- Chad Ford, ESPN Senior Writer
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The NBA trading frenzy that normally seizes teams come February could be arriving a little early this season.
Assigned to write a column on who could be traded during this season, I was surprised by the number of teams that seemed "open for business" on the trade front.
Typically, significant trades don't go down in preseason, or the first month of the season. It usually isn't until December, with a month or more of games under everyone's belts, that we start hearing the trade drums.
But this year, from the sound of things, the talk may be coming faster and more furiously than in years past.
Why? Two factors seem to be in play.
First, it was a relatively quiet summer as far as trades go. We saw some fireworks on draft night, but after that for the most part, crickets.
Second, there were a lot of players dangled in the summer who, for a variety of reasons, didn't get traded. Some -- like Zach Randolph and Jamaal Tinsley -- are very difficult to deal. For others, the timing just wasn't right.
But as we head into the season, there are a number of unstable teams that still appear primed and ready to pull the trigger if the right deal comes along.
Here's a look at 10 or so players (in no particular order) who could be on the move before the February trade deadline:
Shawn Marion, Heat
Marion will be a free agent after the season and he's not happy about it. After he brooded in Phoenix because he wasn't feeling the love financially, the Suns moved him to Miami in a deal for Shaquille O'Neal last season. The problem now is that Marion doesn't appear to have a long-term future in Miami. The team is going through a rebuilding process with Dwyane Wade and rookie Michael Beasley as the cornerstones. Marion, who turns 31 at the end of the season and plays the same position as Beasley, doesn't appear to be a great fit.
He has been dangled to the Lakers and Jazz, and more recently the Heat tried to work out something with the Bulls that would have brought them Ben Gordon and others.
If Marion plays well early in the season, his value will go up for contending teams that need defense, rebounding and athleticism. But I'm not sure how much the Heat will actually be able to get for Marion. As talented as he is, I've yet to come across a GM who wants to give him huge dollars next year.
Carlos Boozer, Jazz
Boozer has apparently convinced Utah GM Kevin O'Connor that he has no intention of bolting the Jazz for the Heat (or any other team) next summer when he can opt out of his contract.
But I'm not buying it.
There is just too much chatter around the league about Boozer to ignore. Given that the Cavs likewise had reason to believe that Boozer wouldn't leave them high and dry when they let him out of his contract in 2004, only to watch him turn around and sign a huge deal with the Jazz a few weeks later, how sure can O'Connor be that he won't lose Boozer for nothing?
The Jazz should get some interesting offers for Boozer in the next few months. If O'Connor can net another All-Star in return, he'd probably be wise to take the deal and run. Losing Boozer for nothing next summer would be a devastating blow to the team's ability to compete for the title.
Lamar Odom, Lakers
Odom played the role of scapegoat for angry Lakers fans after L.A. lost to the Celtics in the Finals. He didn't help his cause by showing up at camp out of shape. And he seemed to dig himself an even bigger hole when he criticized Phil Jackson for suggesting Odom might best help the Lakers by coming off the bench this season. In the past few days, Odom has backtracked and said he'd do what was best for the team, but most in the league think it's only a matter of time before the Lakers find a new home for him.
The team spent some time this summer looking at a few deals, but nothing materialized. Look for the Lakers to restart those talks sooner rather than later. Jackson's triangle offense is notoriously hard for recently acquired players to learn, and given Odom's impending free agency, now seems to be the right time to move him.
A Marion-for-Odom swap might make the most sense for both parties involved, though I've heard there's interest in Odom in quite a few cities, including Cleveland, Chicago, New Jersey, New York and Orlando.
Vince Carter, Nets
No one was sure what the Nets were thinking when they gave Carter that huge $66 million contract in the summer of 2007. Carter's game was already in decline, and New Jersey's chances of competing for a title looked slim. By midseason, Jason Kidd was gone. Then Richard Jefferson was shipped off on draft night. Now Carter is the only star left on a once-proud franchise. It's clear the Nets are rebuilding and clearing cap space for the summer of 2010. While Carter could provide a stabilizing force on such a young team, I'm not sure owner Bruce Ratner wants to pay Carter an average of $16 million a year to be a mentor on a lottery team.
The most obvious fit for Vince might be in L.A., as the Lakers are looking for a more traditional small forward, and the Nets would love to make a Carter-for-Odom swap that would clear another huge chunk of salary off their books. But his terrible contract is making the Lakers (and everyone else) think twice. If the Lakers aren't interested, the Clippers might be.
A swap of Carter for Cuttino Mobley and Tim Thomas would help the Nets cut costs and give the Clippers a better shot at being competitive. One way or another, expect Nets president Rod Thorn to work his magic and find a good deal, just as he did when he originally acquired Carter.
Ben Gordon, Bulls
Many scratched their heads this summer when Chicago GM John Paxson didn't trade Kirk Hinrich after drafting Derrick Rose with the No. 1 pick.
Though I haven't always agreed with Paxson, he was thinking clearly on this one. Had he traded Hinrich, free agent Ben Gordon would've been in a much better negotiating position with the Bulls, knowing they wouldn't want to lose their two key backcourt veterans in the same summer.
