With the February 24 trade deadline approaching, you’d think there would be a flurry of activity, rumors and trickery circulating, as NBA GMs try to outsmart each other, save money and/or get better in time for the playoffs. This is the case every other year, but because of the complete uncertainty surrounding the NBA’s salary cap going forward, teams have become gun shy. There have been doomsday talks (from players’ perspectives) about a lowered salary cap (around $50 mil…yikes!) that is “hard,” Bird Rights disappearing (and perhaps being replaced with an NFL-style one-player “franchise tag”) and stiffer penalties for teams already in the red and paying luxury tax. Then on the other side there are demonic forces at work pushing for contraction, meaning fewer teams, and an even softer cap for the big fish that are left standing. You’d think this would go against the common goal of saving money and making the league more profitable, but
just hardening the cap isn’t going to work; the NBA needs a complete economic overhaul.
Most of its franchises are losing money or breaking even, and the current cap rules are irrelevant. The current salary cap is set at $58 million, but it’s “soft,” meaning teams can go over it. They can even go up to $70 million without even paying a luxury tax (there are just restrictions on who they sign once they’re over the $58 million…but they can sign their own players…I know, it’s not really a $58 million cap). As I write this 22 of the 30 NBA franchises are over the soft cap, and 7 have eclipsed the luxury tax threshold for the 2010-11 season, meaning they’ll pay luxury taxes this year. Per the Forbes 2009 value list, only four of the league’s highest-salaried teams appear on the top 10 in terms of value. They are the Lakers (1st in value, 1st in payroll), the Mavericks (7th in value/3rd in payroll), the Celtics (8th in value/4th in payroll) and the Rockets (6th in value/7th in payroll). Notice that all of these teams are from huge markets and all have been among the NBA’s most competitive teams over the last 10-15 years. Conversely, the other six teams on the top ten of the payroll list are all over the middle of the pack, value-wise, or worse. The Magic (13th in value/2nd in payroll), the Nuggets (17th/5th), the Jazz (15th/6th), the Hawks (21st/8th), the Bucks (30th/9th) and the 76ers (14th/10th) all have some serious financial matters to consider. And don’t get me started the teams that are over the soft cap and suck. Milwaukee, Toronto, Philadelphia, Detroit, Charlotte, Golden State, Indiana and Washington are all currently between the soft cap max and the luxury tax threshold, meaning they’re not paying luxury taxes but their payrolls are all over $58 million. Those teams’ combined record, as of this writing, is 159-261. Yeah. Somethin’ ain’t workin.’
So with so many bad teams desperate to save money, and a few teams desperate to get better, you’d think someone would take a gamble on trading some assets before the CBA expires because, for all we know, trades will be harder to make this off-season than ever before. Teams who are pretty sure they’re not winning a championship but are well over the current cap would be wise to save money now while they can. Conversely, teams with some space coming up should be motivated to desperately improve their rosters before the most uncertain free agency period ever gets here (or doesn’t?).
Here are the ten trades that I think would be at least considered if NBA executives weren’t a bunch of shook punks.
Why the Knicks do it: After failing to acquire Carmelo Anthony in a timely fashion, ‘Melo became pissed and started threatening to sign an extension in Denver. In this scenario, the Knicks say “fine, do what you want” and pursue CP3 instead. Four bad knees aside, Paul and Stoudemire would be fun to watch. Plug in Landry Fields, Toney Douglas, Ronny Turiaf and Anthony Randolph and you’ve got a pretty solid core for the rest of this year, and a little bit of cap space to pursue someone next year (though it’s probably not going to be ‘Melo, given his salary demands). But imagine how upset ‘Melo would be if he realized he missed an opportunity to be the highest paid player on the Knicks because a couple GMs couldn’t square away a deal. This has excellent drama written all over it.
Why the Hornets do it: Easy. They lose their franchise’s best player but also their franchise’s worst contract (Okafor) and get back two coveted youngsters in Gallinari and Chandler. Given that they probably only had one more year to build around Paul anyway (he has a player option in 2012-13 and it’s widely-known he wants to play in NY), saving money and building for the future now, at the expense of four wins, according to John Hollinger, seems like a great idea.
Why the Mavericks do it: They’ve had their eye on Iggy before, and Cuban isn’t afraid to spend money. Now, with a hard cap possibly on the horizon, he might be desperate to, especially if it dramatically improves his team. According to Hollinger, this trade does just that (it adds 7 wins).
