Early each December, as surely as birds fly south for the winter, juicy trade rumors start flying. And there's a reason it happens that way: on December 15, every player who signed a new contract in the summer becomes eligible to be included in a trade. All those extra trade possibilities provide possible solutions to the NBA's complex trade rules and the various teams' trade needs. Combine the added ammo with the reality that enough of the season has elapsed for teams to get impatient with their players or chances of on-court success, and voila' there's a volatile mix.
All this makes December 15 the unofficial Opening Day of the NBA in-season trade market, a period which extends to the trade deadline (this season, Feb. 24). Early December is the countdown, and NOW the fireworks can commence.
Unless you've been hiding under a rock the last couple of weeks, you're already aware that this year is no different. We've already heard numerous rumors involving talented players like Andre Igoudala and Carmelo Anthony, and more.
WHAT ABOUT THE MAVS?
Should the Mavs even be involved in trade talks? It's a question worth asking.
The typical mid-season trade will send a team backwards before it sends it forward, until the players can get used to playing together. Playoff intensity will expose the lack of experience together, so it's typically Year Two before a new blend can start seeing its potential. Last year's mid-season blockbuster by the Mavs (Gooden and Josh Howard, for Butler and Haywood) looked like an exception with the out-of-the-gate winning streak. But that group ended the season with almost no practice time together under its belt at all, and once the playoffs arrived it became clear that the Mavs didn't have enough familiarity with each other to handle the higher level of difficulty.
This edition is clearly showing a much greater higher potential than recent years. With a real chance looming to make a serious impact in the playoffs, do they mess with success?
We'll get Fish to ask this question directly of Mavs GM Donnie Nelson. But it says here:
Not unless it's a homerun of a move.
To this point, there have only been two star-caliber players thought to be on the market: Andre Igoudala and Carmelo Anthony. If I'm the Mavs, those possibilities are the only ones I'd even think about, unless some other player of that caliber hits the market. Otherwise, the negatives of a trade – its impact on familiarity on the floor and team chemistry - are almost certain to outweigh any positives.
MELO AND THE MAVS
Carmelo Anthony is the prize of the trade market. Period.
While he has flaws, including defensive apathy at times and a troubling tendency to miss 15-or-so games a season, ‘Melo is a rare prize – he's the guy who can carry the scoring load for a team. And just as importantly, he's been a team focal piece (the No. 1 scorer, and the player opponents aim to stop) since his arrival in Denver. He hit the NBA as a 19-year-old who had led his college team to a national title as a freshman, and his presence immediately raised a dreadful Nuggets franchise from the dregs of the league (they had missed the playoffs every year for eight straight before his arrival, and won 17 before drafting him) to a perennial playoff qualifier (they've made the playoffs every year since his arrival).
If the goal is a superstar to pair with Dirk, ‘Melo's the guy. He plays small forward, and he can score inside and outside. Most importantly, he's only 26 – which means he's just entering his prime - and the last two seasons were his best yet.
The most feasible Mav offer is fairly obvious. It would send Caron Butler (who also plays SF, is a multiple time All-Star, and has a team-friendly expiring contract) to fill ‘Melo's place in the Denver lineup and provide the bulk of the needed contract matching for the trade. Then it would add any three of four young talents (Beaubois, Jones, Mahinmi, Ajinca), and with Butler that would satisfy the NBA rules. Add two No. 1 picks, include the option for Denver to take all four kids if they prefer, and it's a sweet deal with no junk.
For Denver, it offers lots of positives. For starters, it would reduce Denver's current payroll (and tax) by $3-to-4 million, and there would be almost no long-term salary commitment for the future, with plenty of opportunity to retain young talents on cheap contracts. With Butler, they would have several ways to get added pluses, first by using him this season to help get the team to the playoffs, with the ability to perhaps sign him to a new deal in the summer, or to offer him in a sign-and-trade to realize different gains.
MELO TRADE ISSUES
But the task of getting Carmelo Anthony in a Dallas uniform raises lots of questions. Let's talk.
Q: Denver acts like they intend to keep him all season, and Mark Cuban said recently that he thinks ‘Melo will stay in Denver all year. Is ‘Melo going to be traded?
A: Look at what Denver is facing. They have offered ‘Melo the maximum extension allowed under NBA rules. The consistent tone of his response: "I'm in no hurry, and next summer I get the chance to make my own choice.'' Most importantly, when summer arrives, the Knicks – presumably ‘Melo's preference – will have enough cap room to make him a max-contract offer, which would leave Denver with nothing. The view from here says that while the Nuggets will do all they can to get ‘Melo to stay, they'll take half a loaf – which requires a trade before the deadline - if they must.