But Gordon called his bluff and signed his one-year qualifying offer. Now Paxson has a decision to make.
On one hand, the chances of his losing Gordon next season when he hits unrestricted free agency are high. Gordon hasn't been happy with the way the Bulls have negotiated, and that's probably not going to change. On the other hand, Gordon's contract demands have been fairly outrageous. The reason there was no sign-and-trade talk was that no one in the league wanted to pay Gordon what he was asking. So maybe he won't have as many free-agent suitors as he thinks.
But in any case, it's likely he'll want a change of scenery, and the Bulls sound willing to give it to him (though they can't trade him until Jan. 1). If they do, they'll have to get his consent to any trade, but as long as he's sent to a team with cap room and playing time, I doubt he'd object.
Rasheed Wallace, Pistons
A fired-up Joe Dumars promised to make some moves in Detroit after the Pistons lost in the Eastern Conference finals for the third straight year. But, so far, Dumars has found that his collection of team-oriented players can't bring him back the impact player he hungers for (e.g., a young star like Carmelo Anthony).
The Pistons have experience and talent at every position, and they are deeper than ever. They also have a new head coach, Michael Curry, who has the respect of the players. But should things not go well, you can expect the Pistons to dangle Wallace near the trade deadline. For all of his talent, it's difficult to know which Rasheed will show up on game night. With Wallace's contract set to expire at the end of the season, someone might be willing to give Joe D what he's looking for in exchange for some cap relief next year.
David Lee, Knicks
Lee is the most popular player in New York these days. His hustle, athleticism and grittiness have made him a bright spot in the squalor. And with Mike D'Antoni implementing his run-and-gun offense, Lee has looked fantastic in the preseason.
But to keep Lee, who becomes a restricted free agent next summer, the Knicks would have to pay a terrible price, considering that team president Donnie Walsh is trying to clear cap space for the summer of 2010. As the Knicks currently stand, if Walsh signs Lee to a big extension, any hope of having cap space to lure LeBron James goes out the window.
Walsh has tried to move Randolph and/or Eddy Curry instead, but he isn't having any luck. If we get to late January or February and Randolph and Curry are both on the roster, Walsh is going to have to include Lee to sweeten the package. That's a steep price to pay for the mere chance to lure LeBron to New York. But if he caves and pays Lee, the Knicks are basically stuck with the same crappy team until 2011. I don't think Walsh -- or the Knicks' long-suffering fan contingent -- has that much patience.
Raymond Felton, Bobcats
The Bobcats surprised a lot of people when they drafted point guard D.J. Augustin in the lottery. But the Bobcats had been quietly shopping Felton ever since Larry Brown took over as coach.
While neither Augustin nor Felton has taken over this preseason, the word out of Charlotte is that Augustin, sooner or later, is going to be the point guard in Charlotte. With Felton heading into restricted free agency next summer, look for the Bobcats to get something in return while they can. Felton may never be a superstar, but he's a starting point guard, and those aren't always easy to come by.
Darko Milicic, Grizzlies
Quick quiz: Which two players on the Memphis Grizzlies have the highest salaries? If you guessed Antoine Walker and Darko Milicic, you understand Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley's pain. Memphis is in cost-cutting mode, and Milicic makes too much money for a terrible team. GM Chris Wallace appears to think that Marc Gasol is the long-term answer to the hole in the middle, and coach Marc Iavaroni wasn't a huge Darko fan last season.
So, you may be wondering, why would anyone trade for Darko? The answer might surprise you. A number of GMs are still interested in him. No, he's never going to be a star. But he is an excellent shot-blocker and has only two years left on his contract. The Knicks tried to pry him away as part of a Zach Randolph deal. I think you'll see other GMs make a play this fall and winter.
The Portland Seven
The Blazers head into the next summer with the potential to have major cap space, with seven players hitting the free-agent market. But there's a catch.
First, Darius Miles, with Boston this preseason, could mess up Portland's plan. If he plays in 10 games this season, his $9 million salary goes right back on the Blazers' books.
Second, they are going to have to make some difficult choices about a number of their young players. Martell Webster, Channing Frye, Ike Diogu, Sergio Rodriguez and Travis Outlaw can all become free agents, along with veterans Steve Blake and Raef LaFrentz.
Because of NBA collective bargaining rules, each player is assigned a "cap hold" that serves as a salary placeholder for the summer. Because Webster, Frye and Diogu were all drafted in the lottery, their cap holds are very high -- likely higher than their actual salaries will be in their new contracts. The only way for Portland to get rid of those cap hold numbers is to sign those players to contracts during the free agent period or to not make qualifying offers to them.
If Portland chooses to sign them, not only will those players eat into the cap space, but the team, while working out the new contracts, will lose precious time during the early days of July's free-agent frenzy. If the Blazers choose not to make qualifying offers, those players become unrestricted free agents.
So I expect GM Kevin Pritchard to be very proactive (as always) this winter and to move at least a couple of those young players.
Chad Ford covers the NBA for ESPN Insider.
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