Commentary

How to change your NBA destiny

In the No Benjamins Association, expect more trades than ever this season

Originally Published: December 23, 2009
By Bill Simmons | ESPN.com

If someone gains weight, he can hide it a little. Grow a beard. Wear baggy sweaters. Whatever. But when an NBA team is struggling financially? It can't hide it. Rasheed Wallace famously loves to say, "Ball don't lie." Neither do the seats. Especially in the lower-level sections between the baskets, the ones that blend into the background of every live telecast. If attendance is sparse enough, the blurry collage of fans, colors and empty seats almost looks like a Monet painting.

[+] EnlargeJermaine O'Neal
Issac Baldizon/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe NBA's big problem this season: Check out all the empty seats behind Jermaine O'Neal.

In Year 2 of the No Benjamins Association, a disturbing number of home games have that Monet feel. Fudged attendance figures have become as commonplace as jokes about Shaq's weight. Two weeks ago, I took my daughter to a Magic-Clippers game that seemed about half full … you know, just like every other Clippers game. The Staples Center has a capacity of 19,000 people and 30,000 pounds of Botox. When I played the "How many people are here?" game with Lenny, a friend in my section, I guessed 10,000, and Lenny guessed 9,500.

The announced crowd that night? 16,750.

Sorry, Clippers. Seat don't lie.

Fortunately, Ken Berger, a CBS Sportsline reporter, obtained attendance figures for the first quarter of the season. Only one ticket-related statistic matters in professional sports: net gate receipts. (The attendance number doesn't matter because it's so easy to manipulate; teams either fib or boost the total by giving tickets away for absurdly low prices, hoping to recoup some of it through concessions and merchandise sales.) According to Berger's information, net gate receipts have dropped 7.4 percent from last season. Eight teams (Philly, Sacramento, Charlotte, Memphis, Minnesota, Milwaukee, Indiana and Atlanta) already reside in the dreaded "We Make Less Than $500,000 Per Game" Club, and that number could swell once noncontenders either gut their teams or start tanking for lottery purposes.

The long-term point: Until the NBA revamps its financial system after the 2010-11 season, we're going to see a handful of teams willingly weaken themselves just to save money. We got a taste with the Shaq/Jefferson trades this past summer, but this will be different. This will feel more like baseball: the "haves" preying on the "have-nots." This year's luxury-tax line is $69.2 million. Next year's line will drop to between $62 million (worst-case scenario) and $65 million (reasonable). What do you do if you own New Orleans, a .500 team that has $73.1 million committed this season and $71.8 million committed next season? Do you just suck it up and lose $12 million in tax money for these next two seasons on top of significant revenue losses? Or do you do something to change your destiny? You know … like …

(Hornets fans are screaming right now. I'm sorry. They have to hear it. They need to know.)

Like giving away David West …

(They're screaming, "No! Don't say it! No!" but it has to be said. I'm sorry.)

Or … (gulp) … Chris Paul?

The short-term point: We're headed for a particularly feverish trading season. Heading into Christmas, I can't remember a longer list of teams that absolutely have to make a move for one of three reasons:

Group A: To save money and/or shed cap space for next season (and the next two to three seasons).
Group B: To get something for a franchise player before he flees in free agency.
Group C: To give away a top-shelf player as a way to shed an unpalatable contract or three.

And we have Group D: Boston, Dallas, Cleveland, Miami, Houston, Portland and the Lakers … or as they're more commonly known, "The Teams That Can't Wait To Take Advantage Of Someone In Group A, B or C." I am including Miami despite its nightly Monet painting; the Heat have $50-plus million in expiring contracts for panic trades in case Dwyane Wade plays the "I don't want to waste another season in my prime, I'm leaving in July for Chicago or New York if you don't get me some help for the 2010 playoffs" card. Which, by the way, should be happening within the next five weeks. There's only so many times you can kick it to Mario Chalmers for a wide-open 3 and watch it clang off the rim.

So where do we stand? Let's figure out the identity of the sellers, along with their payroll situations and free advice from the VP of Common Sense and Picasso of the ESPN Trade Machine. (By the way, both nicknames are mine. I can't have enough nicknames. I'm like Apollo Creed.) All projected 2010-11 payrolls do not have salaries for 2010 draft picks factored in, obviously.

(Important note: I am excluding the Nets, who are being sold right now to Mutant Russian Mark Cuban and won't do anything major before February. I'm also excluding Utah, which jumped the gun on me by shedding cap space in the deal with the Zombie Sonics: Matt Harpring's expiring contract and impressive rookie Eric Maynor for nothing. How dare you jump the gun on my column, Utah! You couldn't have waited a day?)