As for Cuban's comments, your guess is as good as mine. He's smart and sees what we see, so on one level his comments make no sense. But he's also privy to the feedback the Mavs might be getting in trying to acquire ‘Melo. Has he gotten feedback that tells him nothing can happen? (Is that the sort of "inside feedback'' that allowed Fish to write his discouraging ‘Melo-to-the-Mavs' story on Tuesday?) We can only conjecture, but my guess is that those comments were made with a purpose of somehow altering the dynamic a bit.
And if he was 100-percent serious and that's his bottom line, I'll take that bet – D-Lord's crystal ball says ‘Melo will be traded by the deadline.
Q: Is Butler plus some kids and picks going to be enough for a player like ‘Melo?
A: Let's make one thing clear. Denver almost certainly won't get full value for ‘Melo from anyone. Trading away a superstar is not a trade that tends to yield equivalent value. But since Denver would only be trading him because they had to, the Mavs quest will be to have the best offer, not an equal-to-‘Melo one.
Q: If the Mavs make the best offer to Denver, will that be enough? Past reports have said that if they do decide to trade him, the Nuggets will only trade him to the Eastern Conference. Cuban and the Mavs – with Fish echoing them – echo the same thing. Are the Mavs in the wrong conference to have a chance at him?
A: Who knows? In the case of a "tie," the Nuggets will obviously pick an Eastern Conference team over one in the West. But if there's a deal from the East that clearly offers less than what the Mavs offer? In that case, despite what we're hearing, I like the Mavs' chances, at least of being involved.
Q: So if the Mavs have to have a better offer than the teams from the East, how is that possible? Can't NY or NJ easily offer more?
A: In large part it depends on ‘Melo. While others may be able to assemble more talent to send to Denver, there's also a very real possibility that they won't – because other teams don't want to give away all their talent for him, and then see him walk-for-nothing to the Knicks from their team rather than from Denver. As long as he is unwilling to sign an extension elsewhere, the offers may be weak. As for NY, they might prefer to make a totally lowball offer, keeping their talent, with the ability to simply sign ‘Melo for free in the summer.
With those possibilities in play, Butler, talented kids, and picks may be far better than anything else offered. That might not be the Denver evaluation. (Note Fish's thoughts on the Mavs' lack of "A-level kids'' and such.) But it is mine.
Q: Is there any reason to think that ‘Melo next summer might be willing to sign anywhere else besides NY, or perhaps across the river in NJ?
A: With the thought that a big part of ‘Melo's future preference will be to play on a team with a good chance of future success, the most convincing argument that other teams have a chance has been based on the Knicks' miserable play the last several years. But that idea is vanishing as Amare Stoudemire's addition now has them winning regularly. Melo can look at the standings and see NY today at 16-9, in a three-way tie for third in the East, in the upper third of the league, and with a better record than Denver …and lust for NY as he wonders how good would they be if they added ‘Melo for nothing.
Q: With the Mavs playing so well, why even bother? Let Butler and Marion play SF, keep the kids and let them grow their games and make an impact. Isn't keeping Roddy B and his brilliance-to-come along with the other youngsters, a better option than trading away the future and maybe even the present?
A: ‘Melo offers several positives that in my book far outweigh the idea of standing pat.
First, this Mavs team has played well overall, but their biggest weakness is a lack of offense. This is true despite the fact that Dirk has been off the charts from a shooting efficiency standpoint. Maybe there's some cause for concern should he sag, or maybe there's some positive thought that the other Mavs may be effective enough offensively to draw defensive attention away from him, but however you slice it, adding ‘Melo would be a gigantic offensive positive.
Second, ‘Melo has been The Guy on his team for years. That's the player you want to add next to Dirk, because the attention each commands will make it easier on the other.
Third, the need for years has been to get a superstar next to Dirk. If it's within the realm of possibility, you gotta do whatever it takes to make it happen, when the chance arises.
Considering all of that, I'd go all out to get ‘Melo to Dallas if he'd want to stay here.
Q: Say Melo refuses to sign any extension as part of a trade. Would the Mavs still make an offer like that? And should they?
A: The Mavs say they'd take him anyway and take their chances. But giving up a huge slice of their asset base for a two-month rental – with some small possibility he might sign and stay longer – is a huge risk. I don't like it, but it may take that kind of gamble to elevate the Mavs up the pecking order.
I don't like the rental risk – but I love the idea of ‘Melo as a Mav. I think it would be a tremendous plus for however long it lasted.
COMING: Part 2 - Igoudala and the Mavs, and an out-of-the-box approach for the Mavs' in Trade Season