|ESPN.com: NBA||[Print without images]|
DENVER NUGGETSThey're the front-runners for a few reasons. 1. They've got two first-round picks in June to offer, potentially giving Philly three firsts in a draft that already has scouts salivating. 2. They've got a small handful of contracts that expire either this season or next season to coincide with Chris Webber's deal playing out in '07-08. 3. They're in the West, which is obviously where Philly would prefer to send A.I. The main obstacles: Denver, according to NBA front-office sources, is determined not to include Marcus Camby in any deal and also remains very reluctant to part with summer steal J.R. Smith. A reversal on Smith would certainly enhance the Nuggets' chances. But the bigger variable is whether the Nuggets and/or Sixers can find a third team to take on Nene's new $60 million deal, after the Brazilian missed all but one game last season with a knee ligament tear. The Sixers, as you can imagine, absolutely will not absorb that contract. Portland with Magloire's expiring contract going to Philly for Nene has been mentioned as that third team, but sources say the Blazers have cooled considerably on joining in if they were ever really open to it. We'll see if that's a permanent stance or if the Blazers are simply holding out for more from the deal. Like a first-round pick and a young asset (like Smith) to keep for themselves.
MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVESYou still hear executives around the league mention the Wolves first or second in spite of their well-chronicled lack of first-round picks to offer for the rest of this decade. But that shouldn't surprise you. Not with Iverson wanting to team with Kevin Garnett, KG wanting it even more and Villanova alumnus Randy Foye who we've said from the start is the player Philly likes most in this whole process potentially headlining the package that comes to the Sixers. The Wolves' issues haven't changed. They don't have that first-round pick to throw in and can't complete a straight swap with Philly unless the Sixers are suddenly willing to take one of the longer Minnesota contracts (Marko Jaric, Troy Hudson, Mark Blount, Mike James) they've consistently refused. Can the Wolves find a third team like Charlotte to absorb one of those four and route an expiring contract back to the Sixers? Would the Wolves, if there is no third team, be willing to throw in their other promising rookie (Craig Smith) with Foye and, say, a $3 million sweetener to compensate for their lack of first-rounders? I certainly would if I were in Kevin McHale's place.
BOSTON CELTICSCouldn't agree more with what my NBA Shootaround colleague Jackie MacMullan wrote in Thursday's Boston Globe. Even if Danny Ainge publicly brands the Celtics' chances as "slim," they will stay in the race at some level until the finish. Boston, you see, is the race participant best equipped to deal directly with Philly if a three- or four-team deal can't be struck with the Bobcats (sorry, I don't believe their current regime will ever spend or do anything proactive) or anyone else. The Sixers, on top of their reluctance to send Iverson to a longtime (and hated) divisional rival, don't want Theo Ratliff's contract because it doesn't expire at season's end. The Celtics, meanwhile, are prepared to send Philly a first-round pick with a good youngster or two but have indicated that they won't part with Al Jefferson and/or Gerald Green. But who's to say one side won't cave? Who knows how much desperation either side (or both) might feel if this drags on another week. Ratliff's deal ($11.7 million this season and next) does expire in June 2008, same as Webber's. So it's not a full-on financial nightmare for Philly to absorb. Then there's the under-pressure Ainge in Boston. Given the obvious odds against finding a third team to take on Ratliff, can anyone say with certainty that the Celts won't relent and give up Jefferson or Green?
MIAMI HEATDo not discount the Heat. I've been convinced. At first glance, it would appear that Pat Riley doesn't have much to offer. But as a longtime Riley watcher reminded me Thursday, that's how it looked when Shaquille O'Neal popped onto the market. And then Miami got Shaq for far less than expected. No matter what you think of Riles, he gets deals done. Besides I'm not sure that the Heat are so far away. James Posey has a nice-sized expiring contract ($6.4 million). Dorell Wright and/or Wayne Simien fit the Sixers' youth requirement. If Philly were willing to take back Jason Williams' contract (which expires when Webber's does), cash and a future first, this could be a match. Udonis Haslem's name is out there, too, but that's too much. Right, Pat? Haslem is too valuable to part with, given where Shaq and Alonzo Mourning are in their careers. If such a trade nudged Miami into luxury-tax territory, furthermore, Iverson becomes an $80 million gamble as opposed to a $40 million risk in the two seasons after this one. But I repeat: Don't write the Heat off. I personally struggle to imagine Iverson and Dwyane Wade in the same backcourt as with A.I. and Kobe Bryant but I'm not in great position to question Riley's wisdom after what happened last May and June. THE FIELD • The Indiana Pacers are still being mentioned because they've shown real interest and because Iverson has reportedly indicated a willingness to play for them. But it's tough to imagine Philly embracing a package featuring Jamaal Tinsley, Marquis Daniels and Stephen Jackson, no matter how good the attached picks are. I'm also not quite sure why the Pacers, as much as I trust in Donnie Walsh, would be ready to gamble on an Iverson-Jermaine O'Neal combo while they're still struggling to recover from those years on the Ron Artest roller coaster. • The Los Angeles Lakers, like Miami, can't be discounted, either. Not after Phil Jackson publicly stated their interest. (Click here for the Wednesday night views of Phil and Kobe Bryant on the matter.) But the Lakers need a third team to complete a deal even more than Miami, since their promising youngster (Andrew Bynum) and most movable contracts (Kwame Brown and Chris Mihm) all come from the same position. Giving up size just became more problematic with Lamar Odom looking at a month or more of injury rehab after suffering a knee sprain. • Also on the Left Coast: Sacramento and Golden State, as covered in Tuesday's opus about no-trade clauses, were informed recently that Iverson doesn't want to play in Northern California any more than he wants to play in North Carolina for the Bobcats. It's not inconceivable, though, that the Kings or Warriors could participate in a multiteam trade that lands Iverson somewhere else. The Clippers, meanwhile, on Wednesday finally completed their negotiations on a contract extension with coach Mike Dunleavy, taking the untouchable Shaun Livingston even farther off the table than he already was. Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.