- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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The NBA trading deadline, as of Thursday, is exactly two weeks away.
Which makes this an ideal time to pass along five fresh dribbles of trade chatter from discussions with team officials and player agents plugged into the front-office grapevine:
1. Can we really expect an Amare Stoudemire trade in the next two weeks?
Sources say it'll happen in-season only if the Suns can find a deal that delivers a mixture of top young talent and payroll relief. Which won't be easy.
Two examples (stress examples) of what we're talking about: Stoudemire to Portland for Travis Outlaw, Jerryd Bayless, draft considerations and Raef LaFrentz's expiring contract is the first, based on the assumption that the Blazers will not be surrendering LaMarcus Aldridge even for Stoudemire, followed by Stoudemire to Chicago for Joakim Noah, Tyrus Thomas, draft considerations and Drew Gooden's expiring contract.
We repeat: These are not known to be active trade discussions. Although things could certainly change as the deadline gets closer, sources with knowledge of the Blazers' thinking and the Bulls' thinking maintain that (A) Portland has been unwilling to include Bayless in any proposed deal this season and that (B) Chicago is growing increasingly reluctant to part with its best youngsters after some promising play since team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf's recent blast that the Bulls' first half was "a disaster."
Yet the Suns' phones figure to ring plenty as the deadline draws near, with Phoenix expected to consider any deal that doesn't involve Steve Nash as long as its roster and payroll objectives are met. The Suns have made it quite clear that Nash is not available, as slammed home by Ric Bucher in the latest edition of ESPN The Magazine, but no longer does Stoudemire have the same long-held status, reflecting the depths of the organization's frustration with the team's downward spiral since last season's humbling first-round exit to San Antonio.
Last February's blockbuster deal for Shaquille O'Neal -- made in part because of the Suns' long-standing struggles to placate both Stoudemire and Marion -- has led to new tensions in the locker room after the promising signs seen late last season when Phoenix went on a 15-5 run before facing the Spurs in the playoffs and losing a heartbreaking Game 1 in double overtime. Finding room in the offense this season for both O'Neal and Stoudemire has proved tougher than any of the Suns' old challenges with the defense and versatility Marion used to give them having been subtracted.
Another big change is Stoudemire's standing locally. The Suns used to presume that their fans would revolt if the 26-year-old -- who has made arguably the most convincing return from the dreaded microfracture knee surgery that this league has ever seen -- was traded away. That's no longer the case. Fan frustration with Stoudemire is tangible in Phoenix for the first time.
With the Suns skeptical that they can move O'Neal in spite of a resurgence that has earned the 36-year-old a spot in the All-Star Game to be played in Phoenix next weekend, they are seriously exploring the possibility of embarking on a significant shakeup by trading away Stoudemire. And it's believed that Stoudemire is not opposed to going elsewhere -- somewhere he can be the clear-cut face of the franchise -- even though sources close to the All-Star power forward say that he has not asked to be moved.
2. A deal for Toronto's Jermaine O'Neal remains readily available to the Miami Heat. The Sacramento Kings likewise would still love to send Brad Miller to Miami for Shawn Marion as long as they don't have to take back Marcus Banks, too.
And word comes now that another matter for Miami to consider is the prospect of sending Marion to New Orleans for a package headlined by Tyson Chandler.
There have been no firm indications that such a swap is imminent, but it's a scenario mentioned more than once in the past week. And that's probably because acquiring Chandler would be consistent with Pat Riley's well-known preference to bring back proven size if he parts with Marion's $17.8 million expiring contract before the deadline.
The Heat, however, are just as determined not to take back contracts that extend past the 2009-10 season, which would seem to rule this out as a possibility, given that Chandler has a $13.2 million player option for 2010-11 that he is certain to exercise.
Is Chandler good enough for Riley to bend his 2010 policy? Would he sufficiently fill Miami's void inside and give Dwyane Wade more reason to re-sign with the Heat in the summer of 2010? Debatable.
