The silence on Thursday was hardly surprising.

Despite all the noise in the weeks leading up to the NBA's trade deadline - Pau Gasol is going to the Bulls! Jason Kidd is going to the Lakers! - at the end of the day, we had what we normally have: a few minor deals that will have absolutely no impact on the playoff race or June's draft.

Teams are traditionally reluctant to do major deals during the season, fearing that the adjustment period for both incoming and existing players to one another may be too long.

This year provided two additional impediments to deals. First, with the 2007 draft expected to be one of the best in recent years, teams were more reluctant to part with first-round picks - always an enticing carrot to facilitate deals.

San Antonio, which already has a first-round selection next June, was trying to get another pick up until the 3 p.m. deadline. Washington, which doesn't really want its pick, nonetheless held on to it, knowing it could be valuable on draft night.

Detroit, which was looking to tweak its roster a little for the stretch run, nonetheless had no intention of dangling the first-round selection the Pistons got from Orlando last year in the Darko Milicic trade. The pick is lottery protected through the fifth pick in this year's draft (meaning Orlando keeps it if it is one of the first five selections) and unprotected in 2008.

"There's no way we're giving up that pick," Pistons president of basketball operations Joe Dumars wrote in an e-mail.

Second, more and more teams are becoming reluctant to come anywhere near the luxury tax threshold, past which owners have to pay one dollar in tax for each dollar they exceed the threshold. This year, the tax kicks in when a team's payroll exceeds $65.4 million, $12.3 million more than the salary cap level of $53.1 million.

In previous years, teams such as Dallas and Portland were always willing to take on high-salaried veterans for the stretch drive. Those days are over. That means that star players with big price tags - such as Gasol and Kidd and Vince Carter - have a much-reduced universe of potential suitors.

Kidd, 33, has two years and $41 million remaining on his contract. There aren't many teams that are willing to add that to payrolls. And so, when the Lakers wouldn't include young center Andrew Bynum to their offer, the Nets didn't have many other places to turn.

Cleveland's owner, Dan Gilbert, was willing to absorb the $28 million remaining on Mike Bibby's contract and be a taxpayer next season. But the Kings, who used to flirt with paying the tax, wanted badly to be under the cap next summer so they could be a player in free agency, and they and the Cavaliers couldn't come up with enough expiring contracts to make the deal happen.

"There are a lot of teams in the vast majority that do not want to go over the luxury tax," Nets president Rod Thorn said. "The luxury tax works. Now there are a few deals where you say 'I may be a few million over the [salary] cap, big deal.' But there aren't many . . . you'd have to make a compelling case to jump way over the salary cap."

One player personnel director of a playoff-bound team who did not want to be identified said his owner would be willing to exceed the tax but only if it assured his team of winning the title. That's a guarantee few executives can make.

"He'd go [over the tax] for Kobe Bryant, those kinds of guys," the player personnel director said. "And his feelings are pretty much echoed across the league."

Everyone, though, does not agree with the notion that the luxury tax has become a de facto hard cap.

"Our owner [Michael Heisley] has spent over the cap. We've been a luxury-tax payer twice," said Memphis president Jerry West.

However, Heisley is now looking to sell his majority interest in the Grizzlies and failing that wants to run a leaner ship in future seasons, considering the team's attendance has fallen 30 percent in the last three years despite three straight playoff appearances.

The lack of trades is bad for supposed "insiders" who always pollute the airwaves, papers and blogs with supposed trades that have never been discussed and almost always don't work under cap rules.

It's not all bad. Smaller-revenue teams that don't have to dump their emerging stars to save money give the Hornets and Jazz of the world a chance to compete with their big-market brethren. That should lead to competitive playoffs like we witnessed last spring - when much of America finally starts paying attention.

Still, it makes one wonder how the Lakers explained to Bryant, in the prime of his career, how his fate is better off tied to the 19-year-old Bynum - who may become a player in a couple of years - rather than to a veteran such as Kidd who may have helped the Lakers win bigger now rather than later.

Contact staff writer David Aldridge at 215-854-5516 or daldridge@phillynews.com.