New York Knicks (Group A)

2009-10 payroll: $83.1 million
Projected 2010-11 payroll: $27.3 million

[+] EnlargeDanilo Gallinari
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty ImagesIf the Knicks want to dump Eddy Curry, they'll probably have to include Danilo Gallinari.

• The VP's Take: The Knicks need to clear $18 million of Eddy Curry/Jared Jeffries contracts before next summer's LeBron Sweepstakes, either by trade or by spiking their Gatorade with heroin. The second move would be a criminal act; the first move could happen only if they threw their past two lottery picks (Danilo Gallinari AND Jordan Hill) into the trade (or trades). They need to carve out $45-48 million in cap space so they can lure LeBron, Chris Bosh and either Wade or Joe Johnson as The Ultimate Big Three. Everything else will take care of itself.

• Mitigating Factor: Knicks GM Donnie Walsh has been offering Al Harrington around for ECs (expiring contracts), then insisting the other team takes Curry or Jeffries as well. Gee, thanks, Donnie! Really, you're throwing one of them in for me free of charge? How nice of you! He's the annoying guy in your fantasy league whose e-mails you finally just start deleting. Donnie, you need to get a little more realistic. And soon.

• The VP's Verdict: Trade! Trade! I am thinking something like this …

Fake Trade 1A: Gallinari, Curry and $3 million to Minnesota for the Mark Blount/Brian Cardinal ECs. Basically, Minnesota would be paying $10 million next year to get Gallinari for 2011, 2012 and 2013. Total financial commitment: $23 million. Isn't a lottery pick and potential 50-40-90 percentage guy worth $23 million over three years (just $9 million for the last two), especially for a team stupidly playing the "We're waiting for Ricky Rubio, so tuck yourself in and enjoy three years of losing and misery!" card? Of course.

Fake Trade No. 1B: Jeffries, Hill and $3 million to Sacramento for Kenny Thomas' EC. Same principle, less money: You just bought a lottery pick for the price of Jeffries' 2010-11 contract ($6.5 million, and by the way, he's a valuable defender). The same offer could work for the Nets (Bobby Simmons), Zombie Sonics (Etan Thomas) and Blazers (Steve Blake/Travis Outlaw). Someone will bite.

Back to the Knicks: Scott Layden and Isiah Thomas did so much damage to that franchise that, really, there's a certain symmetry in their emerging from the 2000s without keeping a single lottery pick thanks to the aforementioned two trades. But if they cleared the decks completely, couldn't they seduce LeBron with the offer of building his own franchise from scratch in America's biggest city -- the metropolis where basketball matters the most, in a market he could potentially own like no New York athlete since Namath, in one of the two cities that would allow him to pursue all the nonbasketball things he wants to pursue -- and put himself on the map for eternity as the guy who saved basketball in New York City? Anyone can win a title. Not anyone can own New York for a few years.

Look, I change my mind on this topic almost every month. I have no idea how it will play out. None. I just know the Knicks have a chance to offer LeBron James something that nobody else has ever been offered in sports history: a blank canvas and unlimited resources for a potential top-10 player of all time who is just hitting his prime to build his own All-Star team. It's unprecedented. If Gallinari and Hill have to be sacrificed to make it happen, you do it. You don't even think twice.

Milwaukee Bucks (Group A)

2009-10 payroll: $68.3 million
Projected 2010-11 payroll: $51.6 million

• VP's Advice: Need a contender to bite on Michael Redd's contract ($35 million remaining through 2011), and if that team is stupid enough to take Dan Gadzuric's contract as well ($14 million through 2011), even better. It's the Brandon Jennings/Andrew Bogut era now. A surprisingly fun one, by the way. Who knew?

• Mitigating Factor: None. Although it would help if Gadzuric showed a pulse for the first time in five years. I wish NBA teams could motivate players the same way I motivate my daughter during the holiday season. Wait, do you want me to tell Santa that you did that? I'm talking to him tomorrow! I'm going to tell him that you did that!

• VP's Verdict: Wait six weeks. If Redd heats up, the Bucks might be able to rope Cleveland into a "Shaq for Redd/Gadzuric" panic trade. Regardless, they're under the tax, and more importantly, people give a crap about basketball in Wisconsin again. Two 2009 lottery picks revived NBA franchises … and neither of the picks was named "Griffin" or "Rubio"? Flabbergasting.

