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Raptors Prepping For Bosh Trade? Beware the 2009 Trades of 2010 Free Agents

Everybody talks about the free agent class of 2010, but what NBA general managers are thinking about is the pre-emptive trade class of 2009.  Yes, that’s right.  You’re a GM.  You have a max-contract superstar who’s playing coy with you about signing an extension.  You have two choices: wait a year and hope he re-signs or trade him now and make sure you’ve got something in return.  (You can always call him into the office and say “sign now or I’m signing this trade.”)

How many upper-level players have just walked away and left their former team with an empty cupboard?  (OK, the Clippers don’t count.  Everybody wants to leave the Clippers, it would seem.)  Dikembe Mutombo left Denver as a free agent and it took them years to recover.  Orlando certainly took a step backwards when Shaq left them for the Lakers. Lebron James isn’t paired up with Carlos Boozer, because Boozer snuck over to Utah when the Cavaliers took too long re-signing him.  More recently, Golden State shot themselves in the foot when Baron Davis left for the Clippers, in a reversal of the normal Clipper migration.  This sort of thing just doesn’t happen that often.

This leaves three teams in a bit of a quandary right now.  Toronto needs to figure out what’s going on with Chris Bosh.  Cleveland needs to figure out what’s going on with LeBron James.  Miami needs to figure out what’s going on with Dwayne Wade.

Let’s start with Toronto where the first shoe may have dropped.  The Raptors have a history of star players wanting to get out.  Damon Stoudemire (he was big name back then) and Vince Carter were traded when they made it clear they wanted out.  Tracy McGrady, who couldn’t take sharing the spotlight with Vince, walked away as a free agent.  Marcus Camby was also traded, though it isn’t as clear he was looking to be moved.  That’s 3-1 trades to free agents for high profile players in their youth/prime.

Now let’s consider their recent trade with the Philadelphia 76ers: Jason Kapono for Reggie Evans.  On the Sixers side, this is a no-brainer.  If you assume Elton Brand is going to be able to play (never mind the on-going question of whether Brand is trade-bait), your rotation at center and power forward includes Dalembert, Young, Speights and Brand.  And they got to the play-offs without Brand.  Kapono will get more minutes with Sixers than Evans would have, and might even have a chance to start.

But the Raptors, well, how many players do they have that might see minutes at power forward?

  • Chris Bosh
  • Andrea Bargnani
  • Kris Humphries
  • Nathan Jawai
  • Pops Mensah-Bonsu (restricted free agent)
  • Shawn Marion (free agent)

Reggie Evans is clearly the best rebounder and most physical player of the bunch, even if he isn’t a skilled offensive threat.  He’s easily the back-up power forward.  On a running team, you might get away with him at center for short runs.  But you have to ask yourself: was Evans acquired to be a back-up or to be the enforcer next to the less physical Bargnani, whom they seem to want to use at a center?

What could the Raptors want in return for Bosh?  Depending on what happens with Shawn Marion, other than Bargnani, their best remaining player would be Jose Calderon.  Figure they’re looking for help at shooting guard and small forward if Bosh is indeed being shopped.  (And history says this will happen during the season, if not right now.)

Cleveland has a less certain situation.  When it comes to clarifying his position, LeBron James talking to the press is a lot like Ollie North testifying to congress: not much real information comes across.  If LeBron wants a summer of luxury vacations in the guise of being courted as a free agent, all he has to do is say nothing.  Poor Danny Ferry.  As general manager, he has to divine whether LeBron has real intention of re-signing.  If LeBron walks without them getting compensation, after Carlos Boozer’s free agent departure cost Jim Paxson his job, Ferry will not be long for Cleveland.

Let’s say Ferry did want to trade LeBron.  What’s left of the team? Mo Williams is a quality scoring point guard.  Zydrunas Ilguaskas is an under-rated center, but at 34 is on the verge of entering “aging center” territory.  Anderson Varejao, if he can be retained, is a good energy player.  Past that, it’s ticking clock time for the roster.  The Cav’s are predicated on filling in some free agent veterans looking for a ring to plug roster holes around LeBron.  Moreso than Toronto, due to the age of Ilgauskas, you can offer players at multiple positions to get the Cav’s attention.  It isn’t out of the question that cap savings might not be a factor, as well, should they be resigned to LeBron leaving town.  On the other hand, they do have a chance for a title run with the right veterans signing on for one year.  This could be a case of the Cav’s walking up to the craps table, throwing down their entire bank and rolling the dice: a title and maybe LeBron resigns, or maybe they don’t even make the finals and he leaves.

Then you have Miami.  For my money, Wade is the least likely of the “Big Three” 2010 free agents to flee elsewhere.  Miami has aspirations of going after Bosh and/or LeBron, if you believe everything you hear and they can jigger their cap space.  The first thing to consider about the Heat, before you get to the issue of Wade, is the persistent rumor that the aforementioned Carlos Boozer is going to opt out of his contract with the Utah Jazz and sign with the Heat.  Were it not for his injury history, Boozer’s name might be a bit closer to Bosh’s when discussing elite power forwards with some years left on them.  Add Boozer to the existing mix and you have to put Miami up there as a front-runner in the East and there’s even less incentive for Wade to leave.

The Heat, arguably, have the most long term talent on their roster.  While it’s unclear if Michael Beasley is a power forward or a small forward, he improved as the season wore on and has upside.  Udonis Haslem is solid, if not spectacular, as a power forward frequently pressed into center duty.  Mario Chalmers, while you could certainly upgrade, is a decent defender and player with upside at the point.  Jermaine O’Neal, the only regular in the rotation over 30, isn’t the pre-injury player he was when he got that fat contract (which also makes him a 2010 free agent), but he’s decent.  If it ever comes down to trading time, the Heat will need to be tempted by a replacement shooting guard and a significant upgrade at center or point guard.

Trades could happen in the off-season.  Trades could happen after the All-Star break.  Or they might not happen at all.  Then again, imagine the consternation in the offices of the Knicks if all three of their prime targets resign with their teams.

Watch for the trade feelers to start going out as we approach the NBA draft on June 25th.

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