A Walk Around The Block – Introduction

Last week, former Hapoel Jerusalem (and Wizards/Spurs) shooting guard Roger Mason Jr. spurned the once-in-a-lifetime chance to create a team consisting of 4 – I repeat, four! – Israeli basketball alumni in Sacramento (Beno Udrih played for Maccabi Tel-Aviv, Pooh Jeter for Hapoel Jerusalem, and obviously, Omri Casspi) for a one year, 1.4 million contract with the New York Knicks. This is obviously terrible news for all of us, and we can only hope that the world will muster the necessary strength to carry on, while Kings GM Geoff Petrie offers a contract to Jeter’s teammate from last year’s Hapoel squad, Leo Lyons (I’m telling you, under the right staff that kid is an NBA player).

Roger’s foolish decision (and the Pistons wasting a roster spot on Tracy McGrady) aside, I think it’s pretty safe to say free agency is over. Sure, some team might still decide it wants Allen Iverson to take shots away from actually productive players, and Delonte West could be a really nice prize for the team smart enough to gamble on him, but by and large, if teams want to improve from here on out, it will have to come from somewhere else – the trade market.

The aftermath of the Summer of 2010 leaves us in an odd predicament: plenty of teams gathered assets – be they cap space, young players, expiring deals or Erick Dampier – to swing a deal for a major free agent. However, with big names expected to be on the move, such as Joe Johnson and Rudy Gay, staying put – and even bigger names deciding to team up instead of spreading out (you probably know them by now) – most asset gatherers were left in the dark. Some of the smarter ones admitted defeat and went with plan C, D or E. The dumber ones grossly overpaid for bad players and are now very sad. And those who could afford to ignored that ever-so-slight tear rolling down their cheek which remembered what could have been, and once again stocked those assets in their large asset containers.

Of course, the great thing about assets is that they can be used in myriad ways.  And short of signing one of the best players in the league in July, none of those ways is more enticing than the trade market. Nothing gets one’s blood rushing faster than the prospect of trading your junk for someone else’s gold. And indeed, the trade market seemingly kick-started once again after a few quiet weeks, with a 4 team deal that sent Trevor Ariza to the Hornets, Darren Collison and James Posey to the Pacers, Troy Murphy to the Nets, and Courtney Lee to the Rockets.

The Rockets get rid of Ariza, who reportedly butted heads with Most Improved Player Aaron Brooks and was quite a luxury tax burden for a strong role player in Lee that should keep the rotation intact; the Pacers finally get a young stud at point guard for the price of a little less cap flexibility, though they have so many expiring contracts that moving Murphy’s expiring deal for Posey’s stinker is more than a good price for Collison; the Nets solve their logjam at the wings for a very solid big man who can stretch the floor for Devin Harris and Brook Lopez while allowing rookie Derrick Favors to develop at his own pace; and the Hornets, while losing a great prospect, ultimately strengthen a weak position (3) for a backup (Collison will never be as good as Chris Paul), get rid of a bad contract (Ariza’s deal is longer than Posey’s and for similar money, but Ariza is way more productive) and show their franchise player they are willing to spend. While Ariza. Really, the Hornets are the only team here that may not be on the winning side of this trade – depending on how you feel about Trevor (I’m of the camp that believes he’ll be much better in New Orleans, with a star point guard, than in Houston, where he tried to force himself on the offense) – and even there, one feels bad not because they didn’t improve, but because you feel they could have gotten more for Collison.

Of course, this deal is very very rare, not just in the number of teams it involves (even 3 team deals are hard to come by these days), but in that every team gains something basketball wise. In fact, ESPN’s trade machine, though admittedly faulty, has all four teams coming out evenly (hat tip to @incogneetus69 and anyone who retweeted/posted his screenshot). In today’s NBA, such a scene has become scarcer than a Moochie Norris reference (and yet, just like the 4 team trade, we have one). The salary dump has been gaining so much momentum over the past few years, that it seems almost every trade now falls into that category. Someone unfamiliar with the intricacies of the NBA might confuse “Cap Relief” for the NBA’s most wanted player, despite his unorthodox name.

