Posted Feb 11 2010 2:29PM
The NBA is a week away from a trading deadline that has more to do with improving budgets than improving teams.
Well, sure, a handful of championship contenders will explore ways to nip and tuck themselves into better shape and possibly add a missing piece that'll give them an edge come spring and summer. That's always the case in the days leading up to the annual NBA swapping bazaar. Except this year is different.
This year, teams are studying salary averages a lot harder than they are scoring averages. This trading deadline will find plenty of teams trying to dump high salaries and bail from long contracts. This is a coupon-clipping, payroll-snipping, pocketbook-zipping trade deadline.
The teams looking to participate fall into one of three categories: Salary-dumpers hoping to clear cap space for the summer free agent market, cash-strapped teams hoping to chop salary to save money and balance the budget, and title-hunters looking to get-rich-quick by stealing a good player for next to nothing in return. In these risky economic times, and with a labor negotiation upcoming, everybody's trying to take advantage of the situation, one way or another.
As with all trade deadlines, there will be roughly 1,000 players speculated to go this way or that, and by the next day, the landscape will remain virtually unchanged. At least that's what history says. Still, in discussions with general managers, agents and scouts in the last few days, a handful of teams and players will be shopping or be shopped between now and then.
Everybody wants Camby. He's attractive because his salary is reasonable ($7.6 million), his contract is expiring and he's still a high volume rebounder and solid shotblocker. Several title-contending teams have called the Clippers about Camby, hoping to rent him for a half-season and perhaps re-sign him. But the Clippers want value in return, not someone who'll eat cap space and keep them from buying a free agent this summer.
They're carrying too much bloated weight, with Elton Brand (3 years, $51 million) and Andre Iguodala (4 years, $58 million) owed big money beyond this season, while attendance and results are down significantly. Philly knows an honest rebuilding attempt can't begin until at least one of those contracts is jettisoned. But what team wants to flirt with luxury tax issues by taking either player?
He's got the expiring contract, but nothing else. Nobody knows what he has left, and few teams will give the Rockets anyone of value for him, unless it's a salary dump. If there was a decent offer on the table, he would've been swapped by now. Besides, at this point in his career, can a T-Mac deal be defined as a blockbuster?
They're about to reach the fork in the road of their season. The Grizzlies are winning, yes, but face a big decision on Rudy Gay. He's a restricted free agent this summer and some team could blow him away with an offer that the cash-strapped Grizzlies can't touch. Does Memphis risk the season and trade him now to get something in return, or keep him and try to strike a deal in July?
With Chris Paul done for the year, the Hornets could take this time to trim costs and spare themselves the luxury tax. West is owed two years and $15.5 million, making him much easier to trade than Peja Stojakovic and Emeka Okafor, a pair of cap-killers.
The wrecking ball is coming to the Wizards sooner or later. They can get a jump by shipping Butler, the most reasonable trade bait on the club, since the Wizards want to keep Antawn Jamison. Of course, the big issue is Gilbert Arenas, but that'll have to wait until his sentencing next month and the Wizards take a closer look at the fine print on his contract, should he end up doing time.
If they really want a shot at Dwyane Wade and perhaps a B-list free agent this summer, then they'll need to free up additional cap room by seeking an expiring contract for Kirk Hinrich and Tyrus Thomas, two expendable players.
The phones are still ringing, but the Suns haven't gotten a decent offer yet. No good team will give up talent for Stoudemire unless they're certain they can re-sign him. Don't be surprised if he finishes the year in Phoenix.
A rival GM said he'd be shocked if the faltering Celtics made a major deal involving Ray Allen and his expiring contract, stressing that contending teams don't close shop so suddenly. True enough. While swapping Allen for a decent guard (Iguodala? Kevin Martin?) does make sense on some levels, the Celtics will likely ride out the Allen-KG-Paul Pierce era through one more postseason.
A few months ago, they each had a foot out the door, at least it seemed that way. But now the Jazz are winning big. And the Raptors are gaining ground on the Celtics in the division. Suddenly, winning a playoff round doesn't seem so far-fetched. Neither team seems willing to spoil the fun by pulling the plug on the season.
Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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