It's hard to miss the trade rumors swirling around for the last few days. I guess it comes hand in hand with draft time, though frankly some of these deals would be more likely after July. Let's look at the three most-heavily-mentioned Trail Blazer trades and what they would entail.
Desirability: High Actual Chances: A snowball's in Phoenix. In July, no less.
This is not going to happen. New Orleans would have to have six screws loose to get rid of their best ticket-mover and franchise poster boy at this point. I know the contract is big but some guys deserve huge contracts. If you aren't bold enough to pay a superstar you aren't bold enough to win in this league. Besides, the shortfall in jersey sales between Paul and everybody else they'd acquire in such a trade combined is probably the size of the contract itself.
But let's dream that Kevin Pritchard and Paul Allen paid a visit to Snow Miser and got that snowball to fall and survive in Phoenix for a little while. What would such a trade look like?
New Orleans has two major needs: dumping salary and wing players to replace their current aging cast. The Blazers have a couple of potential expiring contracts in Joel Przybilla and Andre Miller. Paul makes $14.9 million once the new salary year starts. (He's BYC this year so forget shoe-horning him in before July 1 unless you want to make this trade infinitely more complicated.) Przy makes $7.4 million, Miller $7.25. Unless the Hornets' management staff wants to see a summer-long pitchfork party outside their doors they dare not take them both and call it good. A Paul trade would be a hard sell anyway. If they take only expiring contracts they might as well highlight their pre-game introductions by flashing a 3/4" Phillips-head and the 21st letter of the alphabet on the scoreboard while playing "Wah...wah...waaaaahhhh" over the loudspeakers. They could probably get away with one of those contracts if enough extra talent came their way in addition. Miller is the more serviceable choice and makes more sense from Portland's perspective as well. So that's $7.25 million accounted for. The problem is, Portland needs to send at least $12 million to equal Paul's cap footprint. This is where the train comes off the tracks, as the combination of salaries and acceptable talent isn't there.
Some have suggested LaMarcus Aldridge as possible bait in the deal. Aldridge is a Base Year player next season which makes his inclusion complicated. Beyond that New Orleans already has a productive power forward in David West. Plus Aldridge makes a ton of money and makes it for longer than Paul does. The financial savings wouldn't justify the move, so Aldridge is out.
The salary gulf between LMA and the bulk of the young, trade-able Blazers is huge though. The next likely candidate is Nicolas Batum. He's fairly untouchable but for a guy like Paul, and with the possibility of making more trades to shore up the forward position, you'd at least consider including him. He'd be attractive from the Hornets' standpoint...just the kind of player they would be looking for. The problem is, he only makes $1.2 million. Adding him to Miller's contract you get $8.4 million total, well short of the $12 million necessary.
So you go to Rudy Fernadnez. He could also be an attractive candidate and a package of Miller, Batum, and Fernandez actually gets somewhere near the ballpark of acceptability. It's not a home run but you're at least walking down the tunnel. Rudy makes $1.2 million as well. Now you're at $9.6 million with $2.4 million to go.
This is the issue. Who's next? How many players can New Orleans take? How many would Portland be willing to give up? Do you throw in Jerryd Bayless as well? His contract plus Jeff Pendergraph or the 22nd pick in this year's draft would push the deal over the necessary cap threshold. But now you're talking a 5-for-1 trade and having Portland's backcourt completely gutted. Maybe you're comfortable with a Paul-Roy-Webster starting lineup but there's no reserves left period. What happens if Paul gets injured again? What happens if Roy misses 20 games? You've cleared out your entire youth movement with one stroke of the pen.
Including Martell Webster in the trade would clear up a host of problems but the interest meter lowers considerably on the New Orleans side there. Webster is making money until 2013 and even though his contract is reasonable he's not the answer to their prayers for that dough. The talent linchpin in this deal is Batum and Martell plays the exact same position. Miller-Fernandez-Webster doesn't have the same ring to it even though Portland would salivate over that deal.
Greg Oden is an elephant in the corner here. His $6.7 million contract solves a lot of financial difficulties. In principle I think Blazer Nation might even be relieved not having to gamble on his health if he were traded for Paul. But now you've left Marcus Camby as your only viable center this year (Przybilla's status being uncertain) and probably left your center position vacant in a couple of years. Unless you know for sure Oden is going nowhere you have to think hard about including him. As we've said before, that's exactly the reason a trading partner should be suspicious of Portland dangling him. Plus the Hornets already have $13 million a year or so invested in Emeka Okafor at center.