Looking into the near future, the salary dump trend – despite the aforementioned deal – figures only to pick up speed. With the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement set to expire after the 2010-2011 season, many are anticipating that negotiations between the NBA and the players’ association will  force a lockout, after which the salary cap as we know it may be gone forever. Whether it involves a hard salary cap or a limitation on the length and value of guaranteed contracts, players who are signed to the long term to slightly overpaid contracts may suddenly become toxic albatrosses. With the unknown future lurking so menacingly lurking, one would assume rebuilding teams should have more incentive than any before to sell their goods for pennies on the dollar, not just to clear the deck, but to avoid financial oblivion.

Of course, intros never come without a but. And this particular but brings us back to the crazy summer which, until our 4 team twister, was faintly concluding into August.

Remember that thing about too many teams clearing cap space for too little players? Let’s take a very quick and non-analytical look around the league. The target: expiring contracts, regardless of how likely they are to be traded, trade exceptions, regardless of how likely they are to be used, and any cap space available. The only filter I used is that only expiring contracts/trade exceptions worth more than 1 million dollars were included, since the ones that go lower than that are hard to keep track of (minimum contracts galore) and unlikely to ever be used. Also not included are player options/early termination options (so don’t get all mad when you don’t see Carmelo Anthony here), team options on rookie contracts (Yeah, I think the Bulls will pick up that 4thyear of Derrick Rose for 7 million, thank you very much), and guys like Al Horford and Joakim Noah, whose contracts are expiring only because their extensions have yet to be signed(All numbers from the marvelous Shamsports.com. All cap space numbers are estimations using Shamsports.com, a 58 million cap figure estimate and a calculator. All numbers in millions of dollars):

Atlanta Hawks: Jamal Crawford (10), Maurice Evans (2.5), Josh Childress Trade Exception (3.6)

Boston Celtics: Kendrick Perkins (4.6), Glen Davis (3), Marquis Daniels (2.4)

Charlotte Bobcats: Erick Dampier (13 , can be waived without compensation until the season starts with weird rules along the way), Nazr Mohammed (6.9)

Chicago Bulls: Cap space (4), Kurt Thomas (1.8)

Clevelad Cavaliers: Lebron James Trade Exception (14.5), Cap space (8), Jamario Moon (3), Anthony Parker (2.85)

Dallas Mavericks: Tyson Chandler (12.6), Caron Butler (10.5), DeShawn Stevenson (4.1), J.J. Barea (1.8), Various Trade Exceptions (4.3, 3, 2.9 and 1)

Denver Nuggets: Kenyon Martin (16.5), JR Smith (6.7)

Detroit Pistons: Tayshaun Prince (11), Chris Wilcox (3)

Golden State Warriors: Dan Gadzuric (7.25), Vladimir Radmanovic (6.9), Anthony Morrow Trade Exception (2)

Houston Rockets: Yao Ming (17.7), Shane Battier (7.35), Jared Jefferies (6.9), Trevor Ariza Trade Exception (6, not sure about this one, but Marc Spears reported they got it in the 4-team trade and if you can’t believe Marc you can’t believe anybody), Carl Landry Trade Exception (3)

Indiana Pacers: Mike Dunleavy (10.5), T.J. Ford (8.5), Jeff Foster (6.6), Solomon Jones (1.5), Troy Murphy Trade Exception (4.2, as with Ariza, not sure the Pacers actually recieved this, but @Aykis16 has alerted me that they should, and through my very minimal knowledge of NBA cap rules that makes sense, so we’ll believe him)

L.A. Clippers: Cap space (5), Rasual Butler (2.4), Craig Smith (2.3)

L.A.Lakers: Sasha Vujacic (5.5)

Memphis Grizzlies: Zach Randolph (17.7), Hamed Haddadi (1.6, listed despite being eligible for an extension because I’m not sure he’s good enough to warrant one)

Miami Heat: Nothing, but do they really need assets at this point?

