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Lopsided Trades

If you listened to Kevin Pritchard's podcast interview with John Canzano, you were treated to a lot of KP-speak and a new favorite buzzword: "lopsided trade."

What is a Lopsided Trade

A lopsided trade occurs when at least one of the participating teams is significantly under the salary cap and is therefore allowed to absorb more money in incoming contracts than they send out in outgoing contracts.

In most trades, if you take 3 million dollars in, you must send 3 million dollars (within 25% + $100,000) out.

In a lopsided trade when a team is significantly under the salary cap, the maximum amount of salary you can take in is limited to the amount of salary you send out plus the amount of cap space you have. For example, you can take 10 million dollars in and send 5 million dollars out if you have at least $5 million dollars in cap space to cover the difference. If you had $7 million dollars in cap space, you would only need to send out $3 million dollars to take back the $10 million.

Probably the best recent example of a lopsided trade occurred when Denver traded Marcus Camby (10 million dollar salary per year with 3 years remaining on the deal when they traded him) to the Los Angeles Clippers (who were well under the salary cap) for a conditional second round pick.

Generally, lopsided trades require two conditions:

  • 1. a team that needs to dump salary, either because they are cheap, because they want to get under the luxury tax line or because they want to create cap space to target a free agent in the future. In some cases, this team must also be willing to withstand media criticism and fan anger for making what might appear to be an unfair trade.
  • 2. a team with cap space willing to take on new contract(s) and sacrifice some flexibility.

What Prevents Lopsided Trades

On the surface, those two conditions don't sound super hard to meet but they are more difficult than you might think.

With regard to number 1, all sorts of things can prevent a team from dumping salary: a coach determined to win in the short term even against his organization's long term interests, a small market that prevents an organization from targeting big name free agents, or a general manager who convinces himself to give his current roster one more run.

With regard to number 2, there are a number of things that can prevent teams from taking on salaries in lopsided trades. Most notably, the fact that very few teams are far enough under the salary cap to make it work. Aside from that, the most common impediment is an owner who simply doesn't want to cut the check. And don't forget the General Manager who is afraid to tie up too much of his cap space in a single player or who sees his cap flexibility as a more valuable commodity than an incoming player.

Why a Lopsided Trade Now?

If KP is talking about lopsided trades now, we should be listening. In addition to the draft and free agency (which we've covered and will continue to cover in great depth) trades are a go-to method for improving your roster. Lopsided trades, in particular, can be a great way to add experience or toughness to your roster.

As it happens, the reason KP is talking about lopsided trades now is because the Blazers could fall squarely into the second group listed above (they will potentially have both cap space and a desire to take on new veteran or role players) once this year's salaries clear from their books and the new salary year begins July 9th. And, if we are to believe the news about the economy affecting decisions around the league, more teams than ever could find themselves dumping salary this summer.

Take, for example, Tuesday morning's news regarding the rumored Amir Johnson lopsided trade. As recently as 6 months ago, Johnson was viewed as a key building block for Detroit's future, perhaps second behind only Rodney Stuckey. Not only that, Johnson is an expiring contract and is paid a more than reasonable wage: just 3.67 million next year. Even given all that, it's now rumored that he will be shipped out for next-to-nothing.

Will Dumars actually trade Johnson without getting something back? That remains to be seen and I'm skeptical. But if a player of Johnson's quality, potential and value is being mentioned in a possible lopsided trade, we know there are plenty of other guys up for consideration.

Likely Conditions for a Player to be in a Lopsided Trade for the Blazers

In the past, it has been unusual for an expiring contract to be involved in a trade for cost-cutting purposes. As we all know thanks to Raef LaFrentz, expiring contracts are a valuable commodity and teams that are looking to dump salary (especially those looking to dump salary to chase free agents next summer) are likely to hold these as precious commodities because once they expire they evaporate into cap space. But if the economics are as bad as some think, there might actually be teams looking to dump an expiring contract for an asset that won't count against their payroll, such as future draft picks.

So, if you're looking at prospective lopsided trade targets, there are going to be two groups: the expiring contracts (arguably less likely to move) and the longer-guys, those with 2+ years on their deal (arguably more likely to move).

