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02-07-2003, 04:48 PM
Carpe deadline! Trades that make sense

February 4, 2003

Such is the modern NBA economy that as the Feb. 20 trade deadline approaches, two of the most sought-after pieces of bait are Sixers Mack truck Derrick Coleman and Spurs guard Steve Smith. Coleman is 35 and averaging a career-low 7.8 points. Smith is 33 and shooting a miserable 39.1 percent. But what Smith and Coleman have in common is their treasured expiring contracts -- Smith for nearly $10 million, Coleman for $9 million -- and the attendant salary-cap space.

Cap space will be the theme of the trading season, but there's an interesting undercurrent. In recent seasons, the Lakers seemed so dominant that teams got timid at trade time. Why make a trade when you're not going to win a title anyway? But with the dynasty possibly on hold, many teams are thinking, "carpe deadline."

With all of this in mind, I put myself in charge of every team for a day, looking to make deals that make sense. In just four tidy transactions, I managed the impossible: I got the Bulls in the playoffs, put the Warriors over .500, helped AOL Time Warner's bottom line, introduced the Timberwolves to Round 2, made Seattle's future sunny, put the Spurs in the Finals and -- drum roll, please -- made Gary Payton smile.

Trade 1: The Bulls send Eddy Curry, Lonny Baxter and Dalibor Bagaric to the Clippers for Corey Maggette and Eric Piatkowski.

Maggette would be the versatile scorer and defender opposite Jalen Rose the Bulls need. Maggette is a restricted free agent this summer, and it's likely the Clippers will lose him with nothing to show. Piatkowski also is a free agent this summer and would fill the Bulls' desperate need for perimeter shooting.

As for Curry, he has played better lately, but his development has been rocky. He still lacks shooting range, and defensively, he moves as slowly as a Sunday morning. He grew up and went to high school near Chicago and might develop better away from the comforts of home. With center Michael Olowokandi ducking the Clips this summer, Curry could blossom in L.A. and would allow the Clippers to perpetuate the illusion of developing a young team.

Trade 2: The Grizzlies send Wesley Person and Drew Gooden to the Warriors for Danny Fortson, Mike Dunleavy, Jiri Welsch and a first-round draft pick. Take a deep breath before you read this: The Warriors are close to being a playoff contender. They need a better backup for Antawn Jamison and a deadeye shooter, and Memphis is a perfect dancing partner.

The Grizzlies have three shooting guards--Person, Michael Dickerson and Gordan Giricek--and though Person leads the league in 3-point shooting, he is 31 and does not figure into the team's future. He could help the Warriors. So could Gooden, who is the ideal backup for Jamison because both are small forward/power forward hybrids and have similar styles. Memphis would rather have a more traditional small forward, and that's Dunleavy.

The Warriors would like to move Fortson, and the Grizzlies could use his toughness and muscle on the frontline. But the key for the deal is the draft pick. Unless the Grizzlies win the lottery, they must move their pick to Detroit this year (curse you, Otis Thorpe!). General manager Jerry West's strength is his drafting acumen, but if he has no pick, that's a lot of wasted acumen.

Trade 3: The Hawks send Jason Terry, Alan Henderson and Chris Crawford to the Timberwolves for Terrell Brandon, Felipe Lopez and a first-round draft pick.

The Hawks are in the nothing-for-something business--we give you our expensive talent, you give us cap space. That's why Shareef Abdur-Rahim ($41 million over three years) and Theo Ratliff ($30 million over three years) can be had for, oh, an equipment manager and a season-ticket salesman, as long as their contracts are up soon. Terry makes just $2 million but is a free agent and can be had by a team willing to take the remaining three years and $23 million on Henderson's deal.

Brandon's stock has gone up as speculation that he will retire soon because of a knee injury has grown. If he retires, NBA bylaws specify that his contract be wiped out two years after the injury took place--in Brandon's case, that will be around this time next season. The cap space won't be available until the summer of 2004, but with Crawford (three years, $10 million) and Henderson off the cap, and with parent company AOL Time Warner pressuring the Hawks to cut payroll, the team will have relief in sight. The Timberwolves will have to take on the cap burden to get Terry, the kind of slashing scorer they need.

Trade 4: The Sonics send Gary Payton to the Spurs for Steve Smith, Tony Parker and Speedy Claxton.

The Spurs have the most enviable cap situation in the league, with a chance to build for the future around Tim Duncan and Parker this summer. The Spurs should have money to re-sign Duncan with enough left to make another max offer and a free-agent pitch in the $5 million to $6 million range.

But if opportunity knocks in February, the Spurs should answer. Why build for the future when the future could be now? It's the Duncan-David Robinson swan song, and putting Payton in the backcourt would give this team a legitimate shot at a championship. True, Payton is 34, and Parker is a young point guard with potential, but Payton has not dropped off as he has gotten older. He should have three quality years in him.

As the folks in Orlando and Chicago can tell Spurs fans, big, cap-space rebuilding plans do not always have a happy ending. Besides, it's my little trading world here, and I say, carpe deadline!

Sean Deveney is a staff writer for the Sporting News. Email him at sdeveney@sportingnews.com.

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