As the Pacers Dawdle, Other Deals Develop
January 9, 2006

Here's a detailed synopsis of NBA trade discussions over the past month: Ron Artest. The Pacers' quest to unload their talented but troubled forward has dominated the airwaves for the past three weeks, and we don't seem any closer to a solution. However, behind the scenes the Artest situation has had another impact - it's holding up every other potential deal.

Most of the teams who figure to be active in the trade market either are trying to obtain Artest or are angling to be a third party in the deal. In either case, they're putting everything else on the back burner until this first domino falls. Thus, few if any transactions will take place until the Pacers make their move.

But once Artest has a new home, expect the floodgates to open. By next month's trade deadlines, at least a dozen players could have new homes. So today, instead of focusing on Artest, let's look at the rest of the players in the trade market, in order of likelihood to be dealt:

EARL WATSON, Denver Besides Artest, the player most likely to relocate this winter is Watson. The Nuggets' third-string point guard is a defensive ace who also can push it up court and score, and could start for several teams. His five-year, $29 million deal could be a sticking point, but Denver is a motivated seller.

AL HARRINGTON, Atlanta The Hawks' small forward is off to a strong start for a lousy team, but he's also a free agent after the season. With the Hawks still clearly in rebuilding mode and most of the team's best young talent playing his position, it would make all kinds of sense for Atlanta to move Harrington to a contender before the trade deadline rather than lose him in the off-season.

CHRIS WILCOX, L.A. Clippers The high-flying forward is stuck behind Elton Brand and doesn't have the trust of his coach, but his proportional stats (13.3 points, 10.5 rebounds per 40 minutes) show he could do some serious damage in the right environment. With the Clips desperate for help on the wings (Corey Maggette and his bum left foot may not be back until April) and Wilcox entering his walk year, L.A. seems ready to cash this chip in. The Nets are interested but, alas, have little to offer in return.

RUBEN PATTERSON, Portland The Blazers have been trying to unload Patterson for years but may actually find some buyers this time around. The key differences are that Patterson's overly generous contract expires after the season, and that Patterson has toned down his once-unbearable off-court act. If you're wondering about a Patterson-Wilcox swap, which would seem to benefit both clubs, the salaries don't match up unless other players are included.

RONALD MURRAY, Seattle Murray signed the Sonics' one-year tender over the summer and will be an unrestricted free agent after the season. He's also an odd fit in Seattle's backcourt because of his shoot-first tendencies; what the Sonics really want is a guard to set up Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis.

Thus, Seattle would be open to moving Murray for a more traditional point man, but his contract is a sticky issue. Murray can veto any trade as a result of his one-year tender, and would lose his Bird rights if traded. That means he might not get as much money next summer if he approved the deal, so an acquiring team would have to sell him on the benefits. Incidentally, the same situation also applies to Seattle's Vladimir Radmanovic and Reggie Evans, and is a major reason why the slumping Sonics have yet to cut a deal.

MICHAEL DOLEAC, Miami The former Knick is stuck behind Shaquille O'Neal and Alonzo Mourning as Miami's thirdstring center, but he deserves better. Doleac has his limitations, but he's a capable backup center who can bang inside on defense and hit an open jumper at the other end. Miami has an obvious interest in moving him as well, because the club desperately needs another competent wing player. Now that Pat Riley is seeing this for himself on the sidelines, expect a deal to happen soon.

NENE, Denver The Brazilian big man is out for the season with a knee injury and will be a restricted free agent after the season. Rather than get outbid for his services by Atlanta or Chicago in the summer (each of whom will have oodles of cap space), the Nuggets would prefer to get a return on their investment now - such as a desperately needed shooter. Nene is the main chip in Denver's quest for Artest at the moment, but if that offer falls through, expect him to land on another roster quickly.

ANTONIO DAVIS and PENNY HARDAWAY, New York If Isiah Thomas pulls the trigger on another deal for an overpaid, underachieving, no defense-playing quasi-star, you can guarantee that the expiring contracts of Davis and Hardaway will be the bait. At least Thomas won't be able to include any first round draft picks in the deal - he already traded those a long time ago. The Knicks also wouldn't mind finding a taker for Quentin Richardson, by the way, but his uninsured back makes this virtually impossible. After missing three straight games with back spasms, the off-season acquisition returned last yesterday to score five points in six minutes.

JALEN ROSE, Toronto Speaking of overpaid, underachieving, no-defense-playing quasi-stars, the Raptors would love to dump the final year and a half of Rose's contract to get some salary cap relief. Fortunately for Knicks fans, Rose and Isiah had a pretty icy relationship when Thomas coached the Pacers, so it's unlikely he'd pull the trigger on such a deal ... we think. For now, Rose can continue shooting 37% from the floor in the Great North.

VITALY POTAPENKO, Seattle Potapenko took the unusual step of demanding a trade despite being the 11th man on a bad team (and just think - he's still better than Jerome James).Because he comes cheap and is a wrecking ball in the paint, he might benefit a club looking for more heft inside, like Chicago or Charlotte.

LATRELL SPREWELL, Minnesota Captain Sprewell is still out there on his yacht somewhere, and it's theoretically possible Minnesota could include him in a sign-and-trade deal if it somehow brought the T'wolves a competent center. Unfortunately, Spree's contract demands remain laughable, so he's likely to sit this one out.

DARKO MILICIC, Detroit It's time. Pistons GM Joe Dumars has politely refused all requests about Milicic for 2 1/2 years, but with his team making another run at the title, his tune is about to change. Milicic doesn't seem any closer to breaking into the rotation than he did two years ago, and the Pistons could use another player on the wings to ease the burden on their overworked starters. Despite Darko's sluggish play in his few chances, there's still strong demand for his services from height-thirsty general managers.