In their own words: When NBA players request a trade

By Andrew D

December 27, 2022

Image Courtesy of Alamy

There must be as many reasons behind a player requesting a trade request as there are players who do so. From clashing personalities in the locker room to contract niggles and spending too much time on the bench.

Whatever the reasons, a player trade request can become quite a tempestuous affair once the player announces his intentions. Tensions between the player/agent and the team’s management/ownership can reach unpleasant levels rapidly and rise exponentially if cooler heads do not prevail. 

But the stakes are high...

Fortunes are won or lost on the backs of star NBA players. The loss of a key player can be unbelievably disruptive to the team involved. And then, there’s the new team he’s heading to, of course. Noses are put out of joint at both ends if you’re not careful. 

There are so many angles that you might not have considered when a player wants out. From the effect on sports betting, player props and NBA future wagers to merchandise and television rights. Nothing is straightforward when you’re dealing with a juggernaut like the NBA. 

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Generally, a trade request from a player starts with a phone call from the agent to the general manager of the team. A face-to-face meeting between the two parties often follows if it is a reasonably amicable situation. 

We spoke to several active and former NBA agents and high-level executives when delving into this issue. In the interests of remaining anonymous, our sources requested that we do not reveal their names. 

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One retired high-level agent of many seasons told us:

Agent 1

“Sometimes, you have to get to the point that you play hardball with the team, and it does get vicious. It’s a divorce. It’s never a pleasant situation when you’re dealing with high-level players, especially when there’s emotion involved. You have to get vicious at some point. What I’d always try to do was force the player’s temperament and disposition to change to show the team that this is not going to work.”

Another agent, experienced in trade demands and high-level player negotiations told us:

Agent 2

“I’m pretty straight forward, that’s how I operate. If a client wants to be traded, I’m going to tell the team he wants to get traded. I’m not going to dance around the subject and be pretty straight forward about it and let it be known that’s what we’re looking to do, and in these scenarios, we’ll work with you in terms of what would make sense for you guys as well.”

If the trade talks stall between the agent and team management then often the player will be brought into the scenario. A third agent, who represents several NBA AllStars told us:

Agent 3

“It depends on the level of the player, but I’ve had players go straight to the owner and request it. A lot of times, they think the agent might be bullsh*tting, so when the player says it himself to the general manager or the owner, they know it’s the real deal.”

When a player does not immediately engage with management or respond to their requests for clarification, it causes them to wonder if he is fully on board with the trade request. They think that perhaps the situation can be resolved in some other way. Once the player in question participates in discussions and engages with team management and ownership, it becomes clear that the situation is real and that other forms of negotiation are unlikely to be successful. A unified stance is a strong one.

Agent 1

“On the high end, I always involved the player because they have to play their role too. It has to be sort of playing off of each other. I handle the heavy work. You handle the light work. The communication between the coaching staff and the front office with you, how are we handling that? If they are communicating, what are they communicating? Keep me in the loop so they can’t split you up and make it seem like it’s an agent-driven activity.”

“Once they get a little bit unnerved, and the axiom tilts toward their insecurity, then you have them”

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After a trade request is made, the onus is on the team to respond. This is where things can get tricky. If the player is in the final year of his contract then he has more leverage. The team might be prepared to release the player and receive a short-term NBA playoff loan player in return. But most times, teams won’t agree to release a player until they have some kind of indication that they can re-sign him at a later date.

Ideally, both sides want to keep it under wraps. This can benefit both sides and help them get the deal they want. According to one executive who dealt with the trade request of a Hall of Fame player:

Executive 1

“They (agents) don’t want to put it out in the media first because then it just upsets the team. Because the team is going to be negotiating from a position of weakness when it’s already out there that the player wants to be traded” 

However, as discussions progress, it has been known for information to be ‘selectively’ leaked by either side.

Executive 2

“Depending on the team’s reaction, if it’s not what they want, then they go to the media and put it out there. A lot of times, if you have a good relationship with the agent, you can say, ‘Alright, let us work on some things. Give us a list of teams you want to go to or what you’re looking for, so we can start to put some stuff together as a group and approach it.’ Sometimes, agents are impatient and want to put it out there.”

