The quiet before the trade deadline

In his latest Trade Buzz, Chad Ford writes that things on the trade front have been a little quiet lately. Here’s why:

One factor appears to be the looming battle over the next collective bargaining agreement, with negotiations expected to start soon. In front offices around the league, the feeling is that owners will fight for major concessions from the players in the next CBA, perhaps even a hard salary cap. With the uncertainty over the new CBA and the economy, some GMs are taking a cautious tack.

In addition to cap considerations, there is another perennial issue: Teams ask for a lot in early trade talks and often don’t feel a sense of urgency until the final hours before the deadline. As one GM told me: “There aren’t many teams that are willing to give teams cap relief this year. And the teams that are willing to do so are asking for a lot in return. I’m not willing to give up an All-Star to save money. But that’s what they want.”

There are some very big names that are available (Amare Stoudemire, Antawn Jamison, Carlos Boozer, Caron Butler, Ray Allen, Andre Iguodala and Devin Harris, just to name a few), and as non-playoff teams try to save money, it’s going to be interesting to see if cap space trumps talent over the next couple of weeks.

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LeBron wants Antawn Jamison

Ken Berger of CBSSports.com says that LeBron James is the driving force behind the Cavs’ renewed interest in Antawn Jamison.

It’s been well documented that the Cavaliers’ infatuation with Antawn Jamison has been rekindled. What’s been underplayed is the reason behind it: LeBron James is the one driving the team’s pursuit of Jamison, according to a source, and Cavs GM Danny Ferry – as usual – is trying to appease the King. A couple of problems: The Wizards want a young asset in return, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas – while a fit salary-wise – doesn’t fit that description. The sensible piece to include in the deal would be J.J. Hickson, whom the Cavs are reluctant to give up. But if the Cavs got Jamison, what value would Hickson be to them as their fifth big man? One scenario that is believed to be under discussion would have the Cavs hoping the Wizards bought out Ilgauskas after the trade, using some cash added to the deal by Cleveland. That way, the Cavs could sign Ilgauskas back on a minimum deal, giving them the player James covets (Jamison) and a 7-foot-4 insurance policy for Shaquille O’Neal. The Wizards would have to ask themselves if getting out from under Jamison’s contract and adding Hickson is enough to justify a deal that would get them under the tax next summer, but not under the cap.

If the Cavs can’t get Jamison, Indiana’s Troy Murphy is Plan B. And yes, there’s a Plan C — Andre Iguodala. Whereas the Cavs’ front office believes Jamison could help them win a championship this year, Iguodala would be more of a long-term solution. And he better be, with four years and $56 million left on his deal.

Even though Jamison is playing better right now than Caron Butler, he’s also four years older (33) and has a much more expensive contract (Jamison: 2-years, $28.4 million, Butler: 1-year, $10.6 million). For a team like the Wizards, who at this point are just trying to get into a position where they can rebuild, Jamison is just too old to be a part of that process. So it makes sense to add a promising young prospect like Hickson, though they’d probably have to agree to buy out Zydrunas Ilgauskas as part of the trade, so that the Cavs can re-sign him.

Cleveland needs to keep LeBron happy. If he wants Jamison, then they should try to acquire him. He’s a smallish power forward who can also play small forward when the Cavs want to buy a few minutes rest for LeBron. He’s a nice matchup for Rashard Lewis and could potentially give Pau Gasol fits in the Finals, forcing the Lakers to bench one of their big men. With Boston faltering and the Magic looking pretty shaky, Cleveland is a great bet to make the Finals, and if they were to pass on Jamison and lose to the Lakers or some other Western Conference foe, LeBron would have some valid reasons to leave. If they do acquire Jamison and lose in the Finals, then at least the franchise was willing make moves to try to improve the team. With a core of Jamison and Mo Williams, LeBron might be more willing to return to Cleveland.


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Should the Cavs acquire Antawn Jamison or Troy Murphy?

ESPN’s Chad Ford breaks down the 25 impact players most likely to be traded before the NBA’s Feb. 18 trade deadline. [Insider subscription required.]

1. Antawn Jamison, F, Wizards
Jamison is at the top of this list for three reasons. First, the Wizards are a mess and seem to be moving rapidly toward a fire sale. Second, Jamison is in the latter stages of his career. Neither he nor the Wizards want him stuck on a terrible team. Third, a number of contenders want him, namely the Cavs. That’s the perfect recipe for a big deadline trade.

2. Troy Murphy, F, Pacers
The Pacers look as though they’re moving toward a youth movement as they continue to build around Danny Granger. With a number of contending teams interested in Murphy, the Pacers seem to be in the right place to make a deal. While Murphy may be overpaid, there are few bigs in the league that can rebound and spread the floor the way he can. With just one more year left on his contract, Murphy could be the missing piece for a team trying to compete for a title.

The Cavs seem to have the most interest, though several other teams have also told me they’ll make a run at him. At the very least, the Pacers should be able to deal Murphy for expiring contracts and one asset (either a draft pick or a young prospect).

3. Tayshaun Prince, F, Pistons
Joe Dumars didn’t expect the Pistons to be championship contenders this season. But he also didn’t anticipate the team losing 13 games in a row. The fact that the Pistons drafted three small forwards in last year’s draft and that two of them — Jonas Jerebko and Austin Daye — look very promising is all you need to know. The word on the street is that the Pistons are in very active trade discussions on Prince.