Golden State Warriors (Group A)

2009-10 payroll: $65.9 million
Projected 2010-11 payroll: $52.1 million

• VP's Take: No plan, no identity and no idea what they're doing. All bets are off. They might be dumb enough to use Anthony Randolph (a top-10 talent among the under-25 guys, even if he's a little nuts) or Andris Biedrins to get someone to bite on Corey Maggette's contract ($40 million remaining through 2013). Let's hope not. They should be building around Randolph, Biedrins, Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry and giving them the lion's share of minutes.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Randolph
Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty ImagesOf course, if the Warriors trade Anthony Randolph he'll blossom into a star.

• Mitigating Factor: It wouldn't shock me if they dealt Randolph, Biedrins, Ellis and Curry in the same trade. It also wouldn't shock me if Don Nelson coached a game naked from the waist down, or if their devoted fans organized the first boycott of a professional sports team that actually worked. Can an entire franchise get Tyson Zone status?

(Random note: One of my favorite movies growing up was called "Inside Moves." It's about a lovable bar of cripples and sad sacks in San Francisco. The bartender is a Warriors season-ticket holder who had a promising basketball career derailed by a bum knee. I won't spoil the ending for you, but it's important to note that when this movie was being made, somebody asked, "Who should be the favorite team for the gimp bartender? Wait, I got it … the Warriors!" And this was 1980. At least with the Clippers, you can blame Donald Sterling for their problems. Who do you blame for three-plus decades of Warriors dysfunction? I mean, other than God?)

• VP's Verdict: Don't trade, G-State. But if you do, here's an idea …

Fake Trade No. 2 (three-way): Tracy McGrady's EC to the Knicks; Randolph, Eddy Curry and Cuttino Mobley's EC to Houston; Gallinari to the Warriors. New York wipes Curry off the books. Houston takes a $10 million hit next year for a chance to hit superstar pay dirt with Randolph. Golden State gets something for Randolph before he inadvertently sabotages his trade value for good by crying during all five games of a road trip. And Gallinari realizes his destiny as a NellieBaller. Everyone wins.

(Well, except the Warriors' fans. They always lose. It's just the rule. I have no doubt that Randolph can fail only for Golden State, and I have no doubt that he will come back to haunt them somewhere else. Maybe they're better off just keeping him and continuing to destroy him mentally until he goes Sprewell on someone. Or as Don Nelson calls it, "Plan A.")

Indiana Pacers (Group A)

2009-10 payroll: $66.9 million
Projected 2010-11 payroll: $65.7 million (OVER)

• VP's Take: The Pacers should be a small-market team that pays one big star (in this case, Danny Granger) and a bunch of scrappy role players. Right now, they're in no-man's-land -- destined to win 35 to 42 games a season with no chance of growing into something better than that. Why not just bottom out? Like what David Kahn tried to do in Minnesota, only not as clumsy and caked in double-talk.

• Mitigating Factor: Any "bottoming out" needs to include the team dumping Troy Murphy, Mike Dunleavy and/or T.J. Ford (making $60.3 million combined through 2011). On the Untradable Scale from 1 to Gilbert Arenas, Murphy is a 2, Dunleavy is a 6.5 (because of knee issues) and T.J. Ford is an 8.

• VP's Verdict: Move those Dunleavy/Murphy contracts while they're in uniforms and not street clothes or walking casts. For example …

Fake Trade 3A: Murphy and Dunleavy to Cleveland for Shaq's EC. Love the Murphy fit for Cleveland because he can shoot 3s and rebound; they could play him, Anderson Varejao, LeBron, Delonte West and Mo Williams at crunch time. Anything Dunleavy gives them is a bonus. For Indiana, they can buy out Shaq (saving a couple of million dollars), then save another $23 million next season. And you thought professional basketball couldn't be salvaged in Indiana! Let's celebrate by hitting a local strip club and firing gunshots into the air. What, too soon?

Fake Trade 3b: Murphy, Dunleavy and Travis Diener to Utah for Andrei Kirilenko, Kosta Koufos and Kyle Korver's EC. Admittedly, this trade makes no sense -- I just wanted to break the record for "most white guys in an all-white trade."

Minnesota Timberwolves (Group A)

2009-10 payroll: $64.3 million
Projected 2010-11 payroll: $37.9 million

• VP's Take: The only "seller" not worth discussing -- they have almost $23 million in expiring contracts to play with, but it would be crazy for them to add 2010-11 payroll when they aren't going anywhere and have made it VERY clear that they don't care for two years. Word on the street is that they won't even discuss Rubio trades with other teams. That's amazing. Look, there is no bigger Rubio fan than I. But he's not a sure thing. This isn't like waiting for Larry Bird to finish his 1978-79 Indiana State season … and even worse, it's two seasons and potentially three. If you're a floundering NBA doormat struggling to generate revenue, and you just spent the past 10 years proving to your fan base that it shouldn't have faith in the team's decision-making, can you really play the "Just Be Patient" card?

