Countdown to the Trade Deadline, DB.com Style

The Mavs enter the NBA trade deadline gauntlet. Who's most likely on the Mavs short list and why? Which teams are most likely to pop up in rumors? How can Caron can be used in a 3-way deal for Melo or others? We give you specifics to keep an eye on in this Mavs Trade Rumor Traffic primer.

For Premium members, this week we are introducing a new must-read feature to help you keep track of all the Mavs' trade rumors and possibilities in one place in the weeks before the NBA's trade deadline.

Mavs' Trade Rumor Traffic will be a continuous-update column. In it, we'll gather the trade-related news, notes, and rumors that we consider to be relevant to the Mavs, and Fish and D-Lord and The 75-Member Staff will also offer our own quick takes on those items as we go.

To lay the groundwork, here's our quick analysis of the trade landscape for the Mavs in Q&A style.

What's the most under-recognized issue that will color trade talks for the Mavs over the next few weeks?

Underline one concept: the upcoming CBA is of real concern for the Mavs. Every idea will be weighed against all the what-if's created by those upcoming negotiations.

(We've seen quotes from Cuban and Donnie that suggest something to the contrary. Those quotes are for public consumption. We're dealing with in-house realities here.)

We don't mean to imply the Mavs (or anyone else) are expecting a hard cap. Instead, the problem is the unknown. The last time there was a change in the CBA, it brought a much harsher tax and created incentives that compelled the Mavs to pay $50 million to Michael Finley while watching him go play with the rival Spurs. This time we could see lower salary-cap limits and harsher luxury-tax penalties, the elimination of Bird rights or various other cap exceptions (like the MLE) and so on. Or, we could see something that looks almost exactly like what we have now. No one knows.

As a result, the Mavs will probably have high demands for any deal that ramps up their future payroll and might make it tough for them to cope with whatever they are handed in the new CBA. Look for an opportunistic approach, rather than a blind "ignore the costs" aggressiveness, balanced by a willingness to take a risk on any deal where they feel the reward might significantly improve their chance to win a title.

The Mavs aren't alone in this concern over the new CBA's uncertainties. It's league-wide.

What do the Mavs need to target in trade talks?

The Mavs depth chart (not starting lineup) currently looks like this:

C – Chandler, Haywood, Mahinmi

PF – Nowitzki, (Marion), (Cardinal), (Mahinmi), (Stojakovic)

SF – Marion, Cardinal, Stojakovic, (Stevenson), Butler

SG – Stevenson, Terry, Beaubois, (Jones)

PG – Kidd, Barea, Jones, (Beaubois)

It's easy to see that there's a glaring need for better depth at forward. Coping with the loss of Butler has presented problems. Cardinal provides respectable veteran minutes and Peja might add even more once healthy, but neither is a sure thing to be a playoff factor. Stevenson is undersized when playing there, and using him with that handicap has seemed to lessen his freshness and effectiveness when he is back at SG.

Here's Fish getting DeShawn's own thoughts on the matter:



He's a good soldier. But we insist it's less than ideal. And we caution that even one more injury at forward would make things quite challenging.

If everything went just right, the Mavs might have enough. Dirk & Marion, backed by minutes from Cardinal and Peja, theoretically can provide enough quality forward minutes between the four of them, with Stevenson staying at SG. But that's risky.

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Another area that I believe needs addressing is backup point guard. JJ Barea is a try-hard guy who clearly provides a spark at times, and is well-liked by coaches and teammates alike. But his lack of size and length always will create issues on defense, and he's often overused because of the lack of viable alternatives at PG. Jason Kidd is not young and needs to be fresh for the playoffs, so Carlisle has been forced each game to choose between the lesser of two evils: too much Kidd (eroding the team's playoff chances), or too much Barea (reducing the team's chances for a win). Some games the play from Barea is good enough to do the trick, but far too often it's a tightrope to walk. And if either was injured?

