Market forces: Top 12 trade assets

The oddest of commodities sometimes come into play at the trade deadline, as evidenced by the case of Ben Handlogten.

When this decade comes to a close, there's a fair chance we're going to look back on it and decide that one of the most lopsided trades of the past 10 years involved that little-known big fella with the big, long last name -- an injured 30-year-old NBA rookie at the time who never played a single game for the Suns after they acquired him on Feb. 19, 2004.

The Jazz got rid of Handlogten, along with Keon Clark, in that deal with Phoenix in which they took on Tom Gugliotta's expiring contract along with two future first-round picks, plus a second-rounder.

When Gugliotta came off the books a couple of months later, the Jazz used the cap room to sign Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur. They used one of the first-round draft picks on Kirk Snyder, and the second-rounder was Robert Whaley.

The other first-rounder?

That's the commodity that might make this the Deal of the Decade.

The Suns had acquired it from the Knicks in the Stephon Marbury trade, and Isiah Thomas put so much protection on it (1 through 22 was the least of the protection) that the pick has not yet changed hands.

The Jazz haven't cashed in that long-term bond yet, and if and when they do, it might set them up with a superstar who spends the next 15 seasons in Utah. (Jerry Sloan will be 83 and in his 37th consecutive season at the helm in 2025, by the way.)

"Would I trade that pick?" Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor told ESPN.com Wednesday. "I would look at any opportunity to improve our team. You never say never."

So while most of the focus will be on Shawn Marion, Jermaine O'Neal and every other major or minor player whose name is being bandied about in trade talks, there are a lot of other commodities out there that can influence the market before the Feb. 19 deadline.

So as we count down toward that day, let's have a look at the top dozen trade assets held by various teams, not including active players.

ASSET No. 1: New York's future first-round pick (unprotected in 2010)
OWNER: Utah Jazz

The summer of LeBron will begin on July 1, 2010, and the Knicks will be knocking on his door at 12:01 a.m. that morning. But seven nights before the arrival of Jimmy Dolan's limo in Akron, Knicks fans are going to be reminded once again how ruinous the previous decade had been, because back on a cold January night in 2004, this lottery pick slid away.

FYI, Knicks and Jazz fans: ESPN.com NBA draft expert Chad Ford tells me he has Raleigh (N.C.) high school point guard John Wall -- "a Derrick Rose clone" -- ranked as his No. 1 prospect for the 2010 draft, unless Ricky Rubio waits until then.

ASSET No. 2: Raef LaFrentz's expiring contract
OWNER: Portland Trail Blazers

In NBA front offices, this is what's known as a super-expiring contract, because not only does his $12.72 million come off someone's cap at the end of the season, but 80 percent of it is being paid by an insurance company because of LaFrentz's shoulder injury. In real dollars and cents, that means that the acquiring team can realize a cash windfall of about $4 million by acquiring LaFrentz.

With Darius Miles now taking up $9 million in cap space that the Blazers thought they'd have this summer, they can no longer set their summer sights on a max-level free agent. If they want someone of that caliber, packaging LaFrentz with one or two of their youngsters -- Travis Outlaw, Sergio Rodriguez, Rudy Fernandez, Jerryd Bayless -- might be their best route toward landing a player who will make them a legitimate championship-contending threat in the West this spring.

ASSET No. 3: Phoenix's unprotected 2010 first-round pick
OWNER: Oklahoma City Thunder

This was one of the two first-rounders the Suns gave up in the Kurt Thomas-to-Seattle salary dump in the summer of 2007 (in which the SuperSonics surrendered only a future second-round pick).

Oklahoma City used the other No. 1 on Serge Ibaka, the 24th pick of last June's draft, and the Thunder have a total of five first-round picks in the next two drafts (they have two of their own, plus Denver's and San Antonio's -- both lottery-protected in 2009).

The Suns' unprotected pick is pretty much untouchable, but general manager Sam Presti could be talked into packaging the Nuggets' and Spurs' picks -- along with the veteran players he's shopping, Earl Watson, Joe Smith, Chris Wilcox and Nick Collison -- in a deal that would give him a second spot in the 2009 or 2010 lottery.

ASSET No. 4: Stephon Marbury's expiring contract
OWNER: New York Knicks

There was another Steph sighting at the Staples Center when the Lakers played the Cavs, coming just a day after Marbury put his $1 million buyout offer back on the table. But Knicks president Donnie Walsh appears determined to wait until the deadline to see if the league's largest expiring contract can be turned into something useful. As colleague Marc Stein has reported, the Boston Celtics are crossing their fingers that Walsh cannot find a trade partner and buys out Marbury before March 1.

