Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Countdown to the deadline

The NBA trade deadline must be in the near future. Rumors and conjecture are clogging the air like a bothersome, disorienting swarm of mosquitoes. Every media outlet seems to have a new player matched to a new team several times daily. And it's only going to pick up pace between now and zero-hour, which is 3 p.m. on Thursday.

Armed with the expiring contracts of Wally Szczerbiak and Eric Snow, and one of the best records in the league, the Cavaliers are at the center of much of the speculation. A major move by the Cavs could significantly swing the balance of power in the Eastern Conference.

With the dizzying spin of the rumor mill already making us lightheaded, let's make some sense of it all by taking an updated look at some of the rumors linked to the Cavs, which ones are dead and which ones just might happen between now and Thursday afternoon.

Amare Stoudemire

All Stoudemire deals appear to be dead and buried. The Stoudemire rumor machine became the biggest beast of this trading season, fueled by rampant national media speculation throughout the all-star break. But the Suns switched coaches on Monday, new coach Alvin Gentry expressed a desire to get back to the "Fun 'N Gun" offense that made the Suns' reputation this decade, and they really can't do that if they trade their best scorer.

Gentry holds the title of interim coach, but he still deserves a shot to win with a full deck for the remainder of the season. The Suns will still likely look at cutting salary at some point, but it might not be until this summer. The best a team like the Cavs could hope for is that Phoenix staggers to an unremarkable finish, Steve Kerr decides he needs to remake the philosophy of the entire team, and Stoudemire becomes available in the offseason. At that point, the Cavs would have the expiring contracts of Ben Wallace, and possibly Zydrunas Ilgauskas, to use as bargaining chips.

But as of now, Stoudemire is a Sun, and that's not going to change anytime soon.

Marcus Camby

It's a rare occasion when the Clippers are courted for anything. Most of the time, their roster is 75 percent garbage, and what talent they do have is either young and inexpensive or way overpaid.

But this year, the Clips hold a valuable piece in Marcus Camby. A rebounding, shot-blocking center with elite defensive skills who is signed for one more year, Camby's skill set, length of contract and solid character make him an attractive piece for any contender. Earlier this week, The Plain Dealer's Terry Pluto reported that Camby is at the top of Danny Ferry's wish list.

The Clippers, so used to being the bastard child of Los Angeles and the entire NBA, don't seem to know how to react to the sudden glut of attention. Mike Dunleavy, who became the unquestioned basketball guru of the organization following the ouster of longtime GM Elgin Baylor, has remained stubborn regarding Camby. According to published reports, he's turned away all Camby suitors. But Camby's name keeps popping up in trade rumors, and it would appear that hanging on to Camby offers the Clippers no real long term benefit, which would mean Dunleavy would be nuts to not at least listen to overtures that involve young talent.

Camby is 34 and the Clippers are once again rebuilding, meaning that there is an extremely high probability that Camby will bolt Clipperland once his contract expires in 2010.

Yet Dunleavy is either dead set on making a 34-year-old center a core member of his Clippers new world order, or he's waiting for a heist of a deal that isn't coming. Either way, it's typical confusing Clipper behavior. Don't hold your breath on a Camby trade involving the Cavs or any other team. But once you exhale, don't be surprised if Camby moves for an expiring contract and a pair of used sneakers, either.

Antawn Jamison

Jamison is the hot read now that the Stoudemire rumors have been deep-sixed. Both Brian Windhorst of The Plain Dealer and Chad Ford of ESPN have speculated about Jamison's appeal to the Cavs.

From purely a basketball standpoint, Jamison would be a good fit for the Cavs. He's a 6'-9" forward who can play inside and outside. He shoots with range, is an effective rebounder and has a sound all-around game. His 21.9 points per game and 9 rebounds per game this season are up from his career averages of 19.8 PPG and 8 RPG.

The downside is his age (32), his salary ($9.9 million this year, and rising after that) and the length of his contract (three more years). If the Cavs land Jamison, that's probably going to lock them into their current roster core through next season, and possibly beyond. In other words, no Stoudemire this summer. They'll sink or swim with LeBron James, Mo Williams, Jamison and Ilgauskas.

Caron Butler

If the Wizards are selling, Ferry might as well see what he can get. In the above linked story, Windhorst noted that Ferry has recently made pitches for both Jamison and Butler.

Butler's money situation is similar to Jamison's. He's making about $9 million this year and has three more years after that. The big difference is that Butler is 28, a wing player and solid perimeter defender.

Of course, if the Cavs landed Butler, his minutes would have to come from somewhere. Delonte West and Daniel Gibson would likely be the ones to sacrifice. Particularly in the case of West, chopping down his playing time upon return from injury probably isn't a good idea. The Cavs need more Delonte, not less.

In the end, Butler on the Cavs might pose the same problem as Vince Carter on the Cavs: Too many chefs in the kitchen. Butler is a 20 points per game scorer, but he's not going to get touches at the expense of LeBron or Mo. That means everyone else must sacrifice, and that might not go over too well in the locker room.

Mike Miller

I've never really understood Danny Ferry's alleged fascination with Miller, but his name keeps creeping up in connection with Cavs trade rumors.

The Cavs basically have a Mike Miller on their roster in Szczerbiak. Miller is a bit taller and more athletic, but I don't think he brings anything the Cavs don't already have. Miller is 28, so he's still in his prime years. But he's signed for $9 million this year, and has another year remaining on his contract. For that investment, the Timberwolves are getting 9.1 points, 3.7 assists and 34 percent shooting from beyond the arc in 31 minutes per game. Ferry should be able to find a player out there who can put up those numbers for less money.

If we're talking about using Eric Snow's expiring contract to get a useful player who can provide some bench depth and give us less Sasha Pavlovic come playoff time, I guess I can support the move. But if landing Stoudemire or Camby would qualify as a home run, landing Miller is more like a bleeder single under an infielder's glove.

Chris Bosh

I don't really have a lot to say about a Bosh deal because it's not going to happen. Not now, not next summer, and probably not ever.

I feel compelled to at least mention Bosh because the idea of a Bosh trade or free agent signing is something that a number of Cavs fans are holding near and dear. But Bosh is the single most valuable member of the Raptors roster. They will fight tooth and nail to keep him, and the only instance in which they'd trade him is if he held a free agency gun to management's head. Rumors to that effect were swirling several weeks ago, but shortly thereafter denied by both Bosh and Raptors management.

Even if Bosh were to arrive on the Cavs' doorstep via free agency in 2010, it would be extremely difficult to sign him, re-sign LeBron and put a competitive supporting cast around them at the same time. The 2010 offseason figures to be a very busy one for the Cavs, with a number of players slated to hit free agency beyond LeBron. It makes for a good deal of cap room, but also a good deal of uncertainty.

The 2010-11 Cavs could look drastically different from the current team, even if LeBron is still in house. There are only so many places that money can be spent, and if the Cavs put all their eggs in the LeBron and Bosh baskets, they could end up regretting it down the road.

Job 1 for the summer of '10 is re-signing LeBron, if he hasn't inked an extension beforehand. Job 2 and beyond is, at this point, undefined.

Some fans appear to take it for granted that Dan Gilbert will always spend gobs of cash on the Cavs roster. He's doing that right now because he sees this team is good enough to win a title. But the time will come when the return won't support the investment -- certainly not to the point of paying tens of millions in luxury tax penalties every year -- and Gilbert will rein in the spending. The Cavs roster will get younger and cheaper at some point, and that will probably start in 2010. Just so you've been warned.

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