Being a Wolves fan is like sitting in an airport gate waiting for news on a delayed flight. Do you think we'll take off today? Any word yet? Only it's going to be like that for the next two years. At least.

(You know what would be really funny? Minnesota ending up with the No. 1 pick in the spring. Again, I love Rubio … but John Wall is a sure thing. He's a cross between Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose. You keep Wall over Rubio 100 times out of 100. Watching David Kahn sheepishly shop Rubio's rights a year late would be high comedy. Look, we still love Ricky; this doesn't change how we feel about him. But when you have a chance to add Rudy Fernandez and Nicolas Batum to your team, you have to do it.)

Charlotte Bobcats (Group A)

2009-10 payroll: $67.0 million
Projected 2010-11 payroll: $59.8 million

• VP's Take: I don't mind watching these guys. They play hard, they're well-coached and Gerald Wallace's rebounding binge ranks up there with Kevin Porter's being a four-time assist leader and E.C. Coleman making first-team All-Defense as one of the most random NBA things that's ever happened. If the Bobcats upgraded Boris Diaw ($27 million through 2012), they might even be a mildly frisky Round 1 opponent. On the flip side, they're leading the league in Monets and paying $50.5 million combined through 2011 to Tyson Chandler, DeSagana Diop and Nazr Mohammed … or as they're more commonly known, "50.5 Million That We Should Have Just Set On Fire."

(Important note: Did you know Diop will earn $7.342 million just for the 2012-13 season? I think the Mark Cuban Big Man Scholarship Fund is my favorite NBA charity. The NBA really DOES care.)

• Mitigating Factor: Larry Brown is permanently wired in "short-term right now we gotta fix this and get better!" mode, only they're getting destroyed financially and can only hope to win 37 to 40 games (good enough to make the playoffs in the crappy Eastern Conference, but still).

• VP's Verdict: Go for it this year and tank long-term. For example …

Fake Trade 4A: Diaw, D.J. Augustin and Gerald Henderson to Phoenix for Amar'e Stoudemire and Taylor Griffin (cap throw-in). Charlotte satiates Brown's short-term competitive disorder, gets a 20-point scorer AND gets out of Diaw's deal. If Amar'e leaves after the season, so be it. Phoenix saves $6 million (including the tax), adds two young assets and gets something for Amar'e. One danger: Steve Nash pulls a "BROOKS WAS HERE" in his hotel room when he hears about the trade. Otherwise, I like it.

Fake Trade 4B: Tyson Chandler and Gerald Wallace to the Clippers for Marcus Camby, Al Thornton and the Rasual Butler/Ricky Davis ECs. Camby is a one-year upgrade on Chandler who replaces Wallace's rebounding; Thornton/Butler could replace Wallace's scoring; and the deal saves Charlotte $3 million-plus this year, then another $20 million next year. Again, have you seen their home games? They hosted Detroit on Tuesday, and it looked as if though was "Get Your Own Row Night."

L.A. Clippers (Group A)

2009-10 payroll: $59.7 million
Projected 2010-11 payroll: $39.0 million

• VP's Take: A frontcourt logjam looming with Blake Griffin coming back soon. Can't mess with his minutes. He's a stud. That means trading Chris Kaman (near impossible) or getting something for Marcus Camby (expiring in the summer) while he's healthy. And if the Clippers save money, that's a bonus. Remember, they're owned by the cheapest man alive.

• Mitigating Factor: Mike Dunleavy doesn't see it that way, explaining their decision to keep Camby like this: "When you have a stock that's going up, you don't want to sell it. When it's going down, nobody wants to buy it. So we just want to freeze, do nothing and continue to suck the soul from our fans." Fine, I made the last sentence up. He said the other two, though.

• VP's Verdict: Camby's stock WILL go down. Time to sell. Right now. Today. We even have the perfect suitor: the Trail Blazers, who tragically lost both of their centers in a four-week span. What about …

Fake Trade 5: Camby to Portland for the Outlaw/Blake ECs and the rights to Victor Claver (Portland's 2009 draft first-rounder, currently stashed in Europe). Pretty good haul for the dirt-cheap Clips -- they end up with a $4.5 million profit swing and a highly regarded European for someone who was leaving anyway.