But if you were Jim Dolan, why would you do any favors for Marbury that would help a division rival? If Dolan wanted to be spiteful, he could keep Marbury on the roster past March 1, the date by which players must clear waivers to be playoff-eligible for someone else.

ASSET No. 5: Minnesota's first-round pick (unprotected in 2012)
OWNER: Los Angeles Clippers

Let's put it this way: Donald Sterling has a vested interest in the Timberwolves' continuing to stink for a few more seasons. Back in 2005 when Elgin Baylor fleeced Kevin McHale in the Sam Cassell-Marko Jaric trade, Baylor got McHale to throw in a protected first-round pick. The protection, for picks 1 through 10, expires after the 2011 draft, so the future value of this asset is nowhere near as rock-solid as Assets #1 and #3.

ASSET No. 6: Dallas' unprotected 2010 first-round pick
OWNER: New Jersey Nets

If the Mavericks miss the playoffs in 2010, this will make the Jason Kidd trade even more lopsided in the Nets' favor. The other pick acquired along with Devin Harris in the Kidd deal was used on Ryan Anderson, who is now starting at power forward for the Nets following Yi Jianlian's finger injury.

The Nets also are owed a future first-rounder from Golden State (protected 1-14 in 2011, 1-11 in 2012 and 1-10 in 2013), though it transforms into two second-round picks if it remains protected for the Warriors all three of those years.

ASSET No. 7: Three future first-round picks (Miami's and Boston's in 2009, Utah's in 2010)
OWNER: Minnesota Timberwolves

The Heat's pick is protected 1-10, but they look like a playoff team right now, so the Timberwolves will own this one on June 25. Boston's pick went to Minny in the Kevin Garnett deal, and figures to be 26th-30th, and Utah has been in the lottery just three times in the past 25 years, and if they miss the playoffs this year the pick is still not likely to be a high one, so none of these picks by itself is all that valuable.

But like the Thunder, the Wolves will explore packaging one or both of them with an expendable part (Mike Miller, anyone?) if it gets them a second lottery pick (assuming they remain in the bottom third of the league, which will keep their own pick protected from the Clippers).

ASSET No. 8: Rights to overseas players
OWNERS: Orlando (Fran Vazquez), Oklahoma City (Serge Ibaka), Denver (Axel Hervelle), San Antonio (Tiago Splitter)

Vazquez (at right) has a contract (with a $7 million buyout clause) with FC Barcelona that expires after the current season, and the 11th pick of the 2005 draft has said he'd like to come to the NBA. The Thunder are constantly being asked if they'd be open to trading the rights to the athletic Ibaka, currently playing for Ricoh Manresa of the Spanish League, as is the case with the Nuggets and Hervelle, who plays for Real Madrid.

Splitter's rights are less valuable, because many in the NBA feel he'll never leave Europe, given that he would have to sign what amounts to a four-year deal starting at $940,000, the maximum he could earn under the rookie wage scale as the 28th pick of the 2007 draft. And that would be a pay cut.

ASSET No. 9: Charlotte's future first-round pick (unprotected in 2014)
OWNER: Denver Nuggets

That big French fellow sitting on the end of Larry Brown's bench in Charlotte is Alexis Ajinca, and that big cheese in the Bobcats' front office, Michael Jordan, has a lot riding on Ajinca's career working out. Jordan surrendered a protected first-round pick to Denver last June in exchange for the 20th overall selection, which he used on Ajinca. The pick is lottery-protected in 2009, then protected 1 through 12 in 2010, 1-10 in 2011, 1-8 in 2012 and 1-3 in 2013.

ASSET No. 10: Extra second-round picks
OWNERS: Various

The Pistons have three in 2009 -- their own, Minnesota's and Toronto's -- plus Toronto's in 2011. The Trail Blazers have their own, New York's and Denver's in 2009 and their own and the Bulls' in 2010. The Spurs have Golden State's, Houston's and the more favorable of New Orleans' pick or its own in 2009. And the Lakers have their four in the next two drafts: their own two, plus picks from the Bobcats and Grizzlies.

ASSET No. 11: $4.46 million Disabled Player Exception
OWNER: New York Knicks (pending)

Actually, this one is pending in a big way, because there is a question of whether the Knicks' application will be dismissed if Cuttino Mobley's heart condition was pre-existing. There is a gray area in this case because of language regarding "the date the team knew or should have known that the injury would cause the player to miss the season."

The Knicks do not expect a quick ruling, but they'd like the league to decide before the trade deadline. If the exception is granted, New York can acquire a player or players making $4