Milwaukee Bucks: Michael Redd (18.3), Carlos Delfino (3.5, next year fully unguaranteed), Ersan Ilyasova (2.3, all but 400K of next year unguaranteed), Francisco Elson Trade Exception (1.7)

Minnesota Timberwolves: Cap space (8), Sebastian Telfair (2.7)

New Jersey Nets: Troy Murphy (12), Cap space (3), (Kris Humphries (3.7), Quinton Ross (1.1)

New Orleans Hornets: Peja Stojakovic (14.25), Darius Songaila (4.8), Various Trade Exceptions (6.2, 2.8, 2, though the last one expires September 9th)

New YorkKnicks: Eddy Curry (11.3), Kelenna Azubuike (3.3)

Oklahoma City Thunder: Nick Collison (6.75), Morris Peterson (6.7), Nenad Krstic (5.5), Royal Ivey (1.5 , next year fully unguaranteed), Cap space (5)

Orlando Magic: Vince Carter (17.5 , all but 4 of next year unguaranteed)

Philadelphia 76ers: Jason Kapono (6.6), Willie Green (4), Samuel Dalembert Trade Exception (2.2)

Phoenix Suns: Jason Richardson (14.4), Grant Hill (3.2), Amar’e Stoudemire Trade Exception (5.7), Alando Tucker Trade Exception (1)

PortlandTraiblazers: Joel Pryzbilla (7.4), Andre Miller (7.3, next year fully unguaranteed)

Sacramento Kings: Samuel Dalembert (13.4), Carl Landry (3), Cap space (14)

San Antonio Spurs: Tony Parker (13.5), Antonio McDyess (4.8, 2.6 of 5.2 next year unguaranteed)

Toronto Raptors: Reggie Evans (5), Marcus Banks (4.85), David Andersen (2.5, all but 150K of next year unguaranteed), Chris Bosh Trade Exception (14.5), Hedo Turkoglu Trade Exception (2.7)

Utah Jazz: Andrei Kirilenko (17.8), C.J. Miles (3.7, next year team option), Ronnie Price (1.4), Various Trade Exceptions (6.5, 2.7, 1.4, and 1.3)

Washington Wizards: Yi Jianlian (4, see Hamed Haddadi), Josh Howard (4), Al Thornton (2.8, see Yi), Nick Young (2.6, see Yi and Al. Yes, the Wizards have a lot of questionable youngsters), Cap space (8)

Well, that was a long list, wasn’t it? Obviously, not all of these are assets – some of the players listed above are highly unlikely to be traded – but this just shows you how many teams have poised themselves for trades. And this doesn’t even include non-financial assets, such as draft picks, talented youngsters, or just good players who are stuck in a crowded rotation. So yes, some teams will be more eager to take on extra salary than others, but given the shot at improving, almost every team in the league has the assets to do it, with plenty of teams having the assets to do it more than once. But no amount of assets – no matter how creative you get with them – can get you anything without a willing partner who possesses a player you crave.

Which begs the question: what players are out there? That’s what we’ll try and determine over the next few articles. “A Walk Around The Block” will take a look at different aspects of the trading block throughout the following weeks, from individual players who seem likely to move, to teams who project to be probable buyers or sellers, be it due to financial status, a shortage/surplus at a certain position, the search after that missing piece to a contender, or their owners mood on Tuesdays. All while keeping in the back of our minds that even though we expect most deals to be money driven, something like the what we saw Wednesday could come out of the blue and clobber us in the head.

So kick back, grab a root beer (nothing but educational yet delicious drinks over here), and enjoy, all while knowing that most of what is written is as likely to happen as the Knicks re-hiring Isiah Thomas.