Trade Deadline Card Price Analysis and How We Can Apply it to the Upcoming Free Agency

Card Ladder
May 11, 202110 min read

March 25th’s trade deadline and buyout market did not disappoint with a plethora of all star caliber players changing teams via trade or free agency. This is one of the few annual events that fans of all teams can enjoy. With contenders adding the potential final piece to the puzzle and lower tier teams adding draft capital, it can be seen as the prelude to free agency. In this article we will be taking a look at four players card prices before the deadline, shortly after the deadline, and today. This would mark the first trade deadline in sports card history post March 2020’s card boom, causing a frenzy of investors to go out and buy cards of players on the move. With all of these cards seeing large spikes, would it pay off for investors or come back to bite them? Then looking at Card Ladder’s sales data, how can we then apply it to the upcoming free agency class to make us more savvy buyers for the upcoming free agency.

Aaron Gordon:

The Orlando Magic officially started the rebuild process during the 2021 trade deadline, trading off three of its best players. The torn ACL’s of Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz were the nail in the coffin to the Magic’s 8th seed dynasty. Denver was in the market for a forward after losing playoff standout Grant to Detroit with Millsap not getting any younger. Despite Gordon being known for his iconic dunk contest, Gordon has solidified himself as an exceptional starting level forward in this league. The prior three seasons with the Magic, Gordon averaged; 15 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.7 assists, shooting 44% from the field. On the morning of March 25th, Denver traded Gary Harris, RJ Hampton, and a 2025 first round pick for Gordon. Since joining the Nuggets, Gordon has been a relevation doing everything they’ve asked and more with an exceptional record of 17-5.

Aaron Gordon’s 2014 Prizm base PSA 10 sales data from CL

Looking at Aaron Gordon’s 2014 Panini Prizm base PSA 10 rookie, we can see the build up in real time leading up to the deadline then peaking the day of the deadline. March 19th, the card sold for $149, then just four days later on trade rumors alone the card jumped to $195. With the news breaking of Gordon heading to Denver, it solidified Denver as a legitimate contender in many’s eyes causing it to spike in price and now sell for a whopping $360. A dramatic 141% price increase in just 1 week. Despite Denver going 7–0 after acquiring Gordon, his prices continuously dropped since. Slowly but surely finding its way all the way back down to $153. A multitude of factors can be attributed to the first drop, Murray’s torn ACL eliminating Denver from title contention in many’s eyes to people having FOMO (fear of missing out) as the trade was announced so they were irrationally were hitting buy nows on eBay. On May 9th, this card sold for $74, marking an all time low since June of 2020. This dramatic drop in price can be attributed to his horrid offensive production, since April 26th Gordon is averaging just 6.2 points.

Nikola Vucevic:

Apart of the Magic’s fire sale, the two time all-star would be headed to Chicago in exchange for 2018's top pick Wendell Carter. Averaging 24.5 points and 12 rebounds on 48% field goals with a phenomenal 40% three point shooting, this was a terrific addition by every metric on paper. Unfortunately, the results have been extremely disappointing with a record of 9–13 since acquiring Nikola. The record can be attributed to a plethora of things from Lavine getting injured to Coby White’s & Lauri Markkanen’s subpar play and horrendous defense.

Nikola Vucevic’s 2012 Prizm base PSA 10 sales data from CL

Nikola Vucevic’s 2012 Panini Prizm base PSA 10 rookie is a fairly rare card from the highly sought after 2012 inaugural year Prizm set. With a pop of just 44, this card can be hard to come by unlike other Prizm base PSA 10’s of all-stars. The last two weeks in February, this card was trending around $285 with two sales. Leading up to the deadline, Vucevic was not in many trade rumors, as he was a force to be reckoned with and a member of the Magic organization since 2012. With the announcement of the trade that took many by surprise, the card sold on buy now for $599. Despite the lack of team success, in the following weeks the next two sales were $560 and $600. This could be attributed to Vuc’s personal success averaging 23 points, 10 rebounds, 3.5 assists, shooting 50% from the field, and 45% from three. Eventually the patience of investors grew thin, as the Bulls kept falling in the standings. As a result, the card took a nose dive down to $280 the last week of April. During the first week of May, the card took an even deeper dive down to $235. On May 6th, Vuc dropped 29 and 14 in a 21 point win over the Hornets which followed with a sale of $299. After analyzing these two players, we can start to see a trend of cards seeing a dramatic increase then drop back down to what they sold for before.

Victor Oladipo:

The former Pacer’s 2x all star and All-NBA player would unfortunately have his career derailed with a ruptured quad tendon during the 2018 season. During rehabilitation, he turned down the Pacers maximum contract extension. Which was then followed by Oladipo demanding a trade to Miami, it made it likely his career as a Pacer was coming to an end. Being a restricted free agent at the end of the season, Indiana did not want to just let him walk. In a shocking turn of events, Oladipo was dealt for Caris Levert in the three team trade blockbuster trade for James Harden sending him to an awful Houston Rockets team. One of Oladipo’s first moves as a Rocket was to turn down the Rockets extension, putting the pressure on Houston to not regret giving up Levert and Harden for nothing.

