Before last week's trade deadline it almost seemed certain the Hawks would trade away free agent-to be Josh Smith. It was almost as if he was saying his good byes to his hometown in the weeks leading up to the trade deadline and the inevitable seemed to be happening.
The same could be said for Utah with both Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson getting set to hit free agency.
The conventional wisdom around the league is that when you know you will not be able to afford to retain the services of a solid player like Smith, Jefferson and Millsap in free agency, you trade them for as many assets as you can get rather than lose them for nothing.
So how did all three of these players remain on their teams without any reassurrance that they would remain in their respective cities?
The simple answer is the teams did not want to fall out of the Playoff race. The more complex answer, as Steve Kyler of HoopsWorld explains, is that the teams did not want to lose the money that comes from making the Playoffs:
The Hawks and Jazz listened to similar offers on their would-be free agents and simply arrived at the conclusion that making the playoffs was more valuable than what teams were willing to give for their players. Both Utah and Atlanta are looking at massive amounts of cap room this summer, and with teams at the table offering contracts with massive dollars associated – both Atlanta and Utah opted for the playoffs now and possible cap space tomorrow rather than take back luggage and kill their postseason and their cap room.
There is no doubt that the league's new collective bargaining agreement played a role in what teams could get at the trade deadline. The Magic, for instance, were not extremely pleased that they could not get a first round pick in exchange for J.J. Redick, something that would seem like a slam dunk in years past. It is a new reality for the league and its market for players.
Teams certainly seemed a bit gunshy when it came to prospects and draft picks at this year's trade deadline, not really knowing the finer mechanics of the league's new player movement rules. And with the uncertainty about whether Smith would sign wherever he landed was not enough to make an offer the Hawks would take.
Atlanta was talking with Milwaukee, Kyler reports, up until about 10 minutes before the deadline before the team decided to bite the bullet and risk losing Smith for nothing.
The Hawks did not feel that they could remain a Playoff team with the deals that were being offered. And the Playoffs appeared to be worth more to them then anything at this point.
Atlanta currently sits fifth in the East and is 10 games ahead of Toronto, sitting just outside the Playoff picture. The Hawks must have really gotten a bad deal if they were afraid they could fall that hard in the final 25-30 games. Similarly, Utah is seventh in the West and 3.5 games ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers for the final Playoff spot. The jazz certainly did not want to upset the balance and lose Playoff positioning.
In the mean time, not making a deal has kept both teams with a lot of cap room. Whether that means either can attract free agents is another question. The momentary Playoff appearance might be a regret if they cannot effectively use that cap room in the summer and their players leave them with nothing.