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Cavs working on help for LeBron

Sam Smith at Bulls.com

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

LeBron James

There's been talk about Amar'e Stoudemire joining LeBron James and the Cavs for some time because of the Suns' uncertainty about re-signing Stoudemire and the Cavs' willingness to spend lavishly to avoid James leaving as a free agent.
(Jed Jacobsohn/NBAE/Getty Images)

Is it a about to become the era of the Super Team and then everyone else in the NBA? Something like the Yankees and Red Sox in baseball? It can't quite be that way with a salary cap, but there are some intriguing scenarios setting up with the trade deadline this week.

You've, of course, already got the Lakers with Kobe, Pau, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum. And then you might have the Cavs with LeBron, Shaq and Amar'e.

The big rumor All-Star weekend in Dallas was a potential trade of Suns star Amar'e Stoudemire to the Cavs for some pieces, including Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who'd be bought out and likely return to the Cavs.

It could be a heck of an NBA Finals.

But what about the rest of the NBA? All this talk comes as commissioner David Stern, in beginning negotiations on a new labor deal, told reporters Saturday night in Dallas most teams are losing money—$400 million league-wide—and things have to change so all teams can have a chance to compete. That would be difficult with all the best players on a few teams.

There's been talk about Stoudemire and the Cavs for some time because of the Suns' uncertainty about re-signing Stoudemire and the Cavs' willingness to spend lavishly to avoid LeBron James leaving as a free agent. Plus, GMs Steve Kerr and Danny Ferry are the best of friends from their days together on the Spurs.

The Cavs are determined to make a deal and are said to have three or four major options going in the wake of the Mavs deal with the Washington Wizards as Mark Cuban, predictably, made an All-Star splash. It appears to be an excellent deal for Dallas, getting former All-Star Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood among the main pieces with Washington taking on expiring deals like Josh Howard and Drew Gooden to begin again in the wake of the Gilbert Arenas gun imbroglio. Washington is also looking to move Antawn Jamison and possibly be a free agent destination as well.

The trade, meanwhile, gives Dallas a good chance to move into that spot below the Lakers generally ceded now to the Nuggets and perhaps Jazz. Though at 10-11 in their last 21 games, it's difficult to see the Mavs making a jump to the Lakers' level. But Dallas should be a lot better.

The Cavs have three major options they are working with.

They have a deal for Indiana's Troy Murphy for J.J. Hickson and Ilgauskas that Indiana has agreed to. In the end, my guess is they settle for that deal as I still have my doubts the Suns trade Stoudemire.

There's been talk of Stoudemire with Hickson also in that deal. The theory is Ilgauskas would likely agree to a buyout with the Suns and then get paid back as the Cavs have part of an exception left with spending no object for them until James is in the fold. Though there are questions about Stoudemire reuniting with Shaq, which didn't work so well in Phoenix last year. But Shaq is more bit player in Cleveland and Stoudemire would play more with Varejao, giving the Cavs that power forward scoring option they haven't had.

The Suns also would want Cleveland to take on the long-term contract of Jason Richardson, which they can do with a deal with Wally Szczerbiak, whose rights they hold. There was a similar exchange for trade purposes done a few years back with Keith Van Horn to facilitate a deal.

The Suns could get out of the luxury tax for this season, which could save them up to $10 million, and if they add Richardson to the deal they can get under the cap and be a player in free agency this summer for a max free agent. And we know players like to go to Phoenix, especially to play with Steve Nash.

One holdup is all of this also runs through James, who supposedly has been pushing for Washington's Antawn Jamison, who now also is available in the Wizards' house cleaning. James has played with Jamison on some USA Basketball and likes that fit better. The Wizards rejected the Cavs overtures, so the Cavs have been involved in numerous three-way talks to get Washington the young players and expiring deals it wants. The Cavs had wanted to make a deal already to get the clock running on the 30-day waiting period for Ilgauskas to return, which cannot legally be agreed to in any deal. But it now seems the Cavs have to play it out the rest of the week for Jamison as Indiana is said to be pushing for something sooner with Murphy.