While the team would prefer to move Richard Hamilton, I don’t think they’re going to be able to find a home for him given his enormous contract. If the Pistons can swap Prince for some help in the paint, they’ve got to do it. The combination of Charlie Villanueva, Jason Maxiell, Ben Wallace and Kwame Brown just isn’t getting it done.

It makes sense that Jamison is more likely on his way out of Washington than his teammate, Caron Butler. Butler is younger (29) and has a better contract, and the Wizards could actually build around him for 3-4 years if they chose to do so.

It looks like Ford believes that there’s a good chance that the Cavs will end up with either Jamison or Murphy. Both are power forwards who can spread the court with good outside shooting.

Here is what John Hollinger had to say about Jamison’s defense:

If Jamison has a weakness, it’s his defense, and the absence of Brendan Haywood last year magnified that problem. He’s a disinterested help defender who rarely blocks shots or takes charges, and quicker forwards beat him off the dribble easily because his lateral movement isn’t great. He does a decent job on the boards and doesn’t foul, but he needs to be paired with a big, tough center to hide his shortcomings.

And here are his thoughts about Murphy on that end of the floor:

While he’s a tremendous rebounder with a strong frame and a knack for positioning, his lack of foot speed hurts him at the defensive end, too. He struggles to contest shots or defend long post players and is particularly bad at moving laterally to defend pick-and-rolls.

To sum up, Murphy is a better three-point shooter (40% to 35%), but Jamison is probably better able to match up with Rashard Lewis, who gave the Cavs fits in last year’s playoffs. Murphy has one more season at the tune of $12.0 million, while Jamison has two more years and $28.4 remaining on his contract. Murphy (29) is four years younger than Jamison (33).

Acquiring Murphy would allow for more flexibility in a year or two, but with LeBron’s future up in the air, Danny Ferry should make a move for the player he thinks is most able to help the Cavs win a championship now. Maybe it’s Murphy, maybe it’s Jamison. They both bring different things to the table.

NBA Draft & Free Agency Rumors: Monta unhappy, Cavs looking at Jamison and more

With the Finals behind us and the draft and free agency looming, the rumors are flying fast and furious. Here’s a rundown of the latest scuttlebutt…

Things are rumored to be getting worse in Golden State.

The talk is that Monta Ellis is unhappy with the direction the organization is heading in, and still holds a bit of grief over the way they held his contract status in limbo for months following his moped injury. For weeks we’ve heard that Ellis is no longer interested in playing for Golden State, and apparently it had reached a point where it was “close to popping off” in the words of one NBA executive—meaning going to the media and publicly demanding a trade.

Let me get this straight — the franchise gives Ellis $66 million over six years and he rewards them by tearing up his ankle in a moped accident, missing 57 games this season. I’m sure he wasn’t happy about the 30-game suspension he served with no pay, but he wasn’t going to play in those games anyway. Shouldn’t he be punished for being boneheaded enough to tool around on a moped?

It sounds like the team has promised Ellis that he’ll be running the point next season and may have promised that they wouldn’t take a point guard at #7, prompting several prospects — Stephen Curry, Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Ricky Rubio — to refuse to work out for Golden State. Suddenly, Jordan Hill looks like a stronger possibility if he’s still on the board when the Warriors pick.

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The Wizards aren’t trading Antawn Jamison…

…or so says Michael Lee of the Washington Post.

The Wizards, or Ernie Grunfeld in particular, has invested a lot into this group with Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison. I think he really wants to see how far they can go if they are healthy. Jamison is the only Wizard to start in the past four postseasons and he was a one-man show in 2007, back when Gilbert and Caron Butler were out against Cleveland. They signed with the intention of keeping him. The best time to move Jamison was at the trade deadline last February.

NBCWashington.com’s Kyle Weidie expands on that line of thinking…

More important than the investments of Grunfeld are the interests of Abe Pollin. The aging owner is willing to do what it takes to compete for a title, but anyone familiar with Pollin’s modus operandi knows that doesn’t mean trading away an upstanding member of the community like Antawn.

Sure, the “perfect” opportunity could come knocking. But NBA GMs, especially in these economic times, won’t be rapping their knuckles on doors for a soon-to-be 33-year-old with three years and $40+ million left on his contract. Isiah Thomas is no longer running a team, people.

One look at the Wizards’ payroll and it’s easy to see that it’s a mess. Gilbert Arenas’s contract is ridiculous for a guy who has missed 91% of his team’s games over the last two years, and the Wizards still owe him $96 million over the next five seasons. Jamison is almost 33 and has more than $40 million remaining on his contract. The only truly reasonable deal amongst Washington’s “Big Three” is Caron Butler’s contract, but it’s also the shortest at two years and $21 million. Arenas and Jamison are virtually unmovable right now, and the Wizards would be dumb to trade Butler, who is arguably the team’s best all-around player.

Grunfeld wants to see what this group can do, and that’s great because he doesn’t really have any other options. He has hitched his wagon to this trio — or specifically to Arenas and Jamison — and is hoping they can succeed. But even with a healthy Arenas, does anyone really think the Wizards are a legit contender? Brendan Haywood is playing better (when healthy), but the Wizards still need a couple of big men to step into prominent roles. Washington has the fifth pick in the draft, but it is no sure thing that they’ll be able to find someone to help right away (Jordan Hill?), and the team is most definitely in “win now” mode.

My guess is that Arenas comes back reasonably strong and the Wizards finish the season as a #6 or #7 seed in the East, likely to be dismissed in the first round of the playoffs by Boston, Cleveland or Orlando. That’s probably a best-case scenario, and it’s not all that good, especially when the franchise is locked into this roster for the foreseeable future.

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