Amar'e Stoudemire could land in Cleveland, where he'd join LeBron James and Shaquille O'Neal in a star-studded frontcourt.
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As All-Star weekend clears out of Dallas and NBA teams look ahead Thursday's trade deadline, the ball is now firmly in Cleveland's court. The Cavaliers are the most ambitious team available to take on salary, and they must decide whether to continue pursuing Amar'e Stoudemire or to renew potential trades for Antawn Jamison or Troy Murphy.
Apart from the Cavs' plottings, this is shaping up to be a relatively quiet trade week. Of course, there will be a few minor deals, as well as a potential shifting of enormous expiring contracts. But let's not allow the rumor-mongering to be confused with moves of real importance: The only team positioned this week to make a deal that affects the championship race is Cleveland.
The market is bloated more than ever with teams seeking to give away salaries, but those sellers are finding very few buyers. Here's a look at what may be in store over the next several days.
The Mavericks are off the board after acquiring Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood from the Wizards in a seven-player exchange Saturday that sent three expiring contracts to Washington, including the $10.9 million salary of Josh Howard.
The Cavaliers are going to do something big, and this weekend they appeared to zero in on Stoudemire as their target. Not only would the Suns' forward give Cleveland an intimidating front line of Shaquille O'Neal, Stoudemire and LeBron James with 23 All-Star selections between them, but the Cavaliers would also potentially be taking one of the top free agents off the board this summer. This could be crucial in the upcoming race to sign LeBron.
"Everybody is trying to clear cap room for a second guy so they can sign one of the top free agents along with a No. 2 guy like Amar'e," a rival general manager said. "The truth is that no one can clear enough room to get that second guy. So if Cleveland does this trade for Amar'e, then they've succeeded in doing what the other teams hoped to do: Basically, they've paired LeBron with a big free agent."
A deal with Phoenix makes even more sense if Zydrunas Ilgauskas is acquired and then waived by the Suns, which could help position them under the luxury tax while freeing the 7-foot-3 center to return to Cleveland to create matchup problems off the bench in an NBA Finals against the Lakers.
The Heat could also offer expiring money in exchange for Stoudemire. But Stoudemire's history of injuries -- dominated by 2005 microfracture surgery on his knee -- increase the risks associated with acquiring him. "You won't be able to get insurance on his knee," a rival team executive said.
The Celtics head the group of potential buyers who are ambivalent about taking on long-term salary commitments. The Celtics have been investigating potential trades for Ray Allen, but the market is so lousy with bad basketball trades that Allen's expiring $18.8 million salary probably cannot net a younger star at shooting guard to replace him for the long term. The franchises that are offering expiring deals are being offered little talent in return, but the Celtics have high standards: They can't afford to surrender Allen without receiving a younger star to help keep them in contention. Good luck with that.
The Rockets are trying to cash out on Tracy McGrady's expiring $22.5 million in hope of adding talent for the long term, as well to help push for the playoffs this year. While the Knicks are interested in renting McGrady for the last two months of the season to fill their overwhelming needs at point guard, they have little to offer Houston -- which is why one or more teams need to be found to introduce some actual talent to this deal.
The Wizards could emerge as yet another buyer in this market. Now that they've reduced their obligations for next season by $13.7 million, the Wizards potentially can afford to take on extended commitments for young talent in exchange for expiring contracts belonging to Mike Miller ($9.8 million) or Mike James ($6.5 million).
The Nuggets are looking for a backup big man to provide frontcourt length in a potential series against the Lakers, but a trade is unlikely. The Bobcats and Trail Blazers are also said to be interested in frontcourt help.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers may or may not be offering center Marcus Camby's expiring $9.2 million salary, but rivals say it's hard to know who is running that team since Mike Dunleavy gave up his job as coach. So a trade appears unlikely.
The Suns are seeking to unload Stoudemire in order to gain something for him before he becomes a free agent this summer and walks away without compensation for Phoenix. There has been speculation that Stoudemire won't exercise his option in order to receive his guaranteed $17.7 million next season, but that course of action makes little sense: He would then become a free agent in 2011, leaving him without a contract during the anticipated lockout and then facing a negotiation under the new collective bargaining agreement, which is expected to render smaller salaries and shorter deals for the players.
While the Wizards may be willing to take on salary in exchange for the expiring monies of Miller and James, they also remain in the market to sell off the 33-year-old Jamison (who is owed $28.5 million over the next two full seasons) in exchange for salary relief and other considerations. In this convoluted market, the Wizards clearly are multitaskers.
The Pacers have been offering Murphy, a rebounder and long-distance shooter at power forward who is owed $12.0 million in the final year of his deal next season. But he appears to be a back-burner alternative for Cleveland.
The Bulls would like to clear more space to recruit free agents this summer. While there may not be a partner willing to take on Kirk Hinrich's money, which runs to $17 million over the next two full seasons (2010-12), the Bulls appear to be on the verge of unloading Tyrus Thomas, with the Timberwolves emerging as a potential partner.
The 76ers would like to move Samuel Dalembert's onerous contract (worth $12.9 million next season, the final year of his deal), and they've been named as a candidate to acquire Stoudemire, but it would be a big surprise to see Stoudemire going to Philadelphia.
This list could go on and on, as there isn't a team in the league that wouldn't love to dump a bad contract at the deadline. But we have to stop somewhere, and this seems as good a place as any.