(Important note: If the Clips had a real owner, they'd be shopping Kaman and offering the rights to Minnesota's 2011 pick to get it done, just to clear cap space for LeBron and another big-ticket free agent in the summer. Sadly, Donald Sterling's skills lie in housing discrimination, not owning a basketball team. Too bad.)

Memphis Grizzlies (Group B)

2009-10 payroll: $54.4 million
Projected 2010-11 payroll: $47.4 million

• The VP's Take: Can you have a feel-good season when you're 13-15? Apparently so. As always with the Grizzlies, there's a problem looming: Rudy Gay (playing well) has moved into the deadly Iguodala Zone for nonfranchise players who will get overpaid and, even worse, start believing this makes them franchise players. You don't want to shell out $75 million for Rudy if you're doing everything short of passing a hat around at home games like the Grizzlies. It might make more sense to flip Rudy and dump Marko Jaric's contract ($14.7 million through 2011) in the deal. Repeat: might.

• Mitigating Factor: Chris Wallace is in charge. Open the window, pour a glass of reason and toss it out the window.

• VP's Verdict: I say keep the Gay-Mayo era going through the spring, then hope Rudy gets attached to playing on what has become an immensely fun Grizzlies team. If he isn't feeling it, sign-and-trade him in July. Don't panic now. Do you hear me, Guy Who Traded Pau Gasol Three Weeks Before The 2008 Trade Deadline? DON'T PANIC NOW.

Toronto Raptors (Group B)

2009-10 payroll: $68.2 million
Projected 2010-11 payroll: $47.5 million (not counting Chris Bosh's $17.1 million player option for 2010)

• VP's Take: As I wrote in July, there's nothing more dangerous than a GM worried about his job who dumps the team's long-term interests to protect the short term. Everything Bryan Colangelo did this past summer screamed, "I need to keep my job!!!" Now the Raptors are hamstrung with an overpaid, below-.500 roster that doubles as the worst defensive team of this decade -- seriously, what did they think would happen when Jose Calderon, Hedo Turkoglu and Andrea Bargnani were three of the team's best four guys? -- and Chris Bosh seems like a mortal lock to leave. You can't do the Frank Drebin Memorial "Please disperse, nothing to see here, please disperse" routine. Raptors fans are too smart. They get it.

• Mitigating Factor: By dealing Bosh, Colangelo would be effectively saying, "I made some mistakes, we need to press the RESET button and start over." Translation: "Fire me, I deserve it." Because nobody would ever sabotage his job like that, he probably will keep Bosh, make a smaller trade and pray things turn around. If they don't, the Raptors will get nothing for him. Not fair to the Raptor Truthers. At all.

• VP's Verdict: Bosh doesn't have nearly as much trade value as Chris Paul because he's obviously fleeing in six months. Still, they should be using him to retool and dump the Marcus Banks/Reggie Evans ECs ($9.8 million owed in 2011). A trade such as Bosh, Reggie Evans and Marcus Banks to Houston for T-Mac, Luis Scola, a 2010 first-round pick and $3 million makes a little sense, but Colangelo would never do it. He'd be better off keeping Bosh and making believe he might stay. One scenario DOES make sense though …

• Fake Trade 6: Bosh/Evans/Banks to Dallas for Erick Dampier (team option for 2010-11, making him valuable because he can be used as an EC for a summer trade to a team that would then waive him to chop payroll) and Josh Howard (EC). I like this one because it keeps the Raptors competitive for 2009-10 and again in the summer if they want to flip Dampier. (For instance, they could send him to New York for a Gallinari/Curry package.) And for Dallas … I mean … could you win the title with Dirk, Bosh, Marion, Kidd and Terry as your crunch-time five? I feel like you could. Even with Dirk's hair looking like it does.

And while we're here …

• Fake Trade 7A: Jose Calderon to the Lakers for Adam Morrison (EC), Jordan Farmar and $3 million. Time for Toronto to cut the cord with Calderon (owed $37.5 million through 2013), the league's No. 1 desperately-needs-a-change-of-scenery guy right now. He can't defend anyone, has lost his mojo and plays with zero confidence against the Nashes and Pauls. I don't know what happened to him. (And yes, I know his stats aren't much different than they were in 2007. I just know what I see.) But in L.A.? He could be rejuvenated as a Steve Kerr-type shooter in that system; he'd have shot-blockers to protect him defensively; he'd have Phil Jackson rebuilding his confidence and giving him Gabriel Garcia Marquez books; and he'd get reunited with Team Spain buddy Pau Gasol. Meanwhile, Toronto makes money this year, saves 2011-2012-2013 cash and doesn't lose much with Farmar and Jarrett Jack running the show. Win-win.

