A year ago, one of the most active storylines of All-Star weekend in Phoenix was whether Amar’e Stoudemire’s last game with the Suns would be an exhibition game. This weekend, it’ll be the same storyline, but in a different city.
And this time, Stoudemire isn’t alone. The few contenders who are clear buyers at the trade deadline are feasting their eyes on an impressive list of big men who could change uniforms before the Feb. 18 trade deadline and perhaps change the playoff picture, too.
A high-level source involved in the Suns’ strategizing estimated that Stoudemire has a “30 percent chance” of being traded. His situation is the most intriguing of all the star players who could be moved by Feb. 18, given his status as an All-Star starter. The plot only became more interesting with Stoudemire’s recent comments/head fake that he’s leaning toward not exercising the early termination option in his contract, which would pay him $17.7 million next season. Some team executives believe Stoudemire, surmising that opting in would be the best move if Stoudemire doesn’t believe max money will be there for him this summer. Others find ignoring the ETO implausible for any player with a choice between signing a long contract under the current collective bargaining agreement and waiting for the new one, which clearly will be worse for the players.
One league source familiar with the market for Stoudemire expressed skepticism about rumblings that Stoudemire could be headed to Philadelphia. The person said there’s no consensus among the Sixers’ brass that Stoudemire would be the player they’d want to commit max money to – especially after the Elton Brand fiasco. From the Phoenix side, the person said, owner Robert Sarver’s non-basketball businesses (banking and real estate) have been hit too hard by the recession to make the Suns a credible landing spot for Samuel Dalembert’s $12.2 million due next season – not to mention Andre Iguodala’s four years and $56 million remaining.
With that, let’s get to the rest of the Post-Ups – pre-All-Star/trade deadline edition:
• Tyrus Thomas isn’t as big a name as Stoudemire, but league sources agree he’s far more likely to be dealt by Feb. 18 – if not sooner. One person familiar with the situation said it would be surprising if the Thomas situation stretched into next week after his recent dustup with coach Vinny Del Negro over losing his starting job to rookie Taj Gibson. Sources say the Bulls would prefer to package Thomas in a bigger deal that would clear cap space for a major free agent signing -- such as a scenario detailed here involving the Celtics’ Ray Allen. Short of that, the Bulls would be eager to unload Thomas in a smaller deal that would bring back less significant assets that could be used to surround and entice a marquee free agent. Two Western Conference teams intrigued by Thomas are the Nuggets, patiently seeking a big man to contend with the Lakers, and the Spurs, who were characterized by two rival executives as desperate to acquire an athletic big man. “They feel like they have to do something, like they’re behind the eight ball a little bit,” one of the execs said. The Spurs have a full complement of expiring contracts that would intrigue the Bulls, who want to avoid losing a significant player with no compensation (see Ben Gordon) for the second straight summer. The Spurs, who dipped their toe across the luxury tax line this season, will have to decide before the end of their annual circus road trip – which continued Monday night against the Lakers – what they’re willing to give up to see that investment pay off.
• Team executives differ widely in their assessment Marcus Camby’s availability, with some convinced Camby’s gone and others equally convinced he’s going nowhere. The truth is somewhere in between. A person familiar with the Clippers’ internal discussions said the team would move Camby and his $7.65 million contract only in a deal that would yield a significant player who could help them next season – or the cap space to sign one. The Clips are a small deal away from clearing the $15-$16 million necessary to sign a max player. If they can’t improve their 2010-11 position dramatically, Camby stays. Two of Camby’s former teams, the Nuggets and Knicks, are intrigued by the possibility of bringing him back for an encore.
• Another active buyer in trade talks, the Mavericks, haven’t pushed hard for Kevin Martin in their conversations with Sacramento, sources say. That’s an indication that the Mavs are focused on another wing who’d fit their needs – Washington’s Caron Butler. How aggressively the Wizards look to unload contracts as they try to pick up the pieces from Gilbert Arenas’ suspension depends on how a fundamental internal disagreement is resolved. Some elements of the Wizards’ power structure favor “completely blowing it up,” according to one source, while others are holding out for a more patient approach. “How badly does Dallas want Caron Butler?” one rival executive said. “Washington will find out.” The Mavs have not been pushing for Antawn Jamison in their talks with the Wizards, believing they have enough 30-somethings on the roster.
• An important factor to remember in trying to decipher the Wizards’ strategy is their ownership situation. Despite a recent hangup in the transfer of power from the family of late owner Abe Pollin to Ted Leonsis, rival executives believe a completed sale to Leonsis is a foregone conclusion. The Wizards have little hope of trading enough contracts to get under the luxury tax, but any savings derived from pre-deadline deals would produce double the benefit in tax payments – a scenario that would appease both the owner and the seller in that transaction.
• If the Wizards take the “blowing it up” route, their exploratory conversations with Houston involving Tracy McGrady would become more serious. But a high-level source familiar with the situation said T-Mac’s best chance to play again this season is in New York, which would willingly take on his $23 million expiring contract if it meant clearing some 2010-11 money off the books. The Knicks aren’t willing to part with anything Houston would want, however, so a third team would need to be recruited.
• Despite their active posture in trade talks, the Sixers aren’t willing to do strictly a financial deal for Iguodala. Thus, they’re not interested in McGrady alone, but instead are pushing for legit value in return.
• Miami and Charlotte remain in the mix with the Rockets and Trail Blazers for Wizards center Brendan Haywood. The Blazers continue to steadfastly reject any scenario that includes Rudy Fernandez or Nicolas Batum.