Some have suggested Portland taking back another huge contract in return to sweeten the deal for the Hornets. But now you've doubled your cap-matching problem. If Portland were inclined to take Okafor that's another $11.5 million in salary to account for in the trade. Where does that come from? Even throwing in Joel isn't enough to compensate. You're talking at least two players in addition to the five already mentioned. Peja Stojakovic's contract expires after next season but it's as big as Paul's. Including David West makes no sense from a talent and salary standpoint. The only other guy is James Posey. His contract runs two more years but it's only around $6.7 million. They're paying at least one year of that to whoever comes in. It doesn't make sense that they'd bend over backwards to save themselves the last year of that contract.
So...any way you slice it this is tough unless New Orleans just capitulates. Trades based on the other team making desperation moves with their best player don't happen. Portland would and should jump at the chance to acquire CP3 but outside of trading a healthy Oden there's no practical way to get that move done...it's a wing and a prayer. Maybe you can let us know whether you think including Oden would be an acceptable option to you.
Desirability: Fairly High to High Likelihood: Unlikely
This is another case of a team looking to trade its best player, except this offering may have legs. Philly is paying Iguodala a hefty sum ($12.3 million next year on up to $15.9 in 2013-14) and the team is going nowhere. Anyone who would take on Elton Brand's contract as well (think Iguodala numbers plus 33% or so) could have them both tomorrow. But the Blazers can't possibly amass that much salary without touching players they won't move. So we're left fishing for a package again. The Sixers have but one questionable contract in addition to Brand, that of recently-acquired Andres Nocioni. He can't be moved in a combo deal for a while so it looks like the package will have to be for Iguodala himself.
The cap bar for making this deal is set right around $9.8 million. This is far easier to reach than Paul's number. Joel Przybilla alone would knock off $7.4 million, leaving only $2.4 million to bridge. Jerryd Bayless plus one of last year's second-rounders or this years #22 pick (once signed) would do it and that's surely a deal Portland should consider making. Rudy Fernandez could fit in there too, though in the absence of Bayless Portland would need to manufacture a couple more throw-ins. A good question would be whether Joel plus Jerryd plus Rudy was acceptable for Iguodala. Another good question is whether you'd consider Batum a fair price for Iggy. The Sixers should at least look hard at that (or at a different guy that Batum could pry away from another team). I'm not as sold on that one myself.
I'd judge this trade more likely than a Paul deal on both ends. For reasons I covered in the last mailbag it's also something I'd look into, especially if Philadelphia didn't have to get their hands on Portland's Big Four.
Desirability: Low Likelihood: Probably there if the Blazers want it.
Mo Williams has a couple strong characteristics to offer the Blazers. At first glance he seems like a good fit. He's a bona fide starting point guard who shoots 43% from the three-point arc, 44% from the field, almost 90% from the foul line. He's a legit scorer, he handles the ball well, and he's in his prime. His contract is reasonable, running $9.3 million next year and $8.5 million for two years after that. We don't even have to talk about salary packages as Portland could match his cap requirements without blinking using any or all of the players we've mentioned above, and not too many of them at that. This would be a relatively easy deal to make.
Upon closer examination it may not be such a sweetheart move, however. That ultra-gaudy three-point percentage, perhaps the strongest reason for acquiring Williams, has a shelf life that coincides exactly with Williams' tenure alongside LeBron James. It's not hard to do the math and figure out that without four defenders paying attention to the King, more hands are going to be in Mo's face and more shots are going to miss. Williams has never been a good defender. He's only looked semi-decent since joining the Cavaliers, a strong defensive unit. He looked abysmal prior. His enthusiasm for scoring is a double-edged sword. He can take over a game or take you right out of it. He's only played 80+ games in a season twice in his seven years as a pro. Plus he's a starting point guard and has no desire to be anything but. Andre Miller is a starting point guard and has no desire to be anything but. Perhaps you see the difficulty...
The only way in which this deal makes sense is if the Blazers wanted rid of Miller in favor of a different kind of scorer at the one position and Cleveland would trade them straight up or with very little filler coming from the Blazers. Even then Williams isn't the point guard of my dreams. I'd pass.
That said, this is the only deal of the three that doesn't result in a huge financial burden for the Blazers in years to come. Granted Portland is either going to pay their young guys or somebody else's more established players but those Paul and Iguodala contracts start big and become huge right along with Roy, Aldridge, and presumably Oden. If you're looking for fiscal responsibility from your team the Williams deal would be the only one passing muster.
Three rumors...one completely desirable but nearly impossible, one desirable but difficult, one relatively easy but raising red flags. Our good friend Casey Holdahl postulated that the Blazers would try and make a splash this off-season outside of the draft. Unless some great fortune comes Portland's way (or they're willing to give tough answers to some of the questions posed above) rumor of that splash may not have surfaced yet.