• Fake Trade 7B: Calderon to the Celtics for Eddie House (EC), Tony Allen (EC), Glen Davis and $3 million. Celts get the third guard they need; Toronto dumps Calderon's contract, pockets $3 million and gets a useful banger in Big Baby.

(Crap. That's not nearly as good as the Lakers trade. I feel sick. Forget I mentioned this.)

New Orleans Hornets (Group C)

2009-10 payroll: $73.1 million (OVER TAX)
Projected 2010-11 payroll: $71.8 million (OVER TAX)

[+] EnlargeChris Paul
Layne Murdoch/NBAE/Getty ImagesSorry, Hornets fans, but trading Chris Paul may be the team's only way out of financial problems.

• VP's Take: Let's go Hubiespeak for this one. You have Chris Paul, one of the 10 best players in the league. (The other nine: LeBron, Kobe, Dirk, Melo, Nash, Howard, Wade, Brandon Roy and LeBron again. He counts twice.) You owe Peja Stojakovic, Mo Peterson and Darius Songaila $51.8 million combined through 2011; you also owe James Posey $21.5 million through 2012. Throwing in the luxury tax (you're over this season and next season), you're losing eight figures per year to keep Chris Paul on a team that can't win the title, anyway … and you can't do anything to help his supporting cast for at least a year. What if someone made you a "Godfather" offer for Paul and absorbed your bad contracts? What then?

• Mitigating Factor No. 1: Trading CP3 effectively murders basketball in New Orleans UNLESS it's a good enough deal. And even then, it's an attempted murder with a severe loss of blood.

• Mitigating Factor No. 2: They can't use West to solve their tax issues because Paul would immediately demand out. For instance, let's say Houston offered them Shane Battier, $3 million and the Brian Cook/Chuck Hayes ECs for West, Peterson and Ike Diogu's EC. The Hornets would save $3.2 million in salary, $3.2 million in tax money, then earn another $3 million from the extra cash this season. Next season, they'd save another $7 million in salary and $5-7 million in tax money. On top of that, they'd be eligible for tax benefits as an under-the-tax team. Adding everything up, that trade would save them more than $22 million. But what's the collateral damage? Chris Paul says, "Get me out of here." So they couldn't go there unless they were ready to move Paul as well.

• Mitigating Factor No. 3: New Orleans has no way to really improve until the summer of 2011. Won't Paul eventually flee, anyway? What about the persistent rumor that LeBron, Wade, Bosh, Kobe and Paul made a pact in Athens to play together someday, with the first three joining forces in 2010 and the other two coming in 2012? What about the fact that I just made that rumor up and you believed it? Isn't the Internet great?

• VP's Verdict: I'd think about it. But here's what the phrase "Godfather offer" entails …

Fake Trade 8A: Houston trades Aaron Brooks (expires in 2011) with T-Mac, Scola and Brian Cook (all expire in 2010) for Chris Paul and the Peja-Songaila-Posey cap-killing trio. Considering Houston's deep pockets, it would have to do it -- how else could the Rockets acquire a top-10 player? And New Orleans would fall under the tax (saving them about $16-17 million this year, plus another $25-30 million next year) and replace a decent chunk of Paul's production with a Brooks/Darren Collison combo.

Fake Trade 8B: Same trade as above, only with Miami giving up three ECs (Jermaine O'Neal, Mario Chalmers and Dorell Wright) plus Michael Beasley. Not as good a deal as the Houston one. Although the thought of a Wade-Paul backcourt just made me pee on myself.

Fake Trade 8C: Cleveland deals the Shaq/Ilgauskas ECs with Jamario Moon (expiring 2011), J.J. Hickson (ditto) and Jawad Williams/Darnell Jackson (EC throw-ins) for CP3, Emeka Okafor, Peja, Peterson and Songaila. That knocks the Hornets well under this year's tax, gets them out of $26.6 million of Peja-Songaila-Peterson in 2011 AND dumps Okafor's monster deal ($70 million through 2014). Sure, it's the biggest salary dump trade of all time. But shouldn't New Orleans do the Grizzlies routine for a year or two (super-low payroll, rebuild through the draft) rather than losing $25-30 million a year to be a fringe contender these next three years? And if you're Cleveland, don't you have to take a risk like this to keep LeBron?

