Breaking down the trade market
The trade-deadline buyers are interested in exploiting sellers in salary dumps
The Suns, Clippers and Nets are among the teams that could be sellers this week
With its assets, Portland has the ability to go from playoff team to major contender
The deepening recession and a run of blockbuster deals in recent years have created speculation of another big movement of talent approaching the trading deadline Thursday. But don't count on it. The way the market is shaping up, there may be a number of minor money-moving deals but no blockbusters.
While there are a lot of sellers seeking to dump expensive contracts, there aren't nearly as many buyers.
"That's the problem -- you need to have someone to dance with,'' said an Eastern Conference general manager who is looking to reduce payroll. "Maybe there are 10 teams or more who want to save money, but something like two teams who actually want to improve.''
Two teams, in other words, that are willing to take on salary to get better.
There are more than two ambitious teams, in fact, but one thing they all appear to share in common is an interest in deals that cost them very little talent. Like the Pistons acquiring Rasheed Wallace or the Lakers landing Pau Gasol, the buyers don't appear -- at this moment anyway -- to be interested in sacrificing important players in a deadline trade. It is because the buyers are operating from a position of financial strength that they're interested in little more than a straight salary dump, not unlike the Nuggets' painful decision last summer to send Marcus Camby to the Clippers in exchange for the option to swap second-round picks.
Much can change over the next three days, of course. But here is a breakdown of the market as we enter the last short week of negotiations.
Phoenix Suns: They may wind up holding on to Amaré Stoudemire after all. Perhaps their one big midseason change will be the firing of Terry Porter and promotion of assistant Alvin Gentry as interim coach for the remainder of the season.
The Suns have given potential suitors for Stoudemire no clear impression of whether he'll be dealt. But look at it this way: If the Bulls are offering (as reported) a package of Tyrus Thomas, a first-round draft pick (which will be outside the lottery if they insert Stoudemire in their frontcourt for the rest of the season) and the expiring contract of Drew Gooden, then that's not quite a fair return of basketball talent for a four-time All-Star like Stoudemire, 26, who has averaged 21.0 points over his seven-year career.
Los Angeles Clippers: One of the league's worst teams has three expensive big men -- Zach Randolph, Chris Kaman and Camby -- who make a combined $34 million and can't play at the same time. The center most wanted by contending teams is Camby (due $8.7 million next season), who could look intimidating in a Cavaliers uniform in exchange for the expiring $13.8 million contract of Wally Szczerbiak. To this point, however, the Clippers have refused to put him on the market.
A more likely target is Kaman, who has been sidelined since late November with plantar fasciitis in his left foot. Will the Clippers unload Kaman's contract for an expiring deal? That's not the question. The real issue is whether they can find a buyer willing to take on the burden of Kaman's deal, which has $34 million over three years remaining after this season.
New Jersey Nets: The 32-year-old Vince Carter is on the books for $16.1 million next season and $17.5 million in 2010-11. There have been rumors of interest from San Antonio, Dallas and Houston, and there is reason to be skeptical in all cases. The Nets should be looking to move Carter because his value has improved with his return to health this season, he'll be winding down by the time the young Nets grow back into contenders, and the argument can be made that they're better served going into the tank this season to improve their draft position than by competing for the No. 8 spot in the playoffs. (And wouldn't Nets owner Bruce Ratner prefer to not pay all of that money over the years ahead?)
Oklahoma City Thunder: They have a number of valuable frontcourt producers (Joe Smith, Chris Wilcox, Nick Collison) who could be helpful to a contender. But the Thunder won't give away those players just to unload them, and they aren't interested in compromising their cap space over the next two summers.
Portland Trail Blazers: They have assets in the expiring $12.7 million salary of Raef LaFrentz, young, developing players like Travis Outlaw and Jerryd Bayless on cheap contracts, and draft picks they can live without. Do they package LaFrentz's contract now, or do they wait until the summer when his departure will result in less than $10 million of cap space?
They've been investigating all kinds of trades. Word emerged Sunday that they were showing interest in the 76ers' Andre Miller to provide leadership at point guard going into the playoffs. Miller turns 33 next month and will be a free agent this summer.
The Blazers don't appear to be in the race for Stoudemire, and they've let it be known they aren't likely to trade for Milwaukee's Richard Jefferson, even though he would seem a natural fit as a versatile small forward and wing defender with NBA Finals experience.
Portland's fundamental question is whether it should add a blue-collar player to complement Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Oden, or bring in a big-name star to hasten its rise at the risk of damaging the balance between the young threesome. Acquiring Stoudemire would make a lot of sense if the Suns are intent on dumping him -- in which case Portland could keep Aldridge, start Stoudemire at center and bring Oden off the bench, creating a lineup that could push Portland into the NBA final four. But that scenario is a long shot.
Right now, the hunch is that the Blazers won't make a major move.
Cleveland Cavaliers: They like their roster balance and appear unlikely to make a big deal. But keep this in mind: What if Clippers owner Donald T. Sterling decides on the eve of the deadline that a major salary must be stricken from the books? Camby may suddenly be available, and his length and shot-blocking could put the Cavs into the NBA Finals.
San Antonio Spurs: There is talk of acquiring Carter, which would set back their long-term plans to enter 2010 with major cap space. Do they believe Carter could move them past the Lakers in the West? Or are the Spurs being floated as a potential suitor in order to create a market for Carter that will entice an offer from Mavericks owner Mark Cuban?
Denver Nuggets: They could offer Linas Kleiza and a first-round pick acquired last June from the Bobcats in exchange for a player in his rookie contract who could help push them into the final four without damaging their long-term salary structure.
Detroit Pistons: They're looking to acquire a big talent. If they can't land one now, expect them to go back into the market this summer when struggling teams may be even more willing to unload contracts.