Given that the Blazers will soon be tying up tons of money in the forms of Roy, Aldridge, Oden, Batum (almost certainly), and Bayless (probably), I'm not sure it's reasonable to expect KP to trade for a player with a super long term contract. Anything longer than 3 years and it's probably got to be a nearly perfect fit for him to be acquired this summer.

Also, given the Blazers philosophy under Pritchard and Penn, a philosophy that has valued flexibility almost as much as it has valued talent, I don't think we'll necessarily see incoming players with big time dollars (think more than $10 million) per year either. The Tyson Chandlers or Jason Richardsons of the world are probably a stretch, at least this summer.

As it stands, most of us can agree that we don't see any roster turnover for the Blazers at the 2 or 5 positions. The 3 seems to be pretty crowded but it's not out of the question that the Blazers add a player there, especially if a trade is involved. For these reasons, this post will look only at 1s, 3s, and 4s.

In terms of contract length, we'll look at both groups mentioned above: expiring contracts and guys with 2 to 3 years remaining on their deals. A reasonable framework to play with on the dollars side is between 3 and 10 million dollars. Remember, we must balance both the benefit for the team trading the player away (it needs to be enough money cleared to make it worth losing the player's on-court abilities) and the benefit for the Blazers receiving the player (a noticeable talent upgrade over current personnel at a reasonable value).

Clearcut franchise type players, such as Jameer Nelson, are not included on these lists, even if their salaries fit the criteria listed above.

Click Through For The Lists!!

-- Ben ( 




Potential Lopsided Trade Players

All names and salary information were pulled from Storyteller's yet to be unveiled 2009-2010 Salaries Spreadsheet.  How lucky am I that he shared his information with me?  Very lucky indeed.  Salaries listed below are rounded and represent the amount to be paid in 2009-2010, not future year salaries, which can change considerably.

I created these lists from scratch so invariably there are bound to be some omissions and, potentially, mistakes. Please advise kindly and gently in the comments. 

Expiring Contracts (probably less likely to be dumped)

This list includes true expiring contracts and contracts with team options for 2010-2011.  It does not include anyone with player options after 2009-2010. Players listed play the 1, 3 or 4 and will make between 3 and 10 million dollars in 2009-2010.

Amir Johnson PF (Pistons) 1 year / 3.67 million
Raja Bell SF (Bobcats) 1 year / 5.25 million
Josh Howard SF (Mavericks) 1 year / 10.89 million  [future team option]
Carl Landry PF (Rockets) 1 year / 3.00 million [future team option]
Luis Scola PF (Rockets) 1 year / 3.28 million
Mike Miller SF (Timberwolves) 1 year / 9.88 million
Antonio Daniels PG (Hornets) 1 year / 6 .60 million
Earl Watson PG ("Thunder") 1 year / 6.60 million
Kenny Thomas SF (Kings) 1 year / 8.78 million
Matt Harpring SF (Jazz) 1 year /6.50 million
Luke Ridnour PG (Bucks) 1 year / 6.50 million 
Chris Duhon PG (Knicks) 1 year / 6.03 million
Rafer Alston PG (Magic) 1 year / 5.25 million
Udonis Haslem PF (Heat) 1 year / 7.10 million 
Speedy Claxton PG (Hawks) 1 year / 5.21 million
Brian Scalabrine PF (Celtics) 1 year / 3.41 million
Tim Thomas PF (Bulls) 1 year / 6.47 million

Postscript on this list from Dave: "There's a loophole scenario (unlikely but possible) that the Blazers could trade away a couple cheap players for a massive expiring contract (potentially even larger than those listed) to retain some flexibility next summer as well."

2-3 Year Deals (probably more likely to be dumped)

This list includes players with guaranteed salaries (or player options) in 2009-2010, 2010-2011 or 2011-2012.  Players listed play the 1, 3 or 4 and will make between 3 and 10 million dollars in 2009-2010.

