LOS ANGELES — As general manager of the New Orleans Pelicans, Dell Demps badly wanted to be sitting in the crowd last February as his star forward, Anthony Davis, became the first player in N.B.A. history to score 50 points in an All-Star Game.
Davis ended up with 52 points, to be exact, but Demps couldn’t leave his office at the Smoothie King Center to enjoy any of it.
Because while Davis was assembling his masterpiece on the court, in the Pelicans’ own arena, Demps was forced to stay behind closed doors as he pressed to complete one of the most important trades in franchise history.
The final yes from the Sacramento Kings on their willingness to ship DeMarcus Cousins to the Pelicans, as Demps recalled in an interview this past week, came “with about two minutes to go in the fourth quarter.”
The 2017 All-Star weekend will be forever remembered in league circles for the manner in which the Cousins trade came about. Reports of a possible Cousins-to-New Orleans deal began to circulate a few hours before the All-Star Game tipoff. Word that the teams were poised to go through with the trade then reached Cousins — and Davis — during postgame interviews with the news media.
But there will be no such drama this weekend in Los Angeles. Indeed, there will be no deals at all — blockbuster or otherwise. The N.B.A.’s annual trade deadline was on Feb. 8 this year, marking the first time in at least four decades that it occurred before the All-Star Game was played.
It’s difficult to be more precise than that because the league’s official records on the matter date only to 1987. But a research assist we received from an indispensable Twitter follow for fans of the game’s rich (but often overlooked) past — @ProHoopsHistory — confirmed that the trade deadline had come after the All-Star Game going as far back as the 1978-79 season.
What can be said without hesitation is that without any trade talk in the background, this All-Star weekend feels drastically different from any in recent memory. Just as the N.B.A. had hoped.
“Our goals in moving up the trade deadline were twofold — to avoid it being a distraction over All-Star weekend and to allow traded players to use the All-Star break to get acclimated to their new teams and cities,” Adam Silver, the N.B.A. commissioner, said earlier in the week. “Early returns have been positive.”
The reviews have been closer to glowing. The Cleveland Cavaliers, in fact, were prepared to submit their enthusiastic support as soon as the calendar change was announced last summer.
“We were thrilled,” the Cavaliers’ general manager, Koby Altman, said.
Altman certainly never envisioned in July that he would end up making three massive trades right at the Feb. 8 deadline to essentially reconfigure half his roster.
Yet as Altman noted in an interview on Friday afternoon, shortly after he landed in Los Angeles for the All-Star festivities, Cleveland has “historically always made some sort of move” around the trade deadline. So the Cavaliers were always on board with moving up the deadline, which, in turn, would speed the transition process for any on-the-fly additions to the roster.
Additions that the Cavaliers ended up making in dramatic fashion to essentially remake half the team around LeBron James.
Altman chuckled when he was asked to imagine what it would have felt like on Sunday, for both him and his star player, if the trade deadline had not yet passed and James would be on the court with the other All-Stars while the Cavaliers were still trying to complete all of their trade business.
The Cavaliers still have two open roster spots to fill despite the moves they made. Still, Altman is now comfortable enough with the state of his team’s makeover that he felt free to join three other Cavaliers staff members on Thursday night on a scouting trip to Tempe to watch Arizona beat Arizona State.
“I’m certainly relieved,” he said.
Which, in turn, makes for a more enjoyable All-Star weekend. When I spoke on Friday with Mark Cuban, the Dallas Mavericks’ owner, he joked that he was still recovering from his All-Star experience in New Orleans a decade ago. During that weekend, in February 2008, Dallas and the Nets strained to agree on terms that the league would accept so that a blockbuster deal headlined by Jason Kidd could go through.
Despite two motivated teams, the proposed trade hit roadblock after roadblock and collapsed multiple times.
“I still remember that weekend of the J-Kidd trade — brutal,” Cuban said. “This is much better. Far less stress than before.”
We’ll have to see, of course, whether the removal of all that trade angst helps Sunday’s show. There’s no question that fan interest a year ago was fixated far more on the prospect of Cousins being moved than on the game itself, especially after the Kings had publicly and privately insisted Cousins was going nowhere.
Perhaps the absence of smothering trade speculation, along with the well-chronicled format change that established James and Stephen Curry as team captains instead of employing the traditional East vs. West format, will provide the game with the jolt it needs and the N.B.A. has been trying to manufacture.
Instinct tells you, at the very least, that it won’t be hard for the TV cameras to find Magic Johnson during Sunday’s broadcast. Johnson will undoubtedly be visible in his new role as president of the Los Angeles Lakers after the Lakers happily played their part in the Cavaliers’ trade spree 10 days ago.
A year ago, of course, no cameras could have zeroed in on Demps. The only way to know where he was at the time would have been to find out from his wife.
Dennis Lindsey, the Utah Jazz executive who had worked alongside Demps years earlier in San Antonio, did cross paths with Anita Demps as the All-Star Game was being played and asked if her husband was around.
Which is how Lindsey ended up in Demps’s office. The old friends visited for a bit, but Demps never let on that he was only a Sacramento signoff away from sealing a deal to acquire Cousins.
When news of the trade began to spread later that evening, Demps promptly received a text from Lindsey that read: “Man … I’m never playing poker with you.”
There’s really nothing in sports these days quite like trade poker in the N.B.A. But the final buzzer on that activity, like it or not, has sounded until June, when the draft comes into focus and all the wheeling, dealing and, yes, bluffing starts anew.
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