Victor Oladipo 2013 Prizm base PSA 10 sales data from CL

Looking at Oladipo’s 2013 Prizm PSA 10 rookie, you can see how volatile this card can be. After turning down the Rockets extension and openly saying he wanted a trade it was almost a guarantee he would be traded. Starting at the end of February, you can see the build up and anticipation as his name was being thrown around in rumors to a plethora of teams. Possible destinations included the Warriors, Knicks, Lakers, Clippers, and his eventual landing spot Miami Heat. February 22nd this card would sell for $147.5 and little over a month later it was now consistently selling from $225–$250. In the literal last minute of the deadline, it was announced Oladipo was sent to the Miami Heat. With Herro playing far below expectations and Nunn out of the rotation, it gave Heat fans something to be excited about. For the next 7 days the card trended at $280 leading up to his May 1st debut. Oladipo’s first three games were fairly disappointing putting in question if he still had it after numerous injuries. In his final game before injury the card dropped to $180. In his fourth game, after dunking he would land and suffer a non contact knee injury. This would cause a chain reaction into seeing a steep decline in price starting at $160 all the way down to $51. It is important to note when looking at Oladipo’s prices that the drop started before the injury and not after. Although the injury accelerated the decline, the card was already down $100 from the week prior with Oladipo healthy and active.

Andre Drummond:

The former Pistons all-star and everybody’s favorite all star they’ve never watched was widely viewed as one of the most dominant rebounding bigs in the NBA. In Detroit Andre averaged a stellar 18 points and 16 rebounds before being traded to the Cavaliers where he continued to play at a high level averaging 17.5 points and 13.5 rebounds. 25 games into this season, the Cavaliers already gave up sitting Drummond to keep him healthy in hopes of trading him. A controversial decision called out by many players, as it ultimately did nothing as they couldn’t find a trade partner. Drummond was bought out in the final year of his contract and now was a free agent. Drummond was highly sought after by many title contending teams looking to add some depth at center. Drummond would eventually sign with the Lakers which initially had Laker fans thrilled but has recently left them scratching their heads. In 16 games with the Lakers averaging 25 minutes, Drummond has average 11 points and 9 rebounds. This might not have come as a surprise to many inside the NBA as executives have been quoted saying “He could have 30 and 30 with no impact on the game”. This was now blatantly obvious with Drummond playing in the spotlight with many Shaqtin-a-fool moments in just 16 games.

Andre Drummond 2012 Prizm base PSA 10 sales data from CL

Looking at Drummond’s 2012 Prizm base PSA 10 rookie, we can see it trending all over the $200's in the month leading up to the deadline. The deadline came and passed without him being traded which ultimately meant he would be put on the open market if a buyout was agreed upon. The day of the deadline the card sold for $245, but increased to $286 without him even being traded. The four teams in the race for Andre were the Clippers, Lakers, Knicks, and Celtics. No matter where he went he would be on a top tier team, which resulted in the price bump. On March 28th, the Lakers announced they signed Drummond for the rest of the year. This was massive for the Lakers as they lost Howard and McGee from the year prior and have struggled mightily this year at center. Drummond at the time was viewed as a top center in the league, being paired up with LeBron and Davis the sky’s the limit. The day of his Prizm sold for $378 followed by $637 the day later. Drummond’s Laker debut was disappointing to say the least as not only did he play poorly but he got injured. His prices reflected this as the card was now selling for $475. People began to get frustrated with Drummonds lack of production and poor attitude which reflected in his prices. Since the beginning of April, Drummonds Prizm 10 prices have taken a huge hit and are currently sitting at $101. It is not hard to understand why this is, in his 16 games with the Lakers they are 5–11 with him averaging 11 points and 9 rebounds in 25 minutes per game.

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Data from Card Ladder

How can we then apply this information and data to the upcoming free agency?

In one of the weakest free agent classes in recent history, the examples above are really good indicators for what we can possibly expect in the card market during 2021 free agency. The potential but unlikely headlining free agent is Kawhi Leonard, who has a player option and is extremely likely to stay put. Jarrett Allen, John Collins, Lonzo Ball, Gary Trent, and Lauri Markkanen are all the top restricted free agents. A restricted free agent means a player can sign an offer sheet with any team, but the player’s original team can retain him by matching the terms of that offer. The headlining unrestricted free agents are Mike Conley, DeMar Derozan, Kyle Lowry, Dennis Schroeder, and Norman Powell. All very solid mid tier guys who can contribute and have a positive impact on any team they’re on. As we saw with the trade deadline, similar skill level players that switched teams saw a slow but steady rise leading up to the deadline. With an immediate spike in price but then ultimately fell back down despite their play. Vucevic is playing at the highest level possible but his prices still fell and Aaroon Gordon started off 7–0 in Denver doing all that was asked of him and his prices still fell. The FOMO (fear of missing out) is real in the card market, with a new trend or hot card every week. People’s fear of missing out on the next “big thing” causes them to buy impulsively so they don’t miss out on the next 5–6 figure card. We are seeing it with Justin Bieber cards now and previously Dwyane “The Rock” Johnson cards. So when a transaction of a notable player happens in the NBA, people don’t want to miss out like many did for James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and LeBron James. The instinct of many investors is very reactionary, in turn causing impulsive behavior to hit the lowest buy now because they fear someone else will. In the modern market driven by investing and profits, the power of FOMO (fear of missing out) is real. How many times have you seen someone post or talk about wishing they bought a card or bid more? I am sure this has even happened to you a couple of times. I predict for the upcoming free agency, we will see a similar trend in players who are restricted free agents and move teams. The power of impulsivity will rise again, seeing players prices peak the day of and following the signing. Followed by a slow downward trend, as we saw with the four players featured in this article and in the chart above. A month or so after free agency, we can look back at this article and see if I was right or if I was wrong. It is important to remember at the end of the day, if you buy what makes you happy as a collector it is hard to lose!