Kris Humphries PF (Raptors) 2 years / 3.20 million
Boris Diaw PF (Bobcats) 3 years / 9.00 million [includes player option]
Vladimir Radmanovic SF (Bobcats) 2 years / 6.47 million [includes player option] 
Kirk Hinrich PG (Bulls) 3 years / 9.50 million 
John Salmons SF (Bulls) 2 years / 6.43 million [includes player option]
Mike Dunleavy SF (Pacers) 2 years / 9.78 million
Jamaal Tinsley PG (Pacers) 2 years / 7.20 million
Keyon Dooling PG (Nets) 2 years / 3.56 million
Eduardo Najera PF (Nets) 3 years 3.00 million 
Jared Jeffries PF (Knicks) 2 years / 6.47 million [includes player option]
Mickael Pietrus SF (Magic) 3 years / 5.30 million this year [includes player option]
Reggie Evans PF (Sixers) 2 years / 4.96 million this year
Marcus Banks PG (Raptors) 2 years / 4.55 million
TJ Ford PG (Pacers) 2 years / 8.50 million [includes player option]
Caron Butler SF (Wizards) 2 years / 10.03 million 
Jason Terry PG (Mavericks) 3 years / 9.08 million
Shane Battier SF (Rockets) 2 years / 6.86 million
James Posey SF (Hornets) 3 years / 6.03 million
David West PF (Hornets) 3 years / 9.08 million [includes player option]
Nick Collison PF ("Thunder") 2 years / 6.35 million
Leandro Barbosa PG (Suns) 3 years / 6.60 million [includes player option]
Andres Nocioni SF (Kings) 3 years / 7.50 million
C.J. Miles SF (Jazz) 2 years / 3.70 million

One other player with a longer-term deal to consider because of previous trade rumors:

Luol Deng SF (Bulls) 5 years / 10.37 million

Brief Notes on the Lists

What's perhaps most interesting about the names on these lists is how many of them have been traded recently. A lot of these guys are the kind of players that bounce around the league, looking for the right situation, a proper fit that might never materialize. 

Some of the names listed above are obviously much more likely to be traded than others.  This list is meant to be a starting point (similar to the 2009 and 2010 free agents list) rather than a list of players I think the Blazers can acquire for next to nothing.  A lot depends on the teams that are currently paying them and who is looking to cut costs.

For example, I think Caron Butler is the heart and soul of the Wizards and is relatively untouchable; in the unlikely event that he is traded this offseason, he would bring back solid value to the Wizards.  Same thing with John Salmons: he seems to be a great fit in his new home in Chicago and very unlikely to move, especially in a trade like the kind we are talking about here.

However, I don't think you should write off all the big names from potential lopsided trade scenarios.  Take Josh Howard and Jason Terry, who have both been rumored to be involved in trades that return draft picks and big contracts to the Mavericks.  If that's the case, given the quality of this year's draft, I think that makes them potential candidates for lopsided trades as well. If you're Mark Cuban, would you rather have increased cap flexibility and save some money or have a top talent in a weak draft?  You can make a compelling case both ways.

Additionally, a guy like David West finds his way on here because of New Orleans' rumored financial problems. He's probably not a fit for the Blazers but if he was dumped somewhere a la the Tyson Chandler attempt, would you be that surprised given the time and dollars left on his contract?

Closing Thoughts

Which names jump out at you? One might argue the most logical name on these lists remains everyone's old favorite, Kirk Hinrich, for whom Norsktroll has already gone to the trouble of creating a pretty plausible, logical lopsided trade.

One final thing to keep in mind as you chew through the possibilities: these guys need not be perfect fits and they are not likely to be starters.  They are, probably, bench or role players that the Blazers would acquire by giving up spare parts (Sergio, etc.), draft picks or cash in return.  In that context, would a name like Udonis Haslem or Raja Bell make some sense? 

For what it's worth, I ran these lists past a nationally-televised ESPN basketball analyst that follows the Blazers carefully and he pooh-poohed every single name on both lists for one reason or another.  So if no one is striking your fancy, that's understandable. You're in good company with Kevin Pelton.  

But, then again, at least you're considering lopsided trades... just like Kevin Pritchard. 

-- Ben (