DALLAS – As league officials and executives scramble to make it to the snowed-in All-Star city Friday, they will be seeking two key ingredients that will get them through the next few days: snow shovels and answers.
The shovels, I can’t help them with. But the answers will be readily available. Team executives who've been burning up their BlackBerrys proposing dozens of trade scenarios over the past week or so will need to come out of All-Star weekend with some idea of how the NBA's uncertain financial landscape will affect those deals.
Owners and general managers will convene for a series of critical meetings Friday, starting with the owners' annual Technology Summit and culminating with a scheduled face-to-face bargaining session between owners and the National Basketball Players Association. Weather permitting, it will be the first bargaining session since the owners delivered a roundhouse to the union in the form of a draconian initial bargaining proposal calling for a hard cap and drastically reduced player salaries.
The public will get commissioner David Stern’s typically rosy state of the league address Saturday night, but the executives contemplating taking on tens of millions through pending trades don’t want the sanitized version. They want to know where they stand, and how the decisions they make between now and the Feb. 18 trade deadline will position their franchises for some rocky times ahead.
"I think the uncertainty has slowed everybody's roll until they get the state of the union at the league meetings," one Western Conference executive said. "The one thing that makes this interesting is that there’s always buyers and sellers. The sellers are far more plentiful than the buyers, so buyers are going to be really deliberate when it comes to taking on future money."
For example: If the threat of a hard cap is real – with none of the current exceptions or luxury tax provisions that allow teams to exceed it – why would a team like the Cavs acquire Antawn Jamison, who will be on the books for $15.1 million in 2011-12, the first year of a new CBA? If there’s a hard cap of $50 million, Jamison would account for 30 percent of it. If the Cavs were able to retain LeBron James this summer, they’d have 60 percent of the cap tied up in two players in the first year of the new CBA. The situation would be so untenable that owners proposed retro-fitting existing contracts under the new rules, but that would be unprecedented – so much so, sources say, that it could result in a deal-breaker at best and an anti-trust lawsuit at worst.
But those issues are a long way off. The Cavs are in win-now mode, and they’re eager to placate LeBron by acquiring Jamison, the stretch power forward they believe they need to dispense with Orlando, Boston, and Atlanta in the playoffs. But winning is one thing; financial folly is quite another.
Owners, GMs, and agents – those able to make it here after two days of massive flight cancellations across the country – will want to know where the business model is headed before they go ahead with their deals. There’s no way to know for sure, but you have to at least ask the questions.
Every trade that is made before the deadline will be done with all of this in mind. So with that, here’s the latest trade buzz as we head into a snowy All-Star weekend:
• The Cavs remain interested in the Pacers’ Troy Murphy, but sources say they’re preoccupied with a couple of other deals they favor – one of which involves Jamison. The Wizards, as previously reported, aren’t seeking a straight salary dump; they’re looking for a legit rotation player with upside, such as J.J. Hickson. The Wizards are also looking to attach guard Mike James and his $6.6 million expiring contract to any deal to help them achieve luxury tax savings.
• Portland has joined San Antonio, Denver, Charlotte, and Sacramento in the pursuit of Tyrus Thomas, with one person familiar with the situation characterizing the Blazers as “close” to finding a workable scenario. Rival execs have contradicted that account, saying the Bulls are telling them they need to sweeten their offers. Chicago is seeking a quality draft pick in addition to cap relief. Denver and Charlotte have conditional 2010 second-round picks from previous trades, and Denver also could offer a second-round pick that can be swapped with the Clippers.
• Executives say Phoenix officials continue to tell them it’s unlikely that they’ll deal Amar’e Stoudemire. No proposals have been submitted to the Suns that would make them better this season. The exception to the Suns’ reluctant posture, sources say, would be a deal that would create a seductive opportunity to position them better next season and beyond than they’d be if they kept Stoudemire and played the opt-out game with him. While the Sixers continue to discuss internally whether Stoudemire makes sense for them long-term, sources describe Philly as a highly unlikely destination.
• Miami Heat president Pat Riley has been aggressive in his pursuit of Stoudemire, but sources say the Heat are one of the teams carefully weighing such a transaction against the uncertain backdrop of collective bargaining. At this stage, the Heat are the undisputed leaders of the impending 2010 free agent sweepstakes because they have one marquee potential free agent, Dwyane Wade, on the roster and enough cap space to sign another max player without making any further trades.
• In addition to peddling Kirk Hinrich, sources say the Bulls also are exploring interest in Luol Deng, who has four years and $51 million left after this season. Trading both of them – or packaging one of them with Thomas – would provide Chicago with enough cap space to score two max free agents this coming summer, effectively placing them on equal footing with the Heat in the 2010 chase.
• The Warriors continue to peddle Andris Biedrins (four years and $36 million left) to achieve cost-savings, while the Clippers are offering Al Thornton and Sebastian Telfair for the same reason, sources say.