The next milestone in the NBA season hits Wednesday when dozens of players signed as free agents over the summer become trade-eligible. ‘Tis the season for re-gifting.
Don’t like the aging veteran you overpaid in your giddiness as GM of an undefeated juggernaut shopping for free agents? Dump him on some unsuspecing colleague who may be able to to make better use of his meager talents. Having a reality check about how good your team was going to be? Shed the contract you thought you were wise to execute back in July and start getting ready for another draft lottery.
Under the collective bargaining agreement, players who sign as free agents cannot be traded for three months or until Dec. 15, whichever is later. So theoretically, any free agent signed prior to Sept. 15 can be shipped to a new destination beginning Wednesday.
It’s not useful to look at this year’s crop of trade-eligible free agents as a free-for-all, because there are plenty of names on the list who will be traded about as soon as pigs sprout wings. (Forget the LeBron-to-New York trade rumors. I think he’s staying put.) Similarly, the Lakers aren’t trading Derek Fisher, the Celtics aren’t trading Shaquille O’Neal, and the Knicks seem mildly happy with MVP candidate Amar’s Stoudemire so far.
What the Dec. 15 milestone does is expand the pool of assets and contracts available to GMs to make trades work under league guidelines that require salaries to be no more than 125 percent plus $100,000 when over-the-cap teams make deals. Sometimes, one more asset or another $2 million in tradeable contracts makes all the difference in completing a larger deal.
Something else to keep in mind: Unless it’s a key player who’d fill a crucial need for a contender, executives say teams will be much less likely to take on multi-year contracts this year due to the expected work stoppage. Buyer’s remorse for Brendan Haywood, for example, isn’t going to be easy to assuage because he’s due $45 million over the next five years – when nobody can accurately predict where such a contract will fit into the new salary structure. But players on shorter deals with less than full guarantees could be moved if it helps complete a bigger deal – such as a Carmelo Anthony trade.
So with that in mind -- and with the assumption that the Heat aren’t’ trading LeBron, the Hawks aren’t trading Joe Johnson, and the Celtics aren’t trading Paul Pierce or Ray Allen -- here are a few of the more interesting names who become trade-eligible Wednesday, based on the likelihood that they could be involved in a trade sometime before the Feb. 24 deadline:
* Luke Ridnour, Timberwolves: At $12 million over the next three years, Ridnour won’t break the bank and his play-making abilities could be appealing to a team looking for point-guard depth. The Knicks, underwhelmed by Toney Douglas as Raymond Felton’s backup, are interested.
* Tony Allen, Grizzlies: Allen’s strengths off the bench are wasted on a team like Memphis, which has plenty of other tradeable assets. If the Grizzlies decide to part with O.J. Mayo, for instance, Allen’s contract could help facilitate the deal.
* Quentin Richardson, Magic: Nobody gets traded as much as Q-Rich, so he has to be on this list. If Orlando decides to pull the trigger on a significant deal -- say, for Andre Miller or Gilbert Arenas -- Richardson could be a throw-in. Complicating matters is the fact that his contract contains a 15 percent trade kicker, but that’s manageble since he’s only due $8 million over the next three years.
* Anthony Carter and Shelden Williams, Nuggets: Denver is virtually assured of making a big deal for You-Know-Who, in my opinion, and these could be throw-in pieces. I’d include Al Harrington, but A) they’ll need someone to shoot a lot after they trade Melo; and B) nobody will want Big Al for five years at the full mid-level when we’re entering what could be the no-mid-level world of a new CBA. (Even though the last two years are only half-guaranteed.)
* Anthony Tolliver, Timberwolves: Minnesota already has been fielding a lot of calls because they have draft picks, cap space, and young assets. Though injured at the moment, Tolliver is big and cheap and could be part of a bigger deal.
* Josh Howard, Wizards: On a one-year deal, Howard has the right to veto any trade. But if he gets back on the court and proves he’s healthy before the deadline, his expiring $3 million contract could be used to sweeten a potential Arenas deal.
* Chris Duhon and Jason Williams, Magic: Stan Van Gundy can’t decide which one is his backup point guard, and you know what they say: When you have two backup point guards, what you really have is none.
* Jordan Farmar and Anthony Morrow, Nets: New Jersey is highly likely to make multiple trades between now and the deadline, and team officials continue to believe one of them will be for Anthony. With efforts under way to acquire additional assets Denver has requested, dangling either one or both of these names could help accomplish that. Reluctantly, I’ll include Travis Outlaw here, as well. While his five-year, $35 million deal will scare some teams, his salary is flat throughout with no increases -- a friendly feature as we enter the great CBA unknown.
* Tyrus Thomas and Kwame Brown, Bobcats: When Larry Brown says his team has begun tuning him out, it’s time to start the stopwatch on LB blowing up the roster with trades. When Brown goes into teardown mode, no one is safe -- not even Thomas, who just signed a five-year, $40 million contract. Good luck peddling that deal amid labor uncertainty, but that doesn’t mean Brown won’t try.
* Randy Foye, Ryan Gomes, Rasual Butler and Craig Smith, Clippers: The Clips are ravaged by injuries, underperforming, and owner Donald Sterling is heckling his own players. Who knows what the Clips will do? I do know they have one of the most sought-after first-round picks in the league -- Minnesota’s 2011 pick, which is unprotected in ‘12 -- and will be getting a lot of calls. Butler and Smith can veto any trade since their both on one-year deals. But why would they?
* Hakim Warrick and Channing Frye, Suns: If Phoenix rapidly falls out of contention, keep an eye on Suns owner Robert Sarver, who is pushing as hard as any owner for a lockout. Warrick’s deal actually is fairly reasonable, with $4.25 million due each of the next two seasons and a team option for the same amount after that. Frye, however, is owed a poisonous $24.8 million over the next for years.