The old battle cry for a lot of teams after falling short has been "Wait 'til next year." But in the NBA this summer, it's become "Wait until year after next" as trimming their salary cap in advance of the 2010 free agency class headed by LeBron James looms. The Denver Nuggets did just that when they traded Marcus Camby to the LA Clippers merely to move up a few rungs of the Round 2 draft ladder in 2010.
Welcome to the NBA, where the 2006-07 Defensive Player of the Year can be traded for a pair of sneakers and dinner for two at the Cheesecake Factory.
OK, so the Denver Nuggets actually got a $10-million trade exception for Marcus Camby, as well as the right to exchange second-round draft picks with the Los Angeles Clippers in 2010. But the Nuggets might not even use that trade exception before it expires in a year. This deal was all about creating salary cap space for 2010, when LeBron James and a host of other top free agents are due to become available. No wonder the Nuggets have seen their betting odds reduced from 22-1 to 30-1 on the NBA championship futures market.
The Clippers, on the other hand, are up from 75-1 to 40-1 after landing Camby. He can play the high post while Chris Kaman handles things down low. That might not be enough to make up for the loss of Elton Brand to the Philadelphia 76ers, but it does give Los Angeles a chance to make the playoffs in the Western Conference with Baron Davis running the show at point guard.
The Sixers made out like bandits in the free-agent market, improving from 40-1 to 20-1 after signing Brand to a max contract. A frontline of Brand, Samuel Dalembert and Andre Iguodala would wreak havoc in the Eastern Conference. However, the East as a whole is making a serious push up the odds list. The Chicago Bulls (30-1) and the Miami Heat (75-1) are on the rise after drafting Derrick Rose and Michael Beasley, respectively. And the Toronto Raptors are even with Philly at 20-1 following the T.J. Ford-Jermaine O’Neal exchange.
But let’s get back to 2010 for a moment. Only a handful of teams have a serious chance of prying LeBron James away from the Cleveland Cavaliers once he becomes eligible. The New Jersey Nets are believed to be at the head of the class. They, like the Nuggets, appear willing to punt the 2008-09 season in order to get their finances in order. They’re also planning a move to Brooklyn, which would give James a larger public to play for, and there is something of a friendship between LeBron and Nets co-owner Jay-Z.
The Nets made a prominent move toward 2010 by sending top scorer Richard Jefferson (22.6 points per game) to the Milwaukee Bucks in exchange for Yi Jianlian and Bobby Simmons. That was enough to bump the Bucks up from 150-1 to 75-1 on the futures market. New Jersey’s acquisitions of Eduardo Najera and Keyon Dooling were understandably not enough to prevent the Nets from slipping to 60-1, down from 50-1 at the open.
When it comes to slashing payroll, neither the Nuggets nor the Nets can hold a candle to the Memphis Grizzlies. Having already dumped Pau Gasol before the trade deadline, the Grizz pulled off this curious draft-day deal:
To Minnesota: Kevin Love, Mike Miller, Brian Cardinal, Jason Collins
To Memphis: O.J. Mayo, Marko Jaric, Antoine Walker, Greg Buckner
The curious part of this deal is that the Grizzlies took back Jaric’s bad contract (three years, $21 million) in order to get rid of Cardinal (two years, $13 million). Memphis is now overloaded in the backcourt with Mayo and Mike Conley, among others. But Mayo is also a Friend of LeBron; they both played high school in Ohio and share the same agent. Still, getting James into such a small market as Memphis is a long shot – so are the Grizz at 300-1, down from 250-1 before the draft.