Presumably the original plan was to fill some of those minutes with play by injured youngster Roddy Beaubois. But is that still viable? Can he be depended on, given the track record of his recuperation? Even if he's ready soon, is it going to be too late for Kidd to be fresh when the playoffs arrive?

Unless there's significant progress on the Roddy B front in a week or so, we think another playable PG, who can reduce the dependence on BOTH Kidd and Barea, should be high on the priority list.

The other area of need – and the one that needs to be overlaid on the positional needs – is a need for added offense. Indeed, this is part of the reason the Mavs keep overusing Barea – he adds some offensive spark. Any changes need to address this need somehow.

So if it's a need at PF/SF, at backup PG, and on offense, which trade targets do you prefer?

Our solutions to those needs above? If I'm Donnie Nelson, Carmelo Anthony in a Mavs uniform with a long-term extension would be the Holy Grail of trades, because he'd solve multiple needs all by himself. Unfortunately the Mavs' chances at landing him still trail those of several other teams as Denver prefers to look elsewhere so far. But he's unlikely to go anywhere until the very last minute, so there's still plenty of time to make a run.

If not Melo? I'd look at Nene, who might want out of Denver if Melo goes, and would make sense in a C/PF rotation that also included Chandler and Dirk. Kevin Martin piques my interest because he's so skilled offensively, yet so one-dimensional and playing on a going-nowhere team – it seems like the perfect launching pad for a move to a contender that will allow Houston to jettison salary and amass assets for the future. And I still like a move for Ramon Sessions, who impresses me as the right mix of backup PG, scoring spark, and potential availability that could complement the Mavs situation.

Are any of those easily gettable at a price that would interest the Mavs? Here's hoping.

That's the wish list - but what are the Mavs most likely to do?

Unfortunately, I can definitely envision the Mavs rolling the dice on health at forward, hoping to get by with Cardinal and Peja as the backups that allow Dirk and Marion to get rested. I can see them hoping Roddy B and Peja get healthy and provide plenty of scoring punch to take the team to the next level on offense. And I can see them designating Roddy as the solution to reduce the dependence on both Kidd and Barea.

In other words, doing nothing.

Would that work, if all those things happened just right? Yep. Is there a strong chance that all those things will fall right into place? That's way too many "if's'' for me – altogether it becomes a huge gamble that all falls apart with a single injury almost anywhere.

But while it's taking a lot of risk on this season, it's a low-risk plan financially. Because of that, in light of the uncertainty in the CBA ahead, my sense is that they are looking for any glimmer of promise that will allow them to take that direction.

My big issue is this: with the emergence of Chandler as a major force alongside Dirk, and Marion/Kidd/Jet there to complement them, is this the season you want to risk to save a few dollars? Opportunity doesn't sit in front of you as often as you think it will … if we look back, the 2006 Finals ended with the Mavs convinced they were poised for lots of return trips to get past that final hurdle in the next few seasons.

If Denver invites the Mavs to trade talks for Melo or Nene, what could be the key that unlocks that opportunity for the Mavs to land one or the other? And how does that relate to the four teams most likely to be mentioned in multiple trade rumors near the deadline?

To get into the mix with Denver, and perhaps with any other big deadline deal, the Mavs (and other teams) will probably get very cozy with Sacramento, Minnesota, Cleveland, and Toronto. Look for each of those teams to be included in numerous (and perhaps seemingly odd) trade rumors in the next few weeks.

Why? Because each of those teams has the ability to absorb a massive amount of salary in a trade without sending any back, and the quirks of the NBA trade rules allow them to enter a trade as a 3rd party merely to absorb salary (at a price, of course). Sacramento and Minnesota are so far under the cap that they can take 13M-ish in salary without sending any back, and Cleveland and Toronto have trade exceptions allowing them to take over 14M in salary with no return.

How would that work in a big trade?

Here's a barebones example of how it could work for the Mavs in a trade with Denver for Melo.

