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rushmore
02-05-2004, 02:55 PM
10 teams on the hunt for the missing piece

By Chad Ford
NBA Insider
Send an Email to Chad Ford Thursday, February 5
Updated: February 5
10:38 AM ET

Chat with NBA Insider Chad Ford at 1 p.m. EDT today!

On Tuesday, Insider broke down five teams contemplating a fire sale as the Feb. 19 trade deadline approaches.

Who will be the buyers? It depends on the objective.

Several teams feel they may be just a piece or two away from making a serious run in the playoffs. With so much parity and so many teams stumbling through the first half of the season, several GMs recognize a perfect opportunity to make a run while they have the chance.

Another group of teams isn't looking for a playoff boost. Instead, they're hoping to clear some extra cap space to make a run at a top free agent like Kobe Bryant this summer. Or, they're trying to get below the luxury-tax threshold that owners hate to pay.

Who are they? We thought you'd never ask ...

Hunting for the last piece of the puzzle

# New York Knicks: Isiah Thomas not only wants to make the playoffs this year, he wants to win ... now. An extended playoff run is the perfect tonic for what ails the long suffering fans at MSG, and Thomas knows it. He's been as active as any GM in the league ... though his task is getting pretty tough. Keith Van Horn, Shandon Anderson and now Frank Williams have been the trade bait. Williams will be easy to move, but Van Horn and Anderson are both major challenges.

Isiah would love to add another young, athletic frontcourt player who can run the floor and score in the post. That sure sounds a lot like Rasheed Wallace, Shareef Abdur-Rahim or Antawn Jamison. Do the Knicks have the pieces to get anything like that done? It doesn't look like it at the moment. Kurt Thomas is the Knicks' last valuable trade chip, but Isiah wants to keep him.

# Dallas Mavericks: Every year about this time, Mark Cuban and Don Nelson begin preaching the virtues of sticking with the roster they have. And just about every year around this time, the Mavericks end up making a huge trade.


Mark Cuban would like to add a big man before the trade deadline.
The Mavericks need a tough big man, and everyone knows it. They tried to land Rasheed Wallace last month, but talks went nowhere. Attempts to land Zydrunas Ilgauskas also have fallen short. What they'd really love to have is the package Golden State is offering right now -- Nick Van Exel and Erick Dampier. Problem is, the Mavericks don't have any expiring contracts to give up unless ... Antoine Walker decides to opt out if traded to the Warriors.

Another trade that could make some sense for Dallas? Sending Walker to the Sonics for Brent Barry, Jerome James and Calvin Booth. Barry could give the Mavericks the backcourt depth they've been seeking, and James and Booth are both big bodies who could do really well in Dallas. Booth had the best year of his career playing in Dallas for half a season, and James has the strength and athleticism the Mavs are looking for.

Would a change of scenery change his attitude? In Seattle, Walker would be a perfect fit in the Sonics' offense and give them some much-needed help at the four. He's also low risk. Even if he doesn't opt out of his contract this summer, he only has one more year left on his deal. The long-term savings the Sonics could receive, if Walker didn't pan out, could be substantial.

# Toronto Raptors: The early December trade of Antonio Davis and Jerome Williams for Jalen Rose and Donyell Marshall gave the team a huge spark. But it also shipped away the one and only center in Toronto. Chris Bosh has done an admirable job in the middle, but various injuries and the inevitable rookie wall are starting to slow him down.

If the Raptors want to make a deep playoff run, they need a veteran patrolling the middle. They've pursued Dale Davis in Portland, Theo Ratliff in Atlanta, Zeljko Rebraca in Detroit and Michael Doleac in New York, but so far they've yet to strike gold. The Raptors do have enough assets with expiring contracts (Michael Curry, Michael Bradley, and Morris Peterson) to get something done ... so why haven't they?