Suns sources say the team isn't set yet on dealing Stoudemire and has been contacted by other teams to feel them out regarding Stoudemire. I've heard talk the Bulls are one of those teams, but have not been able to confirm that. I'd personally be surprised if the Bulls were willing to take on all that money now and take them out of free agency with no commitment on what Stoudemire will do. Also, the Suns are trying one last contract extension to see if Stoudemire will sign without a max deal.

The multiple scenarios could affect the rest of free agency. Because if the Cavs can put together that kind of star team, perhaps it pushes someone like Chris Bosh to head for Miami to join Dwyane Wade in a continued melding of the games stars as the only way to have a chance to be with a winner. Or maybe Derrick Rose was persuasive enough for Rose at All-Star weekend for Wade to come to Chicago. If the Cavs can't make it happen, maybe LeBron goes to join Wade, which all hardly levels the playing field. It will make it an important week to watch in the NBA.

Lee developing into a legit star

-- Not that I don't believe the Bulls should pursue the free agency jackpot of perhaps Wade or Bosh, but I'm warming to the idea of David Lee. I haven't been a huge fan as I believed some of his increased production was due to being in that open, less defense New York system. But Lee really has worked on a jump shot, runs a terrific pick and roll, which would be nice with Rose, could work off Joakim Noah as he makes a shot and is a hustler who competes all the time. So perhaps if you don't hit it big with a star—and Lee is an All-Star this year—you go for maybe Lee and another free agent, like perhaps Manu Ginobili and divide $16 million. If you can't make a deal and come up with less, maybe you go for Lee and a lower level free agent. The Bulls get a good look at Lee and the Knicks as they open the post All-Star run with a back-to-back with the Knicks starting Tuesday at the United Center.

"It's going to be a grind for me and Derrick," said Lee when I caught up with him this weekend. "I might go straight to Chicago and wait for the game rather than going back to New York. Having the back-to-back like that after this weekend will be a tough one."

But Lee has proven tough in prospering this season in a bad New York environment, where it's difficult to avoid selfish play with most of the players on one year deals waiting to leave and trying to sell themselves to their next team.

"We're in a tough situation waiting 'til the summer with a lot of guys on one-year deals," Lee agreed. "A lot of it (his free agency opportunities) is going to come down to what happens with LeBron, Wade and Bosh. The trickledown effect will be from there. There's about 17 teams with cap space planning to get one of those three guys. There's only three cities they can play in, maybe two if one goes with another. I'm excited where I am and want to finish out the year strong and see where the chips fall. I think (being an) All-Star changed the perceptions of a lot of things. All I can do is keep getting better and see what happens. Rose is an unbelievable guy. He's played the last month as well as anyone in the league. His ability to get to the rack and finish and make the other guys around him better makes him one of the best point guards in the league.

"Chicago is a great city," Lee offered. "I grew up in St. Louis and used to come to watch MJ play when I was little, so I have good memories."

KG of the Fading Three

-- One of the delights of the annual Friday big interview session at All-Star weekend was sitting with Kevin Garnett. The quirky big man, who generally is not very cooperative during the season, always was one of the highlights. Players each get a table and reporters sit around and offer questions. Garnett would be engaging, thoughtful, loaded with stories and anecdotes and life lessons. But it was a curt, cranky Garnett who showed up Friday, likely still feel the effects of being unable to recover from his knee surgery and perhaps seeing the end of his great career.

"Is this what the basis of All-Star Weekend is going to be like right here?" Garnett sneered at reporters. "New things and revelations that come to you make you stronger. I'll speak one time about my health. It's great. I'm happy to be here in the game, and other than that I'm not going to make this weekend about my leg."

The Celtics have lost six of their last 11 and head out on a long road trip after the All-Star break. The Celtics are a combined 2-8 against the Cavs, Magic, Hawks and Lakers. Garnett has been a shadow of himself, Paul Pierce has lingering foot problems and Ray Allen has slowed to the point of being talked about in trade. The Celtics have made inquiries about the Bulls' Kirk Hinrich, and I guess it's conceivable the Bulls, if they cannot make a better cap clearing deal this week, could look at several of Boston's reserves, like Eddie House, Tony Allen and Brian Scalabrine. Boston supposedly would like to get off the extension they paid Glen Davis, though the Bulls never would take that. Though the key is Garnett. If he cannot return to full health, there's almost no reason to bother, though you assume Boston gives it one more run with the Fading Three.

