By: Alex Raskin
It's trade season, which means luxury taxes, salary caps and expiring contracts are on the lips and ears of everyone involved with the NBA. Just ask Miami's Dorell Wright.
"It's just my luck my money matches what we are over the tax (by)," the HEAT forward told a group of reporters recently.
Wright may have his $2.8 million deal dealt in order to move the team to the other side of the luxury tax threshold where it would take money, not pay money, from the league's tax redistribution.
Wright is one of many players who could move in what should be a busy month before the trade deadline. Here are some of the Eastern Conference's most likely trade candidates:
The Hawks are one team that might not make a move. Teams with growing playoff aspirations often catalyze the current season at the expense of the future by trading young talent. Unfortunately, the Hawks don't have a true backup for Mike Bibby other than Jeff Teague, so trading the rookie would be costly both in the short-term and the long-term. Jason Collins or Randolph Morris could find themselves packing, but not for anything major in return.
•Tony Allen – Right now, the biggest thing keeping Allen in green is injuries. Marquis Daniels will take most, if not all of Allen's minutes when he returns from his thumb injury. Allen's cheap, expiring deal as well as his athleticism and defensive ability make him attractive to many suitors. Boston could keep Allen should another guard go down, but G.M. Danny Ainge wouldn't mind punching up the offense if given the chance. The Celtics rank third in defensive efficiency, but only 10th in offensive efficiency.
•Brian Scalabrine – Celtics fans might riot without their beloved reserve forward, but his $3.4 million expiring contract could be flipped for some valuable depth. Whoever acquires him in a trade could very well waive him immediately thereafter leaving him free to return to Boston after 30 days.
•D.J. Augustin – A year ago it looked like Raymond Felton's days in North Carolina were numbered. But with Augustin's play suffering and Felton's Player Efficiency Rating (15.61) rising above his career average, Augustin appears to be the odd man out. Unfortunately, he may not be able to bring in what Larry Brown truly needs: Offense. The Bobcats will hit the playoffs with arguably the game's best defense, but it's hard to envision a trade that could ignite the other side of the floor.
•Kirk Hinrich – With a deal that decreases in value over the next two seasons and solid defensive reputation, Hinrich might be on his way out of Chicago before the trade deadline. Sure, $9 million is a lot for a backup point guard, but there are some solid teams that could find use for him as a starter. If Hinrich does get traded, it will be because the Bulls were a motivated seller, not because there is a market clamoring for the former Kansas Jayhawk.
•Tyrus Thomas – I hesitate to include him, because Thomas won't be easy to trade. Thomas will be a restricted free agent after next season. Whoever acquires him will need to make a $6.25 million qualifying offer to retain Thomas and it might cost more than that. Any potential suitor will have to decide whether Thomas is more of a power forward or small forward.
•Zydrunas Ilgauskas – Another player who could get traded only to return to his original team is Ilgauskas. The Lithuanian center's expiring contract is worth $11.5 million and he could be the ticket to acquiring a player such as Washington's Antawn Jamison. If he goes to a lottery-bound team, the chances of him returning to the Cavs for the playoffs would be extremely high seeing as the team wouldn't have a backup for Shaquille O'Neal.
•Tayshaun Prince – 29 years old and in the midst of his worst season in the NBA, Prince offers very little to an NBA team right now. If someone still likes his defense, the Pistons would be interested in ditching his contract which pays over $11 million next season. The Pistons took Austin Daye and Jonas Jerekbo in last year's draft, so clearly G.M. Joe Dumars is through making room for Prince.
•Kwame Brown – If anyone needs a center and can offer another expiring deal, Dumars would gladly hand over the former top pick. Brown is set to make $4 million this season but his PER has fallen to 10.36.
•Troy Murphy – Murphy fits into the modern NBA because he's a big guy that can clog the lane on defense and spread the floor on offense. The Cavs don't need anyone else standing in LeBron James' way to the hoop now that they have Shaq around, so Murphy makes a lot of sense. Even though the persistent trade rumors have died down, it still seems likely that Cleveland will add either Murphy or Jamison at the deadline. Cleveland might prefer Murphy because he's cheaper and only signed through next season.
•Jeff Foster – One rumor had Denver making a pitch for Foster, but other teams could emerge as well. Foster is signed for over $6 million per season through next year and he's been dealing with some back issues this season. With Roy Hibbert on board the team might hope to shed payroll while continuing to get younger.
•T.J. Ford – More than anyone, Indiana wants to trade its rarely-used $9 million-a-year point guard. Ford will likely to pick up his option for next year, but with the end of this contract in sight there is a chance a trade could be worked out. It's hard to say what happened to Ford's NBA career, but he played much, much better basketball two years ago when he was splitting time with Jose Calderon in Toronto. Maybe Ford needs another situation where he can play less than 24 minutes per game because that's when he's at his best.
•Dorell Wright – As we mentioned at the top of this piece, the HEAT are around $3 million over the luxury tax threshold and Wright's expiring deal is worth around $2.8 million. HEAT President Pat Riley told the South Florida Sun Sentinel's Ira Winderman that moving Wright would mean a, "$7 million swing," thanks to the tax redistribution. One thing is certain: the HEAT would only want a very inexpensive player in return.