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The Nuggets send Melo to Dallas. For the Mavs to accept his $17.15M salary on their payroll, they would be required to send away $13.64M or more in the same trade – to someone. But that someone doesn't have to be Denver, if another team is able and willing to take some or all of the required salary.

So instead of sending those required players with that salary to Denver, they enlist the help of Sacramento in the deal. They send Butler and Jones to the Kings (total $11.67M) along with $3M cash to pay almost all of Caron's remaining salary for the year, and send Beaubois and Mahinmi (total $2.04M) to Denver along with a whole slew of picks.The Mavs have sent away more than the needed $13.64M, but little of it ended up on Denver's payroll.

In that trade, Sacramento's cap number rises for a couple of months, but their budgeted payroll stays about the same since the Mavs would send them $3M cash to pay almost all of Caron's remaining salary (which would be about $3.5M). The Kings gain Jones as the prize for their help, as well as to compensate them for the bit of extra salary they have to pay Butler. If Jones is worth the $3M Dallas paid for that pick, the Kings come out well ahead in the deal.

Meanwhile, Denver picks up two young exciting players on very modest contracts, to help them build for their future (Roddy B and Mahinmi), along with multiple draft picks to get even more help down the road. But more importantly (and a crucial aspect to any deal for Melo, we believe) is the impact on Denver's league-related financials. This deal would instantly reduce their cap by over $15M, allowing them to save about $5M in payroll for the remainder of the season, and it would also reduce their taxable number by the same amount, so much that they would avoid paying any tax whatsoever (currently they are due to pay in excess of $13M), and also allowing them to collect the (expected) $4M-ish share of collected taxes that goes to each non-taxed team. That's $22M total to Denver for doing this deal, along with the young players and picks.

Does that mean Dallas has the edge over other teams in getting Melo?

Nope -- because Dallas isn't the only team that might be able to figure a way to involve one of those four "able to take your salary" teams.

In fact, in our analysis, the recent rumors of Charlotte's desire to trade SF Gerald Wallace to Cleveland (where Cleveland was offered the opportunity to take him by using their TE) was really part of just such a deal. That offer looked to us like a part of an attempt by the ‘Cats to get Melo to Charlotte, with Wallace-to-Cleveland being their unsuccessful version of the Butler-to-the-Kings angle as explained above.

In part because he had a lot more salary left on his contract in future years, Cleveland put a hefty price on taking Wallace, demanding a #1 pick to take him. That demand apparently ended those talks, but it is a good illustration of the type of trade you might soon see featuring one of the four teams we named (Sacramento, Minnesota, Cleveland, and Toronto).

However, there is one advantage the Mavs might have. Butler's contract is expiring, and his remaining salary at the deadline can almost entirely be offset by the inclusion of the max $3M allowed in a trade. With others, as illustrated by the Wallace attempt by Charlotte, the ability to send that contract without some perceived downside to the recipient might not exist, thus making it harder to get one of the four "able-to-take-your-salary" teams to go along with the idea without added compensation. And if a suitor has to send sizable assets to satisfy both Denver and the salary-taking team, it may make them abandon the quest.

What else might the Mavs do with Butler if he's not used to bring a talented player in return?

With Butler out for the season and a free agent in the summer, trading him for his replacement is one option, but it's not the only one.

The obvious alternative would be to simply choose to keep him, with an eye to re-signing him in the summer or trying to net something in a sign-and-trade at that time. And if they can't find a trade that nets someone worth having, this would seem to be the most likely outcome.

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But with the CBA up in the air, leaving no assurance that they could keep him or that snt's would even be possible, there's another avenue they might pursue. They could trade him in some version of the Butler-to-Sacramento (or to one of the four named teams) deal, but with an eye for their own savings rather than to entice someone else to deal In other words, the result would simply be a money-saving deal for Dallas.

