- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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Some of the latest chatter from discussions with various front-office executives around the league as we tick toward Thursday's 3 p.m. trading deadline:
• Two of my most plugged-in sources say that the big trade Cleveland is pursuing, as our good friend Brian Windhorst warned us about in his Akron Beacon Journal blog, is a multiplayer exchange that would bring Ben Wallace to the Cavs.
We have not been apprised that any deal is close nor have we received a reliable read on the Bulls' level of interest, but we have been assured that it is being discussed: Wallace and teammates Chris Duhon and Joe Smith heading to Cleveland in exchange for a package headlined by Drew Gooden and Larry Hughes.
It also could be done with several other Cavs in Hughes' place, so we'll have to see if the Bulls simply pass, push for an alternative scenario or accept Hughes and allow Cleveland to proceed to Part 2.
Cleveland's other 11th-hour trade target to hearten LeBron James, after Jason Kidd and Mike Bibby landed elsewhere, is Seattle's Wally Szczerbiak, who holds appeal for LeBron's Cavs as a deadeye shooter and as a college-ball legend in Ohio.
It appears that the Cavs' preference is scoring Wallace first and then trying to add Szczerbiak. But the Cavs' usual obstacle -- they have only three expiring contracts (Ira Newble, Devin Brown and Shannon Brown) totaling not even half of the $13.3 million owed Wally next season to package with Donyell Marshall -- makes a successful play for Wally difficult even if the Wallace stuff doesn't go any farther.
• All signs in the early hours of Thursday morning pointed to Denver not making the much-discussed move for Ron Artest. By Thursday lunchtime, Artest-to-Denver appeared to regain some life. Then as the trade buzzer approached, it appeared that the Nuggets had elected to pass on Artest and might opt for a tweak as small as swapping Von Wafer for Portland's Taurean Green.
The Kings had reached the point by Thursday morning where they were more inclined to move Artest than keep him, given that they're unlikely to re-sign Artest in the summer and could use the final 29 games to get an even better feel for what John Salmons and their three point guards (Beno Udrih, Anthony Johnson and Tyronn Lue) can do.
But Denver spent the day deliberating. Would Artest -- at a cost of Eduardo Najera's expiring contract and one of the league's best bargains in Linas Kleiza -- ensure a playoff spot for the Nuggets in the brutal West and enhance their postseason viability? Or would the inevitable adjustment period working in Artest make it too risky? I sense that even Nuggets coach George Karl, who typically jumps at the talent first and figures he'll sort the rest of later, preferred to pass.
Philadelphia's interest in Artest, meanwhile, has yet to advance past the rumblings stage.
• Denver does have some live talks going with Miami and New Jersey regarding Nene, even though the Brazilian bruiser's return date has not been locked in yet after surgery to remove a testicular tumor in January.
The Heat are known to be looking for a big man in the wake of Shaquille O'Neal's departure, and Nene for Jason Williams' expiring contract would work financially and positionally for the Nuggets, who need payroll relief and a point guard.
• If Indiana trades a big man before Thursday's buzzer, it's far more likely to be Ike Diogu than Jermaine O'Neal. The Pacers know that the prospect of getting back anything appealing for O'Neal is a major long shot given all the uncertainty about his health with two-plus years and nearly $45 million left on his contract. I've been strongly advised to expect JO to play out the rest of the season in Indy.
• There was a strong suggestion Wednesday that the Grizzlies have taken highly coveted sharpshooter Mike Miller off the market completely. The Grizz had been trying to convince teams that they're serious this time when they say that whoever trades for Miller has to take back Brian Cardinal as well, after the same condition was attached to Pau Gasol and didn't prevent the Lakers from stealing Pau anyway. I suppose things could change with so many teams interested in Miller -- Cleveland, Miami and the L.A. Clippers are just a few of them -- but the Grizz apparently believe they won't be offered anything for Miller now that can't be topped closer to the draft.
• The Mavericks know they need a size infusion on the front line behind Erick Dampier after surrendering DeSagana Diop in the Jason Kidd deal, and they're exploring a market that features the likes of Diogu and Minnesota's Michael Doleac. But Dallas would seemingly prefer to wait until after the trading deadline, when the pool of available big men could conceivably get deeper after a few player buyouts. The Mavs have two roster spots open and all of their $5.2 million midlevel exception to use to fill them.
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.
13hSteve Ilardi and Jeremias Engelmann