•Mario Chalmers – If need be, the HEAT can get a little bit further under the camp by trading Chalmers. The second-year point guard is in a sophomore slump and he's had his starting job taken away. Riley isn't known for his patience with young players, so if it helps moving Wright and making the numbers work, don't be surprised to see Chalmers on his way out of town. Chalmers' contract has a team option next season.
The Bucks have a lot of expiring contracts and that's the way the team likes it. It's hard to see Milwaukee giving up any of those deals and the injury to Michael Redd probably cost the team its only trade chip.
•Devin Harris – If the Nets were blown away by a trade offer – one that included a young point guard as insurance in case they failed to win the John Wall lottery – then maybe Harris could be dealt. The recent trade rumors have come on the assumption that New Jersey would win the draft lottery, but time is on Nets' side and they could easily wait until this summer for a trade. Nets President Rod Thorn even told the Star-Ledger's Dave D'Alessandro, "It's very, very unlikely that we'd trade Devin. I never say never, but it's very unlikely that he's going to be traded."
•Josh Boone – It's odd that he hasn't moved yet. Boone has had some bumps and bruises this year, but with good health should come a new team. Boone's body language after games says that he's more than ready for a change of scenery. And who wouldn't want a solid backup center with a $2 million deal?
•Keyon Dooling – Offseason hip surgery has hindered his trade prospects, but most teams would want a veteran combo guard who scores. Dooling's $3.5 million a year deal wouldn't be hard to move, especially if he plays like he did in his 21-point, 23-minute performance against the Hornets on January 8th. Dooling's deal is not fully guaranteed next season.
•Jarvis Hayes – Like Boone and Dooling, Hayes can get traded as soon as he proves he's healthy. Hayes has dealt with hamstring issues all year, which tends to be a nagging injury. However, even Hayes has admitted that he still feels like he's in training camp after missing the first few months of the year.
•Nate Robinson – If, and only if, the Knicks can get an inexpensive young player in return, they'll part with Nate Robinson. If not, they'll be happy to keep the resurgent guard in the lineup for the rest of the season. After basically being benched for all of December, Robinson has averaged nearly 26 minutes and 16 points for the month of January. If nothing else, Robinson has created some free agent buzz for himself as he heads into the offseason... Many expect the team to trade Jared Jeffries, but there doesn't appear to be much of a market for him.
•Brandon Bass – Even though he signed a $4 million per year deal this past offseason, Bass' name keeps circling in trade talk. Bass is having his best season in terms of PER, but if G.M. Otis Smith had a choice between trading him or center Marcin Gortat, the former would be jettisoned before the latter.
•Andre Iguodala – At the beginning of the year, many expected Elton Brand and Samuel Dalembert's names to be kicked around, but it's been Iguodala that has been getting the most interest. One such rumor had him going to Houston for Tracy McGrady. That deal would have given the 76ers cap relief, but it hardly would have done anything for the team's roster. Iguodala is signed through 2012-2013 with an early termination option for 2013-2014. If there's anyone that wants to pay Iguodala around $17 million when he's 30, now is the time to make a move. Dallas and Cleveland have been mentioned, but the Cavs need shooters like Murphy. If Iguodala went to the Mavericks, Josh Howard would likely be involved in the trade.
•Chris Bosh – It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that Bosh would like to sign with whomever holds his Larry Bird rights. Anyone with enough cap space can offer Bosh a max deal, but only Toronto can give him the incremental raises that would add up to an extra $30 million. Of course, that is, unless the Raptors trade Bosh first. If G.M. Bryan Colangelo doesn't feel confident Bosh will return, expect the Raptors to go shopping for a legitimate center and defensive presence in the post. Toronto can easily move Andrea Bargnani to power forward to make room for a new big man, which could seriously help the porous interior defense.
•Antawn Jamison – Did any team fall flat on its face this season the way Washington has? The Nets knew they had a loser on their hands, but the Wizards were gearing up for the rebirth of D.C. hoops. Instead they have a lot of undesirable contracts on their hands and Jamison's might be the first to go. His deal swells up to over $15 million per year in 2011-2012, so the time to move is now. Otherwise, the Wizards might have to take back too much salary to make any deal worthwhile.
•Caron Butler – A down year for Butler could mean big savings for a contender. At 29-years-old, Butler can still score, but Flip Saunders' offense has played havoc with his stat line. He'll make over $10 million next season, but Butler's deal expires after that, so he might be a more realistic trade option than Jamison. One thing is for sure: Butler will never have a PER over 20 as he did in 2007-2008.
•Brendan Haywood – Attention Houston! Haywood's $6 million deal expires after this season and he's healthy. Any playoff hopeful that needs a defensive presence in the middle should make a play for Haywood.
•Mike Miller – Possibly another player that could end up in Cleveland, Miller offers shooting and veteran smarts for a playoff run. His deal expires after this season, and if his calf is better, some contender will have a valuable asset.
•Gilbert Arenas – The former Arizona Wildcat is on this list because the Wizards are motivated to trade him – NOT because there is a market for a guy with two bad knees who is owed over $22 million in 2013-2014. Did I mention he still has yet to be sentenced on gun charges? Possibly the least attractive player on the trading block, Arenas is drawing very little interest for obvious reasons.