Why the 76ers do it: Though they’ve played well of late, the cap and personnel situations for Philly are baffling. They got caught up in overspending for guys over the last two seasons, and now have a logjam at the 2/3 positions (with Evan Turner and Thad Young waiting in the wings). Turner, Young, Jrue Holliday, Mahinmi, Marreesse Speights and a couple picks in this draft sounds like an intriguing young nucleus. This deal gets them completely off the hook for Iggy, as Butler expires this off-season, and it adds a couple young pieces. But it would be hard to convince them to part with Iguodala in any deal that didn’t take back Elton Brand’s, Andris Nocioni’s or Louis Williams’ contracts.
Speaking of which…
Why the Warriors do it: Golden State is another team that’s had its eye on Iguodala, and it’s no secret that pretty much anyone on the Warriors’ roster is available (except for supposedly Monta Ellis). This trade would net them the player they covet without having to give up Steph Curry. However, it probably means they’ll be giving up Curry eventually anyway, as they’ll be taking on so much salary they won’t be able to extend him after next season without Bird Rights or a “franchise tag.” But Curry, Ellis, Iguodala, David Lee and Andris Biedrins is about as top-tier of a starting lineup as you can ask for. It even allows Curry to play off the ball more, with Iguodala and Ellis becoming the team’s primary playmakers. This plays to Curry’s Reggie Miller-like skill set and means the team can run more plays for him.
Why the 76ers do it: This is basically the Dallas trade but instead of a late pick they get a better prospect (Brandan Wright), not to mention they net an affordable veteran in Dorrell Wright. It would slide Turner into the starting lineup for the rest of the year, allowing him to get some valuable PT in down the stretch. Best of all, they save about $13 million in committed future cap starting next season.
Why the Nuggets do it: This trade assumes that the Carmelo ends up either getting traded to New York or indicating that he will not sign an extension with Denver (and right now, that’s not the case). If either of those things happen though, Denver will probably go into all-out rebuilding mode. Nene has already mumbled that he may want out, and Houston badly wants a new center…bad enough to part with it’s most-prized expiring contract and a first round draft pick, I’d wager. It also rids Denver of Renaldo Balkman, who has thus far failed to crack the rotation under George Karl.
Why the Rockets do it: It’s well-known that the Rockets need a center. Nene’s already been mentioned and he’d be a perfect fit next to Luis Scola. He’s worth the first rounder, and the Rockets likely don’t want to wait until this off-season to improve the center position.
Why the Blazers do it: I don’t think Houston has the right combination of contracts to take back Al Harrington, so a third team had to be involved to make salaries balance. Why not Portland, who make out like bandits in this deal? They give up some expiring money to bring Aaron Brooks home to the Pacific northwest, and take back a couple buy-out-able contracts in Williams and Balkman. Why wouldn’t they do this? It improves their PG depth immediately and gives Brooks something to play for, given the change of scenery he’ll be motivated to show and prove at the end of his contract year, considering how bad he’s been lately.
Why the Pacers do it: In this situation, Larry Bird shits himself, thinking he has to make a big splash before the trade deadline and pulls off the hugest deal in Indiana’s history. The trade addresses all of the Pacers’ biggest needs: A star to take the pressure off of Danny Granger and a legit power forward with all-star potential. The trouble is, they’d be using literally all of their cap space to do it. Because both Roy and Aldridge are in the base year of their contracts, their outgoing value is only half of what their actual cost would be. So this trade’s incoming salaries (about $36 million) plus Granger and James Posey would put the Pacers right at a hypothetical $50 million salary cap. If they can grandfather themselves into the benefits of a soft cap before the end of the season, and aren’t afraid of the unknown, it may be worth it, as a starting lineup of Darren Collison, Roy, Granger, Aldridge and Roy Hibbert may be Eastern Conference Finals material.
Why the Blazers do it: The only scenario where Portland would consider this is if they were ready to completely re-tool in the post Kevin Pritchart era. Given their struggles this year, and Brandon Roy’s injuries, getting out from under a few big contracts, saving an immediate $7 million, gaining two young, cheap assets and a draft pick, all while only sacrificing seven games according to Hollinger…that could be tempting.
