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Trading Spaces

Ah, December.  It's the most wonderful time of the year.  Mistletoe.  Decorations.  Shopping... your small forward to the other GMs.

What else is there to do, during the interminable 67 hours between the end of the Heat game and the tip off of the Spurs game, than to talk about trade rumors?  Or to start them, if none of the existing ones are interesting enough.

We've all heard the Maggette rumors.  As he's done so adeptly thus far, MDSr appears to have tried to put out the fire with gasoline by telling Art Thompson III of the OC Register that EVERYONE is on the trading block.  

"As far as we're concerned, there's nobody that's not tradable,'' Dunleavy said. "Anybody can get traded. We're always talking to people, always looking at stuff."
 I guess coach's strategy to deal with Corey's lack of security was to make everyone else feel insecure as well.  Leading parenting experts might disagree with the approach.

OK, let's ignore MDSr's inept attempts to squelch the rumors for a moment, and just examine the situation.  Why do teams make trades?  (1) To increase their chances to win now or (2) To decrease their salary in order to save money and possibly increase their chances to win later.  One of those two things should be motivating every trade, or the Better Business Bureau needs to get involved.

Let's look at each of these situations as regards the Clippers.

How could the Clippers increase their chances to win now?  Well, short of a fire sale, where a team is just getting rid of talent at 50 cents on the dollar, the Clippers would need to address their weaknesses.  In my season preview, I listed two of those:  outside shooting, and the absence of a mega-star scorer.  

If the Clippers could acquire a shooter, with a yearly salary between $3M and $5M for some combination of Zeljko Rebraca and Yaroslav Korolev (attractive trade bait because their contracts are expiring, hereafter referred to as Foreign Dudes with Expiring Contracts, F-DECs for short), they should do it.  If they had to throw in a young player like Ewing, Singleton or Davis to make it work under the cap, or to sweeten the pot for the trading partner, fine.  Rebraca and Singleton for Kyle Korver, I'd do in a heartbeat.  Don't think Philly would do it, but that's the type of deal that makes sense for the Clippers.

By the way, that's another thing the Clippers DON'T have to offer in a trade.  They don't have much in the way of expiring contracts, and they don't have ANY prospects signed long term.  They have second round picks and minimum salary free agents, almost all in the final year of their minimum contracts.  Nobody is interested in that.  There's always Shaun Livingston, but he's coming up on free agency.  The Clippers are not going to part with him lightly, and any team acquiring him would have to pay him or lose him in two years anyway.  They'd have to LOVE him even more than the Clippers for his inclusion to make sense, which is unlikely.

They do have two first round draft picks next year (their own and a conditional pick from Minnesota).  They also have the draft rights to Guillermo Diaz and MBFGC playing in Europe, which could be used to sweeten a deal.

If you start talking about taking on a shooter at more than $6M per year, I'd be very hesitant.  That's higher than the mid-level exception, and LOTS of guys will be available for the mid-level in the off-season.  Also, shooters making that much are probably overpaid because they are shooters.  Would I trade Corey Maggette or Cuttino Mobley for Morris Peterson?  Are you insane?  The are only a few one-for-one trades that work under the cap that I would consider.  I'd consider Mike Miller.  I'm sure MDSr would love to have Shane Battier, but I don't see JVG trading defense for offense.

But really, I don't think that the Clippers are all that interested in acquiring shooters.  If they were, they would have done something in the off-season when Eddie House signed for the vet's minimum.  Besides, Luke Jackson and Casey Jacobsen, among others, are sitting by the phone waiting for a call right now, and the Clippers have a roster spot open.  If you want a guy just to shoot the three, they're out there.

The final approach here would be to acquire a young shooter from a team that's loaded with shooters, for a young guy (Ewing, Singleton, Davis) and/or a draft pick.  Rookie Steve Novak has made 5 of 12 threes in 50 minutes of court time for the Rockets this year.  5 makes would place him third on the Clippers, believe it or not.  I'd love to have that guy sitting at the end of the bench.  Of course Denver got J.R. Smith for 2 second rounders.  Has anybody given up on a high draft pick recently?  How's life for Gerald Green in Boston?

But these are not the blockbuster trades you guys are interested in hearing about, are they, dear readers?