The possible return would be enticing from a financial standpoint. By getting him off their payroll in such a fashion, the Mavs would save almost $11M in tax. For example, if the Mavs have already done their dealing and still have the assets, let's say they send Butler, $3M cash to help pay his salary, and this June's #1 pick to the Kings. Such a deal would in essence be like the Mavs selling their #1 pick for $11M, a princely sum for a pick that they could later replace for $3M. For the Kings, it would be like getting a #1 pick for $500K, an incredible bargain for a pick they could sell for $3M. So both teams would win.

The one thing that could give the Mavs pause would be that with such a trade they would lose the advantage of having Bird rights on Butler in this summer's free agency, if they wanted to have him return for future years.

If there is such a thing as Bird rights in the new CBA, of course.

Is aligning a deal with one of those money-saving teams the only promising angle the Mavs have to work a trade?

Nope. For the right player, the Mavs might have a great opportunity to take advantage of some trade exceptions of their own. They have one for $4.3M, another for $3M, and some smaller ones. They can't be combined, but they can be used to acquire players that another team is willing to let go of for the savings.

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Consider Ramon Sessions, whom we previously noted and who is a backup on a going-nowhere Cleveland team. The Cavs got him from Minnesota when they unloaded their problem child Delonte West, and they are having to pay him about $12.5M to be their backup PG for 3 seasons counting this one. On a Mavs team with possibilities, he might make way more sense at that price than on a Cavs team mired in last place. Might the Cavs be interested in simply having the Mavs take his contract off their hands with a TE?

Would the Mavs be willing? It's a lot of money for a backup, but it seems someone like him is badly needed to keep Kidd fresh, keep from overusing Barea, and provide some insurance in the event of injury.

Let's say the Mavs do something unexpected via trade. Is there any way to try to figure out in advance who they might be talking with, before the news breaks?

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We're giving you a feel in this space for what the Mavs are thinking as it happens. (Fish clearly and long ago has nailed Dallas' deep interest in Detroit's Tayshaun Prince and the reasons the Pistons are reluctant to let him go, as just one example.) But if you want a "guess ahead'' on where they are about to have "secret talks'' that could go somewhere, here's where we think you should look.

Keep an eye on Washington, Memphis, Charlotte, Toronto, Indiana, New York, or Philly.

Why? It's based on a too-often overlooked concept: NBA trades come from people. For a trade to happen, it's not from two teams whose assets matched in a trade machine, but rather from two sets of people who worked to help each other.

This means that, everything else being equal, the most likely teams the Mavs will make a trade with in 2011 are the ones they've traded with before, perhaps in 2008, or 2009, or 2010. Same people, working with same people, somehow tend to find more ways to get things done.

Of course, everything isn't always equal. If the Mavs want a Melo or a Nene or a Martin, there's only one place they can get those.

But if they are looking for a small move, to fill a hole here or there? Look to the past. And be smart about it.

The list of "recent Mav trade partners" includes Washington, New Jersey, Memphis, Charlotte, Toronto, and Indiana – and, just as we're theorizing, some of those have done multiple trades with Dallas. But our list is a bit different – because it's about people, not team name. So we added New York (because Indy GM Walsh is now with the Knicks) while keeping Indy on the list (with Bird still there, who was involved in those prior trades, as well as with Carlisle's ties both to Bird and to the Pacers), removed New Jersey (they've replaced almost their whole front office since the Mavs made multiple trades with them), and we've added Philly (where ex-NJ GM Rod Thorn and his primary lieutenant now work).

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We're working on specifics. … Big deals. … small deals. … How the money works. … What Mavs execs, coaches and players are saying to us, in public and in private (see our inside stuff on Rip Hamilton and Corey Maggette, as the tips of the iceberg) … The top Mavs-related trade idea that insiders say won't happen, but makes too much sense not to mention … The team the Mavs seem destined to make a trade with? … A too-complicated, super-mega deal idea with Cleveland that we love … and much, much more. Every day. Maybe even every hour of every day between now and the Feb. 24 NBA trade deadline.

Welcome to Mavs' Trade Rumor Traffic.

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