Trade buzz as deadline approaches
Where is Amare Stoudemire headed?
Who else besides Amare is on the move?
Is Stoudemire still a prime candidate to be traded now that the Phoenix Suns have made a coaching change?
You'll have the definitive answers in four days or less, but the following are the latest dribbles of pertinent chatter from the front-office grapevine to guide you in advance of Thursday's 3 p.m. ET trading deadline.
Two rival executives we spoke with Sunday night immediately wondered whether the Suns' decision to replace Terry Porter with Alvin Gentry would convince Phoenix to "tap the brakes," as one put it, on its Stoudemire talks. If the Suns are going to try to recapture a semblance of what they had under Mike D'Antoni, with the only holdover from D'Antoni's staff taking over, you can understand why Gentry would prefer to have Stoudemire for the rest of the season to help the cause.
The Suns, though, had to eat more than $4 million in guaranteed money by firing Porter barely halfway through his first season, which won't exactly ease owner Robert Sarver's financial concerns at a time when his payroll is nearly $5 million over the luxury-tax line. So Phoenix could well decide to proceed with its plans to trade the 26-year-old, who was last seen starting for the West in the All-Star Game in the Suns' building.
As we await clear signs as to whether Stoudemire indeed remains in play -- which should be forthcoming Monday -- we can confirm that many teams still see Chicago as the most likely trading partner for the Suns.
One source close to the situation maintains that the Suns have a standing offer from the Bulls for Stoudemire that would definitely deliver blossoming forward Tyrus Thomas and Drew Gooden's $7.2 million expiring contract. The Suns like those two pieces. A lot.
Unclear is how much more Chicago would be willing to put into the deal.
Joakim Noah? Thabo Sefalosha? A first-round pick?
The (very) minor trade Detroit has agreed to with the Los Angeles Clippers -- sending Alex Acker to L.A. for nothing more than a future swap of second-round picks -- appealed to the Pistons for obvious reasons. They were $731,868 over the NBA's $71.15 million luxury-tax threshold as of Sunday morning. Shedding Acker's 2008-09 salary of $711,517 almost gets them under the tax line.
The conspiracy theorists among Joe Dumars' front-office peers around the league will inevitably surmise that the Pistons might need the extra roster spot because they're closing in on some sort of Stoudemire deal. The combination of Rasheed Wallace's expiring contract and young forward Amir Johnson would appear to be Detroit's best offer -- and thus not quite in Chicago's class -- but there are a couple well-connected league insiders who believe that Dumars still has hope of winning the Amare Sweepstakes.
The team most capable of satisfying the Suns' desires -- with a combination of cap relief, young talent and a good draft pick -- might actually be Sacramento.
For two reasons:
1. Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley has held firm to his recent pronouncement that the Suns aren't getting the player they lust for: Memphis swingman Rudy Gay.
2. The Kings could move to the top of the list if they were willing to part with rookie forward Jason Thompson, their two biggest expiring contracts (Bobby Jackson and Shelden Williams) and what will almost certainly be a top-five pick in June.
But the Kings aren't willing. Not to part with all that. Not yet, anyway.
Although it has talked with the Suns, Sacramento appears more focused on trying to move center Brad Miller before contemplating anything else, while also continuing to field proposals for in-demand swingman John Salmons.
"We looked at it," Kings co-owner Joe Maloof told ESPN.com when asked about Stoudemire. "Never say never, but right now, no."
Our freshest non-Amare scenario: Sources say Oklahoma City is going after New Orleans center Tyson Chandler, with the Hornets known to be seriously interested in slicing payroll and with the Thunder capable of offering the Hornets two replacement big men with expiring contracts (Joe Smith and Chris Wilcox) as well as one of its five first-round picks in the next two drafts.
You'd like to think that the Hornets would first try to get through this season, see how far they go in the postseason and then shop Chandler closer to the draft if moving him remains their best money-saving option, since trading their interior defensive anchor -- in spite of Chandler's struggles this season -- would force us to reevaluate New Orleans' status as a contender. Yet it remains to be seen whether the Hornets can pass up such a payroll-friendly proposal. Word is he remains very much available if the right deal presents itself.
Another non-Amare trade topic: Sources say that Milwaukee and Portland have actually discussed multiple Richard Jefferson scenarios. It's just not clear how hot they are.
The Blazers are involved in numerous discussions with several teams, so it's difficult to pinpoint the deal they're chasing hardest, but the latest in circulation could furnish Portland with a new small forward and a new point guard: Jefferson and University of Oregon-ex Luke Ridnour in exchange for Travis Outlaw, Sergio Rodriguez and Raef LaFrentz's expiring contract.