If none of those players is available, what about Elden Campbell in Detroit, Jahidi White in Phoenix, Derrick Coleman in Philly or Jerome James in Seattle? All four players can be had for the right price ... which just so happens to be an expiring contract or two. Another deal worth considering? Peterson, Curry and Bradley for Brendan Haywood and Christian Laettner. If the Raptors can swallow one more year of Laettner's deal, Haywood is a pretty decent prize.

# Memphis Grizzlies: Jerry West has done an amazing job of turning the Grizzlies from the laughingstock of the league into a serious contender for the playoffs in just a season and a half as team president. With Hubie Brown considering retirement at the end of the season, West wants to give his players a positive playoff experience under Brown before it's too late.

The Grizzlies' biggest weakness is in the middle -- a problem West has been trying to solve since July 1. He's probably wishing he had Wesley Person and Brevin Knight back right about now. A combination of those two expiring contracts along with Stromile Swift's expiring deal could have landed him Dampier and Van Exel.

The guy they have their eye on now is Eddy Curry. Would a combo of Swift and Shane Battier get it done if the Grizzlies took back one of the Bulls' bad contracts (Eddie Robinson) in return? There's also some mild interest in Jerome James, but the Grizzlies won't swap Swift for James straight up.

# Boston Celtics: Now that the Celtics are in official rebuilding mode, Danny Ainge might as well wipe out the last remnants of the Rick Pitino-Chris Wallace era while everyone is already hurting. If you're going to rip the band-aid off -- do it quickly.

Ainge has one last bullet in his gun. Chris Mills' $6.6 million deal comes off the books this summer and insurance is picking up 80 percent of his salary this season. Pair him with Chris Mihm (who won't be eligible to be traded until Feb. 15) and Walter McCarty, and the Celtics could get back something nice in return. Word is they've already pursued Brent Barry. A player like Juwan Howard also could make some sense.

Cutting the cap

# Detroit Pistons: Joe Dumars knows he has to get more than $6 million under the cap if he's going to have any chance to re-sign Mehmet Okur. Corliss Williamson and Chucky Atkins are the trade bait. Both players are talented with slightly bloated contracts. Neither, however, is untradeable. Dumars needs an expiring contract back in return and will be working the phones right up until the deadline in an attempt to get $8-10 million under the cap for this summer.

# Phoenix Suns: They cleared a ton of cap space when they shipped Stephon Marbury and Penny Hardaway to New York. But if they're going to be a big-time player in free agency, they need to get one more contract off the books. Their efforts have centered on moving Jahidi White who, ironically, they swapped Brevin Knight and his expiring contract for earlier this year when they still believed they'd be a playoff contender. With teams like the Raptors desperate for a big man, can Bryan Colangelo get something done? If he does, the Suns could be looking at $12-14 million in cap room this summer. Otherwise, $6.5 million is a more accurate assessment.

# Los Angeles Clippers: The Clips already are looking at roughly $12 million in cap space this summer. If they choose to not pick up Marko Jaric's option, that number goes to $14 million. However, that still may not be enough to get Kobe Bryant. That's why there's so much talk about them trading away Melvin Ely. He doesn't get playing time right now anyway, and getting that $1.75 million off the books for next season could make all the difference in the world.

# Washington Wizards: If Ernie Grunfeld can find a way to get Christian Laettner (one year, $6.6 million left) off the books, the Wizards could also be big players in this summer's free-agent market. With Laettner gone, they'd be looking at around $8 million in cap space. Even better, if they can package him with Larry Hughes (who becomes expendable with Jerry Stackhouse back) the savings could increase to $13 million.

# Milwaukee Bucks: Larry Harris has done an unbelievable job of cutting payroll while still putting a very competitive team on the floor. If he could find someone willing to take the last two years of Tim Thomas' contract off his hands, the Bucks could be $10 million under the cap next year as well.

Around the League

# Sonics, Bulls should make a deal: Not on the list above, but just as popular, are the Sonics, a team that still doesn't know exactly where it stands. The team has been a solid success story this season and, with Ray Allen now in all-star form, the playoffs certainly don't seem out of the question. In the last few month the team has discovered one young potential star, Ronald Murray, and found out that Antonio Daniels, with his tough defense and top assist-to-turnover ratio, can make Nate McMillan a very happy man.


