The NBA trade market has stalled: What it means for the Knicks and the rest of the league


That famous Timofey Mozgov contract from six years ago even caught Mozgov off guard.

For those who haven’t memorized the markets of long ago for players, here’s a refresher:


The Los Angeles Lakers began the 2016 offseason by handing lightweight big man Mozgov a four-year, $64 million deal. The contract immediately became the talk of the basketball world. Thanks to a lucrative new television contract, the salary cap had risen more than 30% that summer, the biggest single-season increase in NBA history. Everyone who was anyone had ceiling space. But 16 million dollars a year for a future second stringer? It seemed like an outlier.

Wages are rising but no one anticipated… that. Even Mozgov didn’t think he would win that much. He was so excited about more than tripling his income that he drove from Miami to Orlando that day just to take his agent to a dinner party.

But outliers are only outliers if all parties recognize them as such. Otherwise, they can quickly become the norm. And that’s what happened in the summer of 2016.

Agents use the contracts of players similar to their clients as points of comparison when negotiating with teams, and because Mozgov signed so quickly — just after free agency began at 12:01 a.m. — his contract newly agreed has become a staple deal for many around the NBA. Sure, teams might scream that a backup center shouldn’t be making that much money, but the whole league has had an influx of cap space and felt the pressure to use it.

Meanwhile. agents could point to the Lakers’ new center as justification for why their backup big man should also be paid.

It didn’t take long for the Mozgov deal to go basic.

This offseason, Bismack Biyombo earned $72 million over four years from the Orlando Magic. Dwight Howard, who was viewed somewhat more favorably at the time, signed for $71 million over three years with the Atlanta Hawks. Ian Mahinmi got a Mozgovian contract from the Washington Wizards: four years, $64 million. Later that fall, Gorgui Dieng signed an extension with the Minnesota Timberwolves for — you guessed it — $64 million over four years.

Every team ended up regretting every signing. But that’s not the point. Mozgov’s contract was an outlier until it wasn’t.

So what does Timofey Mozgov, who hasn’t played an NBA game in four years, have to do with the New York Knicks or the NBA today?

The same dynamic that overcame the league after his signing is happening right now, but in the trade market. A gigantic comeback for Rudy Gobert reset the baseline for someone like Knicks fixation Donovan Mitchell, and now the NBA is at a standstill.

For years, teams were reluctant to trade unprotected first-round players for players who weren’t transformative on their own, but times have changed.

The Atlanta Hawks gave the San Antonio Spurs of them unprotected first-round pick for All-Star Dejounte Murray, which meant the Minnesota Timberwolves had to give the Utah Jazz Three unprotected firsts for Gobert, which means the Jazz want even more for a three-time All-Star and offensive hub, Mitchell, which means the Brooklyn Nets want all your draft picks, all your good players, your information of Hulu connection and your first-born child for Kevin Durant.

The biggest sign of an imbalanced trade in any trade – from the NBA to finance to anything else – is one that triggers inflation so massive it shuts down the entire market. . That seems to be what’s happening in this post-Gobert era.

Eventually, there is a point of diminishing returns, a time when the package that escalation dictates for a star is objectively absurd. This is when the market collapses on itself. The league can be at this point now. Otherwise, it’s on the edge of the abyss. Durant is arguably the greatest player in the world, but it’s not worth giving up everything you have for him because you end up with Durant and nothing, and what does that get you?

Meanwhile, the Knicks are at the center of it all. The Jazz want to bare them in a Mitchell trade. So far, New York is not ready to dismantle its future.

In a normal offseason, maybe an unrestricted free agent lingers that late in the summer. This one was anything but normal. And that affects more than the Knicks, Mitchell and the rest of his suitors.

Various teams are waiting for what might happen with Durant. They won’t move until they know they can’t acquire it anymore. Kyrie Irving’s future remains in limbo because of this.

An organization like the Indiana Pacers could be waiting for a transfer of Russell Westbrook since they have discussed the possibility of acquiring him. But they might want the market to open again before they do that because a deal with Myles Turner might be coming and they might not want to send Turner to LA because, as far as they know, a contender Durant could offer more than he could get today for Turner if that contender knew he was out of luck with a former MVP.

Front office leaders are people too. Using the Gobert return as leverage shouldn’t just be a negotiation tactic. Sometimes such strategies are also public relations strategies. Teams aren’t exactly waiting for the public to shout about how a better player has landed less in a trade than an inferior player.

Even Mozgov didn’t go into free agency six years ago thinking he’d earn this much. And as far as we know, the Jazz had not planned to receive three unprotected first-round players, another among the first five protected, a 21-year-old who had just entered the first round less than a month before. and a first-round exchange. as well as various useful rotation players for Gobert. But it happened. And now Utah has priced Mitchell as if the Gobert forfeit wasn’t an outlier. The Nets did the same with Durant.

It doesn’t have to stay that way forever. Mitchell’s situation could become untenable in Utah, which could mean the Jazz lower their asking price. They might be worried about Mitchell winning them a few too many fall games, which could cost them lottery night, and decide to deal with him before the start of the season no matter what. The Knicks could feel the pressure of a three-time All-Star staring them in the face and soften as well.

Eventually, one way or another, the transaction thread will resume. But for now, there has been a Mozgovification of the commercial market, and one wonders how long that lasts.

(Donovan Mitchell top photo: Wendell Cruz/USA Today)