Given the future cap space that the Blazers lost in the Darius Miles unretirement saga, sending LaFrentz's contract somewhere between now and Thursday's deadline is considered a virtual lock, since Portland no longer has the forthcoming flexibility to make the free-agent splashes it anticipated.
The situation is fluid, obviously, but the signals are only getting louder that the Cavaliers are far more likely to stick with the team they have than make a major move with Wally Szczerbiak's expiring contract.
"We have had our fair share of discussions but thus far there is nothing really active right now," Ferry told ESPN.com on Sunday. "We are not turning off the phones, but I would be surprised if we did anything at this point."
Tantalizing as it is to imagine what Stoudemire's arrival in Cleveland could do to the championship chase, one source close to the situation was highly pessimistic that a third team could be found to facilitate a deal that would land Amare with the Cavs and Szczerbiak's contract in Phoenix.
And the player Cleveland is believed to want most? He remains unavailable, because the Clippers continue to tell inquiring teams that Marcus Camby (along with rookie guard Eric Gordon) is an untouchable.
Vince Carter is the name that was repeatedly linked with Szczerbiak's contract throughout the first few months of the season, but you certainly don't hear that link anymore.
Carter to San Antonio, meanwhile, is another long shot, but something you might have to monitor this week.
The Spurs indeed have some interest in Vinsanity and have weighed the feasibility of lodging a bid. But, given that they're not breaking up their big three, they'd almost certainly have to trade Roger Mason, Bruce Bowen, Fabricio Oberto and at least one other regular (such as Kurt Thomas or Michael Finley) to make it happen. They'd also have to believe that Carter is an over-the-top piece to take the highly un-Spurs-like step of shaking up their roster so forcefully ... and doing so in-season.
There is reason to believe that the Spurs don't believe Carter meets that prerequisite, judging by Tim Duncan's comments during All-Star Weekend.
"No offense to Vince; obviously he's an excellent player," Duncan said. "We'd love to have him. But to give up most of our team to add one guy, I don't think that's the way you want to go."
"It's a long season and we have a lot of guys who have been here a long time and understand the way we want to play," Duncan said. "Just to insert one new piece and try to teach him in half a season the way we want to play isn't the way that we work."
San Antonio's bigger problem here, even if management thinks the idea is better than Duncan makes it sound, is actually the economics. Carter is scheduled to earn $17.5 million in the 2010-11 season, with $4 million of his $18.3 million guaranteed in 2011-12. Those are huge numbers for the small-market Spurs to swallow.
There are a couple GMs out there who believe that the Trail Blazers will enter (or have entered) the Vince bidding. Dallas, by contrast, continues to say that it won't.
The Nets would want Josh Howard in such a deal and the Mavs, according to club sources, have no intention of making Howard available for a Carter swap.
Dallas insists that it's interested in Carter only if the most valuable trade chip it surrenders is Jerry Stackhouse's virtual expiring contract (which has only $2 million guaranteed in 2009-10). As covered in Thursday night's Daily Dime, one Mavs source went so far as to claim that the Nets would have to include rookie center Brook Lopez to change that stance, which obviously isn't happening.
The Mavs believe that the recent arrival of Darrell Armstrong as an assistant coach -- after Armstrong's influence was badly missed in the locker room in the final, fateful days of Avery Johnson's run as Mavs coach -- gives Howard a confidante on the staff who can help keep him engaged after a rough year-plus for the former All-Star.
The swingman Dallas has actually been chasing, sources say, is Sacramento's Salmons, but the Kings want the Mavs to take back Beno Udrih as well since they don't have a first-round pick to sweeten the deal. But Udrih won't be Dallas-bound with three years and nearly $20 million left on his contract after this season.
Why did Miami consent to completing the long-discussed deal swapping Shawn Marion for Jermaine O'Neal nearly a week before the deadline instead of waiting a few more days to see what happens with Stoudemire?
One source close to the process says that the Heat were informed from the start that they had no shot at completing a direct Amare deal with the Suns because Phoenix did not want to bring back Marion -- even for less than half a season -- after last February's emotional parting and because Phoenix isn't especially high on Beasley, either.
Is Washington's most sought-after player staying in the nation's capital? I received a one-word answer when I checked in with my favorite Beltway insider on whether the Wiz are still resisting interest in Caron Butler: "Absolutely."
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.