spending teams may either make moves to try to shed salary or take advantage of their transactional freedom while it lasts. Meanwhile, many other teams will be hesitant to go after players who are owed lots of money down the road. For instance, the Chicago Bulls’ Zach LaVine has been mentioned in trade rumors for months, but teams may balk at the $138 million they’ll have to pay him through 2026-27 and what it might mean for their future luxury tax status. His season-ending foot surgery certainly doesn’t make that contract any more appealing.

There are other reasons why the 2024 trade deadline may be less active than last year’s. For starters, many of the most lucrative assets have already been traded. The tenuous situation between James Harden and the Philadelphia 76ers was one of our five storylines to watch entering the season, and the Clippers wasted no time acquiring Harden later that month. Front offices around the league had their eyes on several Toronto Raptors, and subsequently O.G. Anunoby was traded to the New York Knicks and Pascal Siakam was traded to the Indiana Pacers.

In addition to those in-season blockbuster trades, many star players found new homes last offseason, including Damian Lillard, Jrue Holiday and Bradley Beal. There simply aren’t many stars available right now, and certainly none who are locks to be dealt.

Lastly, a bunch of the top teams already cashed in their chips and don’t have the draft picks to make more roster moves. Franchises must keep at least one first-round pick in every other future draft over the next seven years and cannot trade picks more than seven years out. As a result of these rules, the Bucks, among other teams, have no first-round picks to trade. As ESPN’s Bobby Marks pointed out, 75% of tradeable first-round picks belong to just 11 of the league’s 30 teams.

Those 11 teams could be frisky, though. The Oklahoma City Thunder, for instance, have a 35-15 record, tied for first in the Western Conference. With 14 first-round picks and 21 second-round picks across the next seven drafts, the Thunder could go all-in and add another starter-level player if they feel that their young roster is ready to contend for a title.

It should be stated, however, that title-winning teams rarely hoist the trophy in June because of a deal made in February. Only two NBA champions since 2006 acquired a player during the season who went on to play at least 18 minutes per game during that year’s playoff run.

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