Trade Rumor Primer

Kurt —  June 4, 2007

Artest is going to LA. No wait, Chicago. And that is where Jermaine O’Neal is going, too. Unless he comes to LA. Or New York. And what about KG trades, or Kobe for that matter. Maybe they can both play together in Chicago or New York.

Potential trade rumors are flying around the NBA faster than people are being killed off on the Sopranos.

And most of those rumors are not going to happen, in fact they are out-and-out, um, fertilizer (still trying to run a family blog here). There are a host of reasons NBA trade rumors get started this time of year, and often they have little to do with a deal actually getting done.

So, since the entire Web — including this blog — seem to be following and fueling the rumor mill right now, it seemed a good time to talk about rumors. This is not focused on any one or two rumors in general (although I’ll point to examples) but this is meant as a broad outline of concepts.

Just a few examples of how rumors get started:

1) A team “insider” as a source talks to a newspaper. If a reputable beat reporter for a team says a front office source told him “player X for players Y, Z and a draft pick” then we can trust it, right? I mean, it came from a trusted source, right?

Not so fast. Here’s what they don’t tell you in Journalism 101 — your source has a motive too. People don’t tell beat reporters things off the record because they like them, it’s because they want something or are pushing an agenda. This is as true in sports as it is in Washington D.C., no off the record source is neutral. That’s not to say their information isn’t accurate, but that it’s coming to the reporter for a reason (and the reporter, if it is news of a potential trade, pretty much has to go with it).

For instance, let’s look at a deal a few writers have mentioned — Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum and the #19 pick for Jermaine O’Neal. Everyone has agreed that the two sides have talked, but what organization has a motive to float that rumor? Do you think the Lakers would put their three most tradable assets into a deal for JO alone? However, if you were part of the Indiana front office, would those be the things you are asking for out of the gate? And because of everything going on in LA do you think you can put pressure on Lakers management by tantalizing the fans with a deal for a big name regardless of price? And, would Indiana be trying to up any bidding war for JO by saying that is what was offered? Or, maybe you’re a clever Lakers front office guy and want to float a rumor to show you’re doing something, but one with so high a price tag many fans would balk at it. Just a few options.

When you see a printed rumor, ask yourself who had the motivation to leak it. There are exceptions to the above rule, but the vast majority of “leaked” info is a leaked for a reason.

2) Is it a trade both sides can “sell?” Fans tend to look at trades in the “how can we make our team better mode” with almost no regard for the fact the other team and it’s front office is thinking the exact same things. Most GMs don’t make stupid, one-sided trades. When looking at a trade rumor — or trying to come up with a trade yourself — think about it from the other team’s point of view. Does if fill a need for them? Is it something team management can sell their fans without fear of a lynching.

To use another example, and since this is a Lakers blog and all, the Kwame Brown for Marcus Camby rumor — as a Lakers fan I love it. But, if you were Denver, do you really think you’d trade the defensive player of the year for Kwame? Do you think AI and Melo and the entire fan base would quietly watch that trade go down? Yes, the Nuggets have long-term cap issues but Kwame actually makes their problems worse for next season, and this is a team that already could pay $10 million or so in luxury tax. This move makes no sense for Denver, but Lakers fans love it so it stays alive.

3) A newspaper columnist suggests it. Seriously, this has about as much weight as any deals I suggest in this blog or you suggest in the comments here. Not to say the deals aren’t thought through or would even benefit both teams, but GMs don’t turn to media or blogs for trade ideas. Unless he or she says it came from a source, it’s columnist making up stuff to fill space (said columnist will later complain that bloggers make stuff up, but that’s a separate topic).