Here, look. We built you a superteam: Okafor, Chris Paul, Mo Williams, you and Varejao, with Delonte West, Anthony Parker and February Buyout Big Man X coming off the bench. We can win four straight titles with this team. CP3 makes your life easier. Stay here. Just stay.

He'd have to consider it. Right? Great trade. Also, Knicks fans and Hornets fans are now drinking. Heavily. And Cavs fans are doing shots in celebration. You have to love a fake trade that causes three different fan bases to immediately switch to hard alcohol.

Washington Wizards (Group C)

2009-10 payroll: $78.5 million (OVER TAX)
Projected 2010-11 payroll: $53.2 million

• VP's Take: Would anyone like Gilbert Arenas at a steep discount? That's what I thought. (Check the sidebar to the right for my buddy House's sad take.) The way he's played this season, he might have to change his nickname from Agent Zero to The Chalk Outline. That leaves Plan B: packaging Caron Butler ($20.3M through 2011) with Antawn Jamison ($39M through 2012) to lower this year's luxury tax, defray future payroll and go with Arenas and the kids.

• Mitigating Factor: Like Colangelo, embattled Wizards GM Ernie Grunfeld can't hit the Reset button because he'd be effectively resigning with pay. But still. Every Wizards fan is ready to see this team blown up. When I threw the idea at House, he chewed on it a little, then asked, "Do I get a new GM out of it?" (Yes.) "Then please blow it up. I want to build around our 2009 lottery pick that we gave away. I hate being a Wizards fan. Put that in your column."

• VP's Verdict: I'd clean house. What would the Cavs say if Washington offered them Jamison, Butler and Brendan Haywood for Shaq's expiring contract and J.J. Hickson? What would the Heat say if Washington offered them the same trade for Jermaine O'Neal and a 2010 draft first-rounder? My favorite of the possibles …

Fake Trade 9 (three-way): Wizards get Carlos Boozer and Shaq; Utah gets Caron Butler and Mike James' EC; Cavs get Jamison, Haywood and Kyle Korver's EC. Utah drops close to the tax line. Cleveland upgrades two positions for nothing. And Washington remains competitive this season and gets to start over financially in the summer. Just enough to string fans along in case The Chalk Outline rises from the sidewalk.

(By the way, have you noticed all the different ways Cleveland can improve in the next two months? As a Celtics fan, I am getting progressively more terrified as this column keeps going. And I was already scared. Did you see them blow away Phoenix with small ball and LeBron playing power forward the other night? That was the best quarter I've seen any team play this season. As I tweeted that night, Cleveland's small-ball lineup is poop-in-your-pants terrifying. Thank God Mike Brown hasn't noticed.)

Detroit Pistons (Group C)

2009-10 payroll: $58.6 million
Projected 2010-11 payroll: $55.6 million

• VP's Take: A confusing mess of overpaid perimeter guys and underpaid perimeter guys, with a mildly rejuvenated Ben Wallace thrown in, as well as a dude named Jonas Jerebko, the first NBA player whose name could double as a USA Network pilot. And they're losing fistfuls of money at the gate. A prime candidate to shed payroll.

• Mitigating Factor: Joe Dumars is the most perplexing GM in the league. The 2004 title run was amazing. The Darko/Carmelo pick was horrific. Dumping Chauncey Billups then overpaying Rip Hamilton made no sense as a tandem move. Dropping $94 million on two offense-only guys (Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva) was a head-scratcher. And yet, he nails little things, like signing Will Bynum and stealing Jerebko in Round 2. (I'm a fan.) Just a lot going on. I can't figure him out. He is Mr. Hit-or-miss.

• VP's Verdict: Nobody is biting on Hamilton's contract ($49 million through 2013) or Jason Maxiell's deal ($20 million through 2013). That leaves Tayshaun Prince (21.4 million through 2011), who's recovering from a ruptured disc right now. (Enticing!) Still, they could save some cash and chop 2011 money by either doing …

Fake Trade 10: Tayshaun and DaJuan Summers (cap throw-in) to Boston for the Tony Allen/Brian Scalabrine/J.R. Giddens expirings plus Big Baby and $3 million. Imagine the Celts tossing out a defensive quintet of Pierce, Rondo, Prince (if healthy), KG and Perkins? Now that's a championship quintet! Worth the risk, I say.

(Note: I would have swapped Rasheed Wallace for Perkins there, but it's tough to frighten teams defensively when your center has man boobs. Hey Rasheed, when do you plan on getting in shape for the season? It's Christmas. Do we have an ETA yet? February? March? Could you let us know?)