Brent Barry
Guard
Seattle SuperSonics
Profile


2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
40 10.6 3.5 5.5 .497 .838

So what now? GM Rick Sund has been preaching patience since last summer. He knows that the Sonics are in the throes of rebuilding and doesn't want to act too rashly or give up on any young player too quickly. With that said, teams are knocking down his door right now trying to get at three or four players who everyone believes should be available -- Brent Barry, Vladimir Radmanovic, Jerome James and, to a lesser extent, Murray. With the Sonics clearly in need of a low-post scorer and rebounder, is it time to pull the trigger and make a deal?

Everyone from the Celtics, Bulls and Pacers have been after Barry -- even though he's out the next four weeks with a broken finger on his shooting hand. Several teams, in desperate need of a center for a playoff run, think they can rehabilitate James. Radmanovic and Murray are seen as talented prospects who just don't fit what Seattle is doing right now.

Still, Sund has been reluctant to pull the trigger on a trade. Can someone make the Sonics an offer they can't refuse? If the Bulls offered Jamal Crawford, Eddy Curry and, say, Jerome Williams for Barry, Radmanovic, James and Murray -- wouldn't the Sonics have to consider? Curry, despite his struggles in Chicago, is still one of the most promising centers in the league. He just needs a change of scenery. Crawford, a home town guy, would love to play in Seattle and would be great in the backcourt with Ray Allen. Williams is the type of high energy, rebounding force that McMillian would love to have -- at least until Nick Collison is ready to contribute.

The Bulls would be set in the backcourt with Barry, Murray and Kirk Hinrich. Radmanovic gives them the perimeter shooting and versatility they crave and James, for what's it's worth, is a big body with only one year left on his contract. The fact that all players come off the books soon, and that they can move Williams' long-term deal, has to be a big plus to the Bulls. Bulls fans won't like this trade, but this is what it's coming to in Chicago.

# Blazers pushing Stoudamire? Talks of Nick Van Exel and Erick Dampier to Portland for Rasheed Wallace is on the back burner at the moment. It's the best deal the Blazers have been offered, but no one is sure whether it's good enough. The Warriors are desperately trying to move Van Exel and it's pretty hard to see how they'll find any other team willing to take his contract and be willing to give up an expiring contract in return.


Damon Stoudamire
Point Guard
Portland Trail Blazers
Profile


2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
47 12.5 3.4 6.1 .407 .900

That's spawned speculation that the Blazers also want the Warriors to take on the last year of Damon Stoudamire's contract to make the deal more palatable for Portland. That's much more problematic for the Warriors. The Warriors are interested in moving Van Exel and Erick Dampier to get under the cap for this summer. Taking on Stoudamire would make that much tougher.

The Blazers are said to want the expiring contracts of Avery Johnson and Adonal Foyle as part of the deal. That just doesn't work for Golden State. To stay far enough under the cap for the deal to make sense, the Blazers would have to be willing to take back Cliff Robinson, Evan Eschmeyer and Popeye Jones to make Stoudamire part of the trade. If the Blazers agreed to that, the Warriors would still be $17 million under the cap this summer. They could easily afford to work out a buyout with Stoudamire for his last season. Would the Blazers be willing to swallow one more year of Robinson's contract and three more years of Eschmeyer's to dump Sheed and Damon? That seems like a dream deal for the Blazers -- especially if they can also get Dale Davis out of town.

# NBA age limit dealt a death blow? Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett was ruled eligible for the NFL draft today by a federal judge who concluded that the league's rule violates antitrust laws. The judge ordered the NFL to let Clarett enter April's draft. If the ruling holds up on appeal, it could be a death blow to the NBA, which is trying to establish a minimum age to enter the league. League lawyers and the Players Association have long worried that any age limit, even if collectively bargained, could lose a legal challenge. This ruling seems to confirm their worst fears.

