The Come Up: Of Trade Deadlines and Hard Caps...

Monday means “The Come Up” – which normally means taking a look at Dallas’ opponents for the week. But instead of analyzing the current state of Utah, Golden State and Minnesota, we figured we’d look at what’s coming up on February 18th, the trade deadline, and how it’ll be impacted by what’s coming up in the summer of 2011. It’s most definitely some game-changing bidness, and it go a ‘lil summin’ like this:

Shakin’ It Up or Stayin’ Put

Fans and media are consumed with trade talk this time of year. It’s fun to work out all those fantasy trade scenarios in your head, and the NBA rumor mill is a blast to follow. But this year is a little different than most. The unbelievably star-studded potential free-agent pool this upcoming summer, combined with the notion that so many teams are hurting financially that the league is one giant strip-mall full of businesses having fire sales, makes for delicious fodder.

Maverick fans have had plenty of fun debating whether or not their team should utilize expiring contracts now to go get one of the talented wings supposedly available for financial relief. Would the Mavs be better off trading for Caron Butler or just keeping Josh Howard? Does Kevin Martin’s scoring ability make up for his injury issues and suspect “D?” Could Dallas land Jason Richardson from the cash-strapped Phoenix Suns for the right to overpay him for only one more year? Or why wouldn’t they just go get Andre Iguodala to be a 26-year old Robin to Dirk Nowitzki’s Batman?

ESPN’s Marc Stein is always on the case, and last Friday he wrote what some sources believe might be the Mavericks’ thinking in regards to trading before the deadline. This possible organizational opinion on Iguodala grabbed my attention:

One plugged-in source insisted this week that the Mavs have real reservations about trading Howard for Butler and are hesitant regarding Iguodala as well largely because of the four years and $56 million left on the Philly swingman’s contract after this season.

If the Mavericks think Iguodala has the talent to really add something to their lineup, why would they be concerned about paying a 17/7/6 guy who rarely misses games and will only be 30 when his contract expires? Isn’t he the type of two-way player Dallas really needs at off-guard?

Not if there’s a hard cap he’s not. If some of the predictions for the parameters of the next collective bargaining agreement are true, Iguodala will go from being a top-notch “second tier” talent to a contract that will absolutely torpedo a franchise.

Countdown to Armageddon

SI.com’s Ian Thomsen wrote a must-read, eye-opening piece last Friday that quotes a few GMs on what the next CBA will probably look like. The buzz phrase is most definitely “hard cap.” About the financial prospects for free agents such as Carlos Boozer, Amare' Stoudemire, and Rudy Gay with a hard cap on the horizon he writes:

... are you going to risk an eight-figure salary on a player who isn't likely to carry your team to the championship? If a hard cap is the new reality, then everyone in the league will be taking a new view of player salaries.

One GM Thomsen quotes sees $8 million as the new salary range for a star player, which is about the level I see Iggy. He’s not a superstar, but he’s certainly better than a really good player. So if he’s making $15 million for the Mavericks four years from now and Dirk is eating up another $15 million to $20 million of your hard cap space with another $9 million going to Shawn Marion, what’s the rest of that team looking like? Yikes!

Of course, there’s no guarantee that this doom and gloom will be the actual reality, but it’d be foolish not to take a somewhat conservative approach to what the future holds when making moves with only one year left on the current agreement. The good news is that if any owners have the stomach to go for it, it’s probably a very short list that includes Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.

So if the trade deadline comes and goes without a major deal for the Mavs, remember this while you’re sharpening your sticks to storm the castle. The guy you do get when you make your major move better be the one to put you over the top. Because if he ain’t, you’re probably going to be stuck with him -- stuck between a rock and a hard cap.