Jefferson's production down in San Antonio

-- The Spurs remain one of the big question marks going into the stretch run, and their biggest concern remains Richard Jefferson, who is working on a career worst season. He's averaging 12.2 points, his second fewest ever, and a career low 3.6 rebounds. Jefferson hasn't run away from blame, and told the San Antonio Express News last week: "When I'm shooting the ball like this, it makes it hard for everyone to get their job done. I'm not putting all the blame on me, but you have to look at yourself first. I'm in a whole new system trying to find my way. But it's not an excuse. I thought I would have played better by this point."

The larger problem for the Spurs is they went all in this season with Jefferson and Antonio McDyess and into the luxury tax. They've been maybe the best franchise in maximizing success with limited resources, but already have payroll close to next year's luxury tax without Ginobili. You never know about all these rumors regarding the Big Three free agents of 2010, but one you hear is Chris Bosh was strongly considering the Spurs since he is from Texas but didn't want to return to Dallas. But with Jefferson's contract for next season, which the Spurs now have even looked to trade without any success, they cannot now make a run at Bosh.

There's also an interesting hook to the Bosh scenario. The Raptors are said now to be leaning to not accepting a sign and trade for Bosh. That would mean no Bird exception and an overall deal if he leaves as a free agent for one fewer season and about $30 million less. Would he do that? Some say that's what makes his destination possibly Florida or Texas, which don't have state income tax and he can make back some of that money. It's also one reason the Raptors believe there is a better chance now given their improving record that Bosh could choose to remain in Toronto.

NBA news and notes

-- The relationship between Elton Brand and coach Eddie Jordan only gets testier as Jordan pulled Brand for Royal Ivey, of all guys, to open the second half of last weeks' 76ers' loss to the Raptors just before the break after Toronto had dominated inside in the first half. Brand's fault, eh? "I didn't think it was my fault, but I'm easy to get pulled it seems," Brand said. "We weren't down enough (50-41 at the half) to switch what we've been doing in a five-game win streak. Maybe they're getting prepared for something else." Trade Brand? Jordan would hope, but indications lately have been the 76ers were keeping Andre Iguodala and teams pursuing him like Houston and Phoenix were looking at other options. … The Bucks quietly won eight of their last 12 heading into the break and coach Scott Skiles has center Andrew Bogut, for the first time in his career, playing consistency and tougher. There probably isn't a weaker roster in playoff position. And while Oklahoma City's Scott Brooks is getting a lot of buzz for coach of the year, Skiles' job with the Bucks has been masterful. "This season is going to come right down to the final week, I've got a feeling," Bogut said. "It's exciting for the fans and exciting for us to be a part of."… So how do you get a big time job in pro sports? Go to work. When the Magic played the Hornets last week, it was a reunion of former foes, Fordham assistant Stan Van Gundy, coaching his second All-Star game, and Marist coach Jeff Bower, now coach/GM of the Hornets. "Jeff and I are fellow nobodies," Van Gundy joked. "Guys that are still trying to figure out how it is that we got in this league."… Another guy probably not getting his starting job back after injury is Tyson Chandler as Nazr Mohammed has played well for Charlotte and coach Larry Brown said he'd probably continue to start him even though Chandler is back.

-- Some GMs have been noting how much Houston wants for Tracy McGrady, which many believe will keep the Rockets from doing a deal. Then perhaps McGrady tries a buyout and takes a shot with a contender. Letting that contract expire could give Houston close to $10 million next summer in free agency and thus the chance to add a good player. Which is why they don't want just anything for McGrady. … One of the most intriguing and little talked about expiring deals is that of Kyle Korver, who seems out of the rotation in Utah. He's still one of the best shooters in the NBA and is at 62 percent on threes this season in limited play. His defense has been a problem after knee surgery and he's been squeezed out by some of the young Jazz guards and could come up in trade this week. Also watch for the Warriors, who are said to be serious about a deal so they can make a bigger deal this summer, presumably to move Monta Ellis as they privately are more committed to Stephen Curry.

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