Peep Show

By Chad Ford
NBA Insider
Send an Email to Chad Ford Thursday, February 5
Updated: February 5
10:14 AM ET

New York Knicks: Jermaine O'Neal didn't appreciate the Knicks' response after their latest victory against his Pacers. "We just have to have a long memory," O'Neal said in the N.Y. Times. "They played very well. They celebrated like they won a championship, though. We'll remember that." But the Knicks didn't very well like that response either. "Jermaine O'Neal hasn't won any championships," Stephon Marbury said. "If that was Shaquille O'Neal saying that, it's one thing. But he hasn't won one championship. He hasn't won one playoff series playing in Indiana yet, so for us, we felt like we were making strides. I would rather us feel like how we felt last night than to act like we didn't do something. They're a really good team, and beating a really good team and going where we came from, you know, we're making really big steps."


Francis
Houston Rockets: Steve Francis will say that he's not feuding with head coach Jeff Van Gundy, but it sure does sound like it when he opens his mouth. "I don't feel like I let (the team) down," Francis said in the Houston Chronicle after being suspended for a game. "I missed the plane. That's it. That's what I was fined for. That's what I was suspended for. The plane left at 2 (p.m.), and I came at 2:15. So I was late, of course. I have my own (deal with a) charter service, and I was going to charter, and he told me, 'Don't come.' I could have been there way before everybody went to bed that night. So if he wanted to suspend me because that's what he felt, then hey, so be it." And Van Gundy wasn't about to back down, either. "I don't think you ever (just move on)," Van Gundy said. "Look, we totally disagree. I don't think there is any doubt about that. He's not backing down on what he thinks, and I'm not backing down on what I think. I'm not trying to minimize what Steve and I went through. The critical thing is ... what he told me on the phone, he has said that was not correct. He was trying to not let on about the personal problems. We both acknowledge that what he told me is what he told me, but now he's saying it was something else. The story changed a bit. Truly, I only know what he told me, and only he knows the truth."

Boston Celtics: Vin Baker has been falling back on bad habits and now he's back with his old agent trying to salvage his career. "Yes, I've been working with him for about a month now," said agent Aaron Goodwin in the Boston Globe. "Vin is real close. Physically, he's ready. We're hopeful to get him back as soon as possible. That is what we would like, if possible. Vin is doing everything to stay in compliance. He's doing everything to make it back on the court. He's a great kid. He's working hard to beat his addiction. But he needs support from all parties."

Philadelphia 76ers: You, I and the Detroit Pistons might be surprised that Larry Brown is hanging around the Sixers practice facility, but not the Sixers. "Not for us," said head coach Randy Ayers. "I knew he was coming in. Last week, he told me he may stop by. I've seen him a number of times in Philadelphia when he's been back in town . . . A lot of times we just talk strategy and personnel. The same old things we've talked with Coach about for six years, we talked about today. Coach has been a good friend, a mentor. Today was no different. It's not surprising to me. It's nothing out of the ordinary to be around Coach during the season."

Los Angeles Lakers: You can fine Shaquille O'Neal. You can suspend Shaquille O'Neal. But you can't keep Shaquille O'Neal from being Shaquille O'Neal. "I said what I felt, and people try to control people," he said in the Los Angeles Times. "But you can never control me. I'm a 31-year-old juvenile delinquent. Nobody can control me. I regret not being there for the team, but it wasn't my decision. Things you can't control, you should never worry about." He also re-iterated that he wants his teammates to keep passing him the ball. "Guys are coming to me every time down, which means they want me to do something with it," he said. "It's good. I finally feel like the old Shaq."

* O'Neal's Parting Shot Fails to Ruffle Knicks
Steve Popper / New York Times
* Francis, coach say relationship fine as differing accounts linge
Jonathan Feigen / Houston Chronicle
* Baker's agent hopeful
Shira Springer / Boston Globe
* Ayers: Brown's visiting Sixers is no big deal
Joe Juliano / Philadelphia Inquirer
* O'Neal Leaves a Post-Up Note
Tim Brown / Los Angeles Times