Philadelphia 76ers (Group C)

2009-10 payroll: $64.0 million
Projected 2010-11 Payroll: $65.3 million (OVER TAX)

• VP's Take: No chance of dumping Elton Brand or Sam Dalembert unless they include Andre Iguodala in the deal.

• Mitigating Factor: This is the same front office that (A) spent $85 million on Brand and (B) took two weeks to realize that signing Allen Iverson might boost ticket sales and local interest. Not exactly a bunch of Mensa scholars here.

• VP's Verdict: Shop Iguodala-Brand-Dalembert for expirings. (Their only chance: If Wade threatens to leave unless Miami does something by the deadline, so Miami bites on an Iguodala-Brand-Dalembert for Jermaine O'Neal-Udonis Haslem-Quentin Richardson. Odds of this happening: 10 to 1.) After every team hangs up, call an audible and shop Iguodala and Dalembert as a package. Iguodala isn't worth the franchise max for a bad team, but if he's your second- or third-best player on a contender with deep pockets, it's not the worst thing in the world. He's not making or breaking the Sixers. He doesn't sell tickets. Doesn't that make him expendable? Leading us to …

Fake Trade 11: Philly trades Dalembert, Iguodala and Jason Kapono's EC to Miami for the O'Neal/Richardson/Dorell Wright ECs. Philly ends up with its fifth overpaid has-been frontcourt player this decade (joining Dikembe Mutombo, Chris Webber, Derrick Coleman and Brand in what's becoming a tradition right up there with Easter and Thanksgiving); Quentin Richardson adds another team in his quest to play for all 30; Kapono ends up back in Miami, a nostalgic romp for all 43 Heat fans; and Miami becomes a fringe contender with a Wade-Iguodala-Dalembert-Beasley nucleus. This one makes too much sense.

Sacramento Kings (Group C)

2009-10 payroll: $53.4 million
Projected 2010-11 payroll: $40.7 million

• VP's verdict: In a position of strength, if that's possible: The Kings have a potential superstar in Tyreke Evans, only he's definitely not a point guard … which means he plays the same position as the best guy on their team (Kevin Martin, currently injured). And Martin's favorable contract ($46 million through 2013) gives him real value despite his bad luck with dopey injuries. I'd compare him to Jeff Hornacek in the early '90s -- a very good offensive player who'd be even better on a contender.

• Mitigating Factor: None. After a shaky decade, the Kings are on a red-hot front-office run and T.J. Lavin-ed their past two drafts. I thought Rubio/Evans would haunt them; if anything, it totally invigorated them.

(Important note: Dismissing Evans' potential was my single biggest column-related misfire this decade, and I'm the same guy who thought Orlando was crazy for taking Howard over Okafor. In my draft diary, I wrote the joke, "[Stu] Scott on Evans: 'His nickname is 'Hugo' because he was born during Hurricane Hugo.' That pick was a natural disaster. Literally." The whole debacle mortally wounded my chances to become a GM someday. I'm not gonna lie. Evans has a chance to be a top-10 player someday. Although I still believe I was correct with one thing: In no way, shape or form is he a point guard. You will never sell me on that one.)

• VP's verdict: Package Martin with Kenny Thomas' expiring contract for future assets. Biggest no-brainer of this column. Move now. For example …

Fake Trade 12: Martin/Thomas to Utah for Andrei Kirilenko (expires in 2011), Kyle Korver's EC, $3 million (not a problem because Utah still saves $3.2 million with the difference in salaries, plus another $3.2 million in luxury-tax money) and the rights to New York's unprotected first-round pick in 2010.

(Hold on, we have to wait a few seconds for every Knicks fan to stop shaking his or her head. Just a few more seconds. Hold on. Hold on. Hold on. And … we're good.)

I love this trade. For one thing, a Martin-Deron Williams backcourt would be loads of fun (shades of Utah teaming Hornacek and Stockton back in the day). Utah gets damned close to being under the luxury tax. Sacramento gets a gigantic expiring contract for next season (Kirilenko's $17.8 million), another scrappy, balls-to-the-wall guy (Kirilenko again), an official "this is your team" announcement to Evans AND a lottery ticket for the John Wall Sweepstakes.

Everyone wins. You can't say that too often during Year 2 of the No Benjamins Association.

Bill Simmons is a columnist for ESPN.com. For every Simmons column, as well as podcasts, videos and more, check out Sports Guy's World. His new book, "The Book of Basketball," is now available.

Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) is the editor-in-chief of Grantland and the author of the New York Times no. 1 best-seller The Book of Basketball. For every Simmons column and podcast, log on to Grantland. To send him an e-mail, click here.