There are cons for the Hornets, as well. Can they really part with a big man of Chandler's ability, given how little they have behind Chandler and David West, for a player who could leave them in free agency this summer?
Yet sources close to the situation refuse to rule out Chandler's departure. Chris Paul and West, sources say, are the Hornets' only two untouchables.
Chandler is an elite defensive force at his best, but his dip in performance this season -- which began before the 26-year-old's recent ankle problem -- is undeniable. Factor in New Orleans' own well-known desire to join the clutch of teams trying to slash payroll and its long-standing interest in acquiring an athletic wing man to partner with Paul and West, and you can see why Marion's name comes up.
Miami, meanwhile, continues to pursue Dallas' Josh Howard, in spite of Mark Cuban's insistence that the Mavs won't do a Howard-for-Marion trade.
3. I've heard multiple rumblings in the past month that Washington has made rugged forward Caron Butler available. But our research disputes that.
Teams are certainly inquiring about Butler, but sources with knowledge of the Wizards' thinking insist that it's a misstatement to say that they're shopping him.
You'd figure that a team mired at 10-39 would consider moving anyone on its roster. The Wiz, though, are telling teams that they'd expect a lot in return for Butler, believing that they're poised for a jump back up the standings by keeping him and adding a high draft pick along with a new coach next season.
Such a stance obviously assumes that Gilbert Arenas can make something close to a full recovery from his three knee surgeries in an 18-month span. The Wiz contend that their situation is not nearly as bleak as it appears looking at their record because they already know that they're going to be adding so much next season, but let's be blunt: How Arenas rebounds is bigger than anything else.
4. Portland is naturally making calls to see what it can fetch with its LaFrentz chip, but it appears that there's a much better chance that Kings swingman John Salmons will wind up with the Blazers -- who have inquired about Salmons -- than that Chicago's Luol Deng will.
Deng is said to be one of Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard's all-time favorites, but sources say Deng's strong play over the past month-plus after a slow start makes him the closest thing to prized rookie Derrick Rose on Chicago's list of untouchables. (It's also true that dealing Deng before the summertime, even if Chicago wanted to, is difficult because of base-year-compensation restrictions.)
It appears that, in the Bulls' view, Noah, Thomas and Kirk Hinrich -- whose presence since returning from a thumb injury has noticeably helped Rose -- are more valuable than they were when the season started. And let's face it: Chicago just isn't a trigger-pulling team, whether that's because of general manager John Paxson's reluctance or Reinsdorf's. Or both.
Trade scenarios involving Deng, Ben Gordon, Hinrich we've been hearing them for years. The Bulls might have the pieces to get into the Stoudemire bidding and would certainly appeal to the Suns as a trading partner because they're in the East, but history says they won't.
5. San Antonio's desire to acquire one more big man (preferably a floor-stretching big man) to counter the Lakers and Boston is no secret.
The surprise stems from the rumbles I've heard about Detroit free-agent-to-be Rasheed Wallace having legit interest in joining the Spurs to team up with his 2005 NBA Finals nemesis Tim Duncan, with 'Sheed chief among the Pistons unsettled by the realization that big changes are undoubtedly coming in that locker room.
Don't see a real trade possibility here -- given that the Pistons are unlikely to take back anything other than expiring contracts for the expiring deals possessed by Wallace and Allen Iverson unless they have a chance to trade for someone like Stoudemire or Chris Bosh -- but it's something to file away for free agency.
Another note for the future on Iverson: Detroit is far more unlikely than likely to find a workable trade home for Iverson after the Pistons' struggles since acquiring A.I. from Denver in the first week of the season, but I've heard multiple executives say there might be a better-than-expected market for the 33-year-old in free agency this summer as long as his demands are not exorbitant.
"There's never been a time where we're all touched by the economy at the same time," said one exec, suggesting that Iverson will appeal to a few teams just because of his ability to sell tickets.
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.
With the NBA trading deadline looming in two weeks, Marc Stein passes along five fresh dribbles of trade chatter from discussions with team officials and player agents plugged into the front-office grapevine.