Why the Grizzlies do it: Memphis has made it public that they would be willing to part with O.J. Mayo for a player or players that help them into the playoffs. Stephen Jackson, though volatile, is that guy. For all of his crazy, Jackson is a scoring machine with a title ring, tons of playoff experience and he’s as clutch as they come. He’s a defensive upgrade from Mayo and his contract, while cheaper, has just as many
remaining years. Alongside Mike Conley, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, he’d boost Memphis’s chances, at least for the rest of this year.
Why the Bobcats do it: They already have the old and even older versions of Thabeet in Desagana Diop and Nazr Mohammed, so acquiring him and storing him on the bench would be a lateral move at best. But Mayo’s the real prize here. He brings all of the potential offensive explosiveness of Stephen Jackson with just a fraction of the lunacy, and he’s like a decade younger. If the ‘Cats are looking toward the future, acquiring two 23 year-old former top 3 picks who may just need a change of scenery is just the way to do it.
Why the Knicks do it: Today we learned that Denver wants New York to swap Felton for Billups as part of the Carmelo Anthony deal. Why they would insist on including Billups instead of Al Harrington’s crippling contract is beyond me, because Billups is not only better than Felton, he’s got a non-guaranteed contract for next season, meaning the Knicks can cut him as they try to load up cap space for Chris Paul the following season. Currently the Knicks aren’t considering the deal, but they’d be stupid not to if what I’ve proposed is the actual package on the table.
Why the Nuggets do it: I have no idea. They could get so much more for Carmelo elsewhere. If he weren’t such a winy turd about where he plays next year because of his LeBron envy, this whole process would be a lot easier for Denver.
Why the Clippers do it: Do I even have to explain how stupidly good a starting five of Baron Davis, Eric Gordon, ‘Melo, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan would be? Unfortunately this trade could only exist in a world where ‘Melo was willing to stop being a prick and play somewhere other than New York, because the Clippers obviously aren’t shipping two draft picks to Denver to rent him for a few months.
Why the Nuggets do it: Getting the two draft picks (especially this year’s), Bledsoe and Aminu and getting out from under Al Harrington’s deal make this trade fathomable. It’s not optimal by any means, but it’s better than the above-mentioned Knicks deal which basically forces them out of Billups’ cap flexibility and gives then zero draft picks (because NY still doesn’t have any till like 2035).
9. New York receives Carmelo Anthony, Brandon Rush and A.J. Price, Denver receives T.J. Ford, Eddy Curry, Ronny Turiaf and a top-5 protected 2011 first round draft pick from Minnesota, Indiana receives Al Harrington, Wilson Chandler and Aaron Afflalo and Minnesota receives Anthony Randolph and a future conditional pick from New York.
Why the T-Wolves do it: This trade hinges on how much Minnesota covets Anthony Randolph. Theirs is the pick the Knicks tried to use in January to acquire ‘Melo, with Randolph reportedly going to Minny. It seems stupid to ship a highly-protected first rounder out for Anthony Randolph and probably a late first or late second rounder, but with David Kahn, anything’s possible.
Why the Nuggets do it: Another condition to this trade working would be Denver catching wind that Afflalo wanted out too. He’s a restricted free agent. Otherwise the Nuggets get completely hosed in this deal (though they do get rid of Harrington).
Why the Pacers do it: While bringing home Baby Al sucks, contractually, Afflalo and Chandler could fill all of Indiana’s needs going forward, assuming they’re comfortable playing Chandler at the four. Plus they don’t lose any draft picks or have to part ways with Hansbrough or George.
Why the Knicks do it: Obviously getting ‘Melo and only losing Chandler and a pick (rather than Chandler, Gallinari and/or Fields) has to count as a win.
Why the Nuggets do it: This is the only situation where the Nuggets can trade ‘Melo and not get completely screwed. While Hollinger predicts a five win loss, Deng is not a tremendous downgrade at 3 from ‘Melo, and they’d get two other young guys in the process, one of whom, Taj Gibson, could be Denver’s future at PF.
Why the Bulls do it: This would be the absolute best situation for ‘Melo. The Bulls are already the 3rd or 4th best team in the East without Joakim Noah. Once he gets healthy him, ‘Melo, Rose and Boozer would be unstoppable. It wouldn’t matter that the team would have no remaining viable options at SG and very little depth; they could plug me in and they’d still be a lock for the NBA Finals for years and years. Unfortunately, ‘Melo’s a dick.