NBA trades

The activities that go on can be remarkable and limitless in their pettiness. Each side wants to come out of the situation in the best possible position. And there may be the complicating factors of personality clashes and bitterness that cloud the negotiations. Agents will often work behind the scenes and assess the market that their client is going to find themselves in. They evaluate the teams that have the potential for increased playing time for their player and analyse everything including their salary cap numbers. The depth and detail of these investigations can be remarkable.

Agent 1

“You also run the risk that they may trade you to somewhere you don’t want to be traded. Then, you have to go backdoor and block the teams that you don’t want him to be traded to, so you can narrow the scope. There’s a lot that goes into these things.”

This is where sneaky tactics can sully proceedings and lead to a further souring of relations if not careful.

“A lot of times what a team will do is they’ll keep it tight and won’t communicate with the agent until it’s too far gone, so the agent can’t muck up the deal if they’re powerful enough to play that role. Sometimes, the team they’re dealing with will backdoor them and go directly to the agent to get an idea of what’s going on too. If the trade does go down, they don’t want to be caught off guard, then an agent turns around and says, ‘What the f*ck is he doing here? I didn’t want him here in the first place.’”

When the news leaks that a player has requested a trade, it’s harder for the team he is leaving to get the deal they want. And if an agent attempts to block any trade that the organization feels is in its best interest, there can be negative consequences for the player.

Agent 2

“You’ve also got to be careful because if they’re not going to trade him, you don’t want the player out there where it hits the media that he wants out. Then, the fans are against him, and there’s just negative energy because they know you don’t want to be there.”

One agent represented a former first-round NBA Draft pick and his client requested a trade. The general manager didn’t want to lose the player to a rival but was angry with him for asking to be traded. So he sent him to play in the G League as a punishment for having the impertinence to want to leave. Pretty and vindictive? Sure. Welcome to the world of NBA trading. It is a finely balanced dance that goes on between the 2 parties and there’s always the chance that the knives will come out…

Agent 2

“I remember one executive said, ‘You motherf*cker. You f*cked me over. I’m going to get you.’” the agent said. “I was really caught off guard. I just listened. Let him cuss me out. When he was done, he hung up on me. Then, I didn’t call him after that. About a week later, he called me and apologized for his reaction.”

Relationships between executives and agents can be severely strained after episodes like this. The knock-on effect can ripple through the whole NBA as one player is passed over because his behaviour left a bitter taste in someone’s mouth and so on and so on.

There’s always a decent possibility that the team the player wants to leave will leak information to the media themselves. This is done in an attempt to counter the agent’s sneaky manoeuvrings to block any deal behind the scenes. Any leverage is also lost when it comes to other potential suitors in trade talks.

Image Courtesy of Alamy
Executive 1

“When it gets out there that a player has requested a trade, it’s harder to get the deal you want as a team. When an agent does that, then the team starts to put out and use the media to try and get the deal they want by saying other teams offered other things to drive the price up and create a bidding war.”

Upon learning that Carmelo Anthony wanted to be traded, the Denver Nuggets employed this tactic. In this case, they had the advantage of knowing that Anthony was desperate to be traded with the New York Knickerbockers. 

This tidbit of information took all the power out of the hands of the player and his agent and put it in the hands of the Nuggets’ executives. They released the information that Carmelo wanted to leave and managed to spark a bidding war between the Knickerbockers and the Brooklyn Nets. The Nuggets got themselves a bonus player in the deal as a direct result of this tactic.

It’s not every trade deal that descends into tit-for-tat or dastardly moves behind the scenes. Some are conducted in a more professional manner and both sides work together to come to an agreement amicably.

Agent 3

“I think you approach it as we want a win-win and make sure it works for both of us so that they get a nice draft pick. A lot of times, they’ll tell you what they want, and they’ll trade him. Then, you’ve got to go out there if they want two second-round picks or a late first-round pick. Then, you have to go out there and tell them this is what it’s going to take.”

Final thoughts

With the amount of money involved in anything connected to the NBA, we shouldn’t really be too surprised that these shenanigans go on. Everybody wants to get the maximum benefit from any trade. Money is awash but there are caps that have to be respected. All in all, it’s rather a complicated affair. Throw the emotions of some highly-strung individuals into that mix and you have yourself a recipe for fireworks. 

Here at The Jump Hub, we're here for it all. Bring it on. We’ll get the popcorn. 

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