On the surface, the `superstar' trade would make a lot of sense for the Clippers.  It would be risky, messing with team chemistry, but having a go to guy down the stretch of big games (I mean one that's not 38) would be huge.

So, then there's the reality of who's available, and what could the Clippers offer.  They're a little hamstrung in terms of offering value in return.  Only the F-DECs are in the final year of their contracts, and neither of them make enough money to be a significant carrot to a team trying to dump salary and start over.  The $5M helps, but it's not a lot.  Cat's contract has 3 years and $27M left, so to include Cat, the other team would actually have to want him, which is unlikely for a team starting over.  That leaves Corey.

One of the things that makes Corey hard to trade is that his contract is such a bargain.  In a one-on-one trade, you pretty much can't get equal value.  So you have to accept a downgrade, or accept draft picks, or put him in a package.

So who's available?  Kevin Garnett, and every max player on every Eastern Conference team, especially Paul Pierce, Allen Iverson and pariahs like Webber, Marbury and Francis.

Forget KG.  He's not the superstar the Clippers need.  He is the unselfish, all-around monster that they already have in Elton Brand.  KG to the Clippers makes zero sense.

A package featuring Corey and the F-DECs adds up to $12M in salary.  That's Joe Johnson, Michael Redd money.  But it's not Paul Pierce, Vince Carter, Allen Iverson money.

Atlanta is NOT trading Joe Johnson, not when he's having an all-star year, and the team is currently sitting on a playoff spot (not saying a lot in the East, I realize, but still).  Small market Milwaukee, at 6-11, might be interested in blowing up their team, but certainly not yet.  I would say it will be interesting to see what happens there, if the trade deadline approaches and they are still losing.  

To get to the next group, you'd have to package Mobley and Maggette together.  But again, that's just not an attractive package, because both those guys are still around for at least a couple more years.  They're terrific players... but I don't see Boston parting with Pierce or New Jersey parting with Carter for Maggette and Mobley.  Would they do it for Cat and Corey and MBFGC and Diaz and a first round pick?  They might, but I wouldn't offer it if I were Elgin Baylor.

Allen Iverson makes over $18M per year.  A package of Maggette, Cassell and the F-DECs would work under the cap.  Throw in MBFGC and a first round pick, and the Sixers might listen.  This is the only blockbuster I can think of that makes any sense.  AI is signed through 2009, and is still playing unbelievable basketball.  Pairing him with Livingston and Brand would allow him to play shooting guard, and give him two superstar caliber teammates who just happen to be unselfish.  Cassell becomes expendable if AI comes to LA, especially since AI has always played huge minutes and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.  In return, Philly gets salary relief to the tune of $5M next season, and another $14M the season after that, which happens to be the same time as Chris Webber comes off the books.  In other words, they can start over completely, with Sam Dalembert as the only ridiculous contract, by the summer 2008.  In the meantime, they get two seasons of Maggette and Cassell.  Let's face facts, those guys could win the Division THIS YEAR, as bad as the Atlantic is.  Back in LA, a starting lineup of Kaman, Brand, Mobley, AI and Livingston, with Ross, Thomas, Singleton and Ewing on the bench, would immediately become arguably the most talented team in the NBA.

It would be a huge gamble.  It would also make it almost impossible to re-sign Livingston and still avoid the luxury tax, since Cassell's expiring contract was going to pay a big part of Shaun's extension.  In other words, it would be an expensive gamble calculated to win a championship by 2009.  If you don't succeed, you have to let Iverson walk, make a decision about Brand, and re-build around Kaman and Livingston.

The one trade asset we haven't discussed is Brand himself.  Elton Brand is that rather rare animal, the max contract player who is worth the money.  Those guys are only traded away from teams who are trying to re-build.  That's not the Clippers.  EB's not going anywhere anytime soon.

So there you have it: the trade world according to ClipperSteve.  As MDSr pointed out, anything is possible.  We could see anything from a minor move for a shooter, all the way up to a blockbuster for a superstar.  But I expect to see Corey Maggette in a different uniform on or before the trade deadline.  It's just far too clear that the coach doesn't like him, and other teams are going to continue to fish for him, until the Clippers bite.