By Jason Fleming
It's never too early to start thinking about the February 2011 trade deadline. From the moment training camps kick off trade rumors are going to slowly build in intensity and quantity all over the NBA, until they reach the deadline crescendo many NBA fans live for.
So what names are we going to hear a lot about between now and then? Which players are going to be the hot properties?
Large ending contracts (think $10 million-plus) will get you on this list. So will an older, more expensive player who may still be a starter on another team but whose status on his current team has been usurped by a younger talent. Or, a team may simply want to cut payroll because they know they aren't winning games at a rate justifying the cost of their contracts. And yes, if a certain player is currently refusing to sign a contract extension worth a heck of a lot of scratch – or has asked for one but been denied - he'll be on the list too.
Jamal Crawford, Atlanta Hawks ($10.1 million) – Crawford wants an extension to his current contract, but the Hawks aren't going to pay that much for a sixth man. However, they'd be more than willing to deal him for a couple pieces that could push them deeper into the playoffs. The development of Jeff Teague will make parting with Crawford more palatable.
Antawn Jamison, Cleveland Cavaliers ($13.4 million) – Expectations are not high for the Cavs after the events of this past summer, and if the Cavs aren't a playoff team or a contender it doesn't make sense for them to have Jamison taking minutes from the rapidly improving J.J. Hickson. Plus, there are definitely contenders who would love to have him.
Tyson Chandler, Dallas Mavericks ($12.6 million) – The return on Erick Dampier's non-guaranteed contract may end up being a pawn the Mavericks can use to add another talent. Why? Well, they signed Brendan Haywood to a six-year contract this past summer and he's their center of the future, if not now. By bringing in Chandler the Mavericks were able to push out their timeframe for using Dampier's contract – as the Charlotte Bobcats figured out, the market for that simply wasn't nearly as big as many thought.
Carmelo Anthony/Kenyon Martin/Chauncey Billups, Denver Nuggets ($17.1 million/$16.5 million/$13.2 million) – What happens with Anthony directly impacts what happens with the other two. If the Nuggets do decide to trade him – which they have not as yet – it's unlikely they continue to be a contender, unless they return a package that hasn't been discussed yet. If they aren't a contender, it doesn't make sense for them to hold onto Billups, who they could trade to a team in desperate need of a starting point guard. Martin, who isn't yet healthy, could be flipped as an ending contract (Billups has one more year not guaranteed, Anthony has an Early Termination Option he plans to exercise). Added to all of this is the Nuggets really don't want to pay much, or any, luxury tax, but they currently have about $82 million in salary obligations, $12 million into tax territory. Melo is the key piece – if he goes, there could be drastic changes in Denver. If he signs the extension or the Nuggets decide to keep him anyway, they may just let Martin's contract expire and work from there.
Tayshaun Prince, Detroit Pistons ($11.1 million) – Prince is still a very good perimeter defender, but he has an expiring contract the Pistons are trying to get younger. They have pieces behind him – Austin Daye and Jonas Jerebko, plus the signing of Tracy McGrady – that potentially make him expendable. Any contender is going to ask the Pistons what it will take.
T.J. Ford, Indiana Pacers ($8.5 million) – Compared with others on this list the likelihood of Ford being moved may be low. Indy was clear they did not want him as their starting point guard, so they acquired Darren Collison. Will they be fine with paying Ford that much money to come off the bench? Considering they would like to cut payroll going into 2011-12 – and trading Ford would likely add payroll – and they have additional expiring contracts (Mike Dunleavy and Jeff Foster) totaling $18.2 million, Indy may just sit on all the cap space that creates. They currently only have $34.9 million committed to 2011-12, roughly $30 million lower than 2010-11.
Archive Peja Stojakovic, New Orleans Hornets ($14.3 million) – The Hornets acquired Peja's replacement when they parted with Darren Collison, acquiring Trevor Ariza from the Houston Rockets. They are committed to surrounding Chris Paul with talent and Peja hasn't been very healthy the past few years – his ending contract could produce another piece from a team who simply wants to cut future commitments.
Eddy Curry, New York Knicks ($11.3 million) – If the Knicks are holding out hope of Curry's expiring deal creating cap space they can use to sign another star in 2011 to pair with Amar'e Stoudemire, they won't trade him. Well, unless they can get that star during the season. It's unlikely they have enough to entice the Nuggets to make a deal for Carmelo Anthony, so if he truly is the target New York may stand pat.
Vince Carter, Orlando Magic ($17.5 million) – Unlike some of the players on this list Carter can still produce plenty of points, but his style of play so far doesn't seem compatible with the rest of the Magic. If that continues to be true in the first half of the 2010-11 season the Magic may start looking to see what they can find.
Jason Kapono, Philadelphia 76ers ($6.6 million) – The cheapest player on this list, Kapono brings what a lot of playoff teams want: three-point shooting. This talent is best served on a higher quality teams and the Sixers don't look to be contenders. If that holds true, expect many teams to come calling for Kapono's expiring contract.
Andrei Kirilenko, Utah Jazz ($17.8 million) – Talent is not why AK-47 could get moved – it would be purely a money transaction. And that will only happen if the Jazz drastically underperform this season. If the Jazz are at the top of the Northwest Division don't expect any moves, even if they are $6 million into the luxury tax. In fact, the Jazz would be more than willing to re-sign Kirilenko too, just at a much lower rate.
Honorable Mention: Michael Redd, Milwaukee Bucks ($18.3 million, but insurance may pick up a lot of it); Dunleavy; Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies ($17.3 million, but the Grizzlies would like to keep him at a lower price), Joel Przybilla, Portland Trail Blazers ($7.4 million, but currently injured), Jason Richardson, Phoenix Suns ($14.4 million, but still a key part of the offense)
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Man Denver is going to be a big player too, might be our competition for Al Horford