February 18, 2009 at 1:00 am

Chris McCosky: NBA

Money matters in NBA trade talks

Teams are more concerned with clearing salary-cap space than acquiring key players.

Vince Carter might not be a Net after Thursday's trade deadline. His name has come up in trade rumors involving the Spurs and the Rockets. (Bill Kostroun/Associated Press)

The NBA, like the rest of the country, is in a severe belt-tightening mode, which is why nobody should expect a flurry of major deals before the trade deadline Thursday.

Commissioner David Stern threw a bucket of ice water on any trading frenzy during All-Star Weekend when he predicted that for the first time, the salary cap and luxury tax threshold would be decreasing the next couple years.

That means salaries are going to come down. That means players who thought they were going to break the bank as free agents the next couple summers might have to lower their expectations, or even consider signing extensions with their current teams.

And that means more than ever, financial concerns are going to motivate trades and non-trades more than basketball needs.

How does that impact this trade deadline? You have a lot of sellers and not too many buyers. There are a lot of teams looking to trade off big contracts but very few teams looking to take back contracts that extend past 2010.

A team like New Orleans, a cash-strapped contender, traded their best big man in Tyson Chandler for two players with expiring contracts (Chris Wilcox and Joe Smith) Tuesday. Does it make them better? No, but it saves them money. Chandler will make $25.5 million the next two seasons.

Teams such as New Jersey, Milwaukee and Sacramento have serious payroll issues and are trying to shed salary. Thus, you see a lot of chatter about New Jersey wanting to move Vince Carter, Milwaukee wanting to move Richard Jefferson and Sacramento wanting to move, well, just about anybody.

But Carter has two years and $33 million left on his deal. Jefferson has three years and $29 million. Those players are too talented and important to give away, yet are too expensive for most teams.

That said, there are some intriguing scenarios, especially for Carter.

One involves the Rockets, who would send Ron Artest (expiring contract), Carl Landry and Luther Head to the Nets for Carter and Josh Boone.

Another involves the Spurs, who would send a boatload of players for Carter. One rumored package includes Roger Mason, George Hill, Bruce Bowen and Fabricio Oberto.

That's a lot of players, more than the Nets could accommodate. But one reason the Spurs can be in the conversation is Tim Duncan.

In 2007, when Duncan signed an extension, he structured it so the Spurs could have some flexibility in the summer of 2010. He gave back about $3.3 million.

Carter would make $17.5 million in 2010-11. As reported by the San Antonio Express-News, Carter, Duncan and Tony Parker would be on the books for about $50 million that year. That would leave them enough room to re-sign Manu Ginobili, whose contract is up after next season. That's the kind of flexibility and proactive thinking every franchise aspires to right now.

Does that mean there won't be any trades made before Thursday?

No. Just not as many blockbuster types as you might have hoped for.

Slam dunks

The Suns have pulled back on their efforts to move Amare Stoudemire .

With interim coach Alvin Gentry reinstating the Suns' run-and-gun offense, it makes no sense to move him. The Suns probably would rather move Shaquille O'Neal , but that will be difficult.

... The Cavaliers have made a push for Jefferson, offering Wally Szczerbiak 's expiring $13 million contract.

... Sam Cassell , traded by the Celtics to the Kings on Tuesday, is expected to be waived. You wonder if the Magic might be first in line to sign him once he clears.

You can reach Chris McCosky at chris.mccosky@detnews.com">chris.mccosky@detnews.com.

Money to play with

One of the best trade chips in the NBA is an expiring contract. Here are the most lucrative expiring contracts on the market:

Player Team Contract
Allen IversonDetroit$21.8 million
Jason KiddDallas$21.3 million
Stephon MarburyNew York$20.8 million
Rasheed WallaceDetroit$13.7 million
Wally SzczerbiakCleveland$13 million
Raef LaFrentzPortland$12.7 million
Drew GoodenChicago$7.2 million
Chris WilcoxOklahoma City$6.75 million

Chris' top five

  • 1. L.A. Lakers: Front court is still thin without Andrew Bynum.
  • 2. Boston: Schedule-wise, should be smooth sailing for the Celtics.
  • 3. Cleveland: I still don't see a championship in their future.
  • 4. San Antonio: Surprised by their interest in Vince Carter.
  • 5. Orlando: Seriously, they aren't going after a point guard?

  • Chris' bottom five

  • 26. Minnesota: Has Kevin McHale secured the coaching job?
  • 27. Memphis: Surprise! This team is showing signs of a pulse.
  • 28. L.A. Clippers: Call it the curse of Elgin Baylor.
  • 29. Sacramento: Losing games and money at brisk pace.
  • 30. Washington: Trading Caron Butler would be a mistake.

  • Front runners

    The league's stat leaders heading down the home stretch:

    Player Team Pts.
    LeBron JamesCleveland28.5
    Dwyane WadeMiami28.3
    Kobe BryantL.A. Lakers27.7
    Player Team Reb.
    Dwight HowardOrlando14.1
    Marcus CambyL.A. Clippers12.7
    David LeeNew York11.8
    Player Team Ast.
    Chris PaulNew Orleans10.8
    Deron WilliamsUtah10.0
    Steve NashPhoenix9.8

    Allen Iverson's contract comes off the books for the Pistons. (Clarence Tabb, Jr./The Detroit News)
    "I just have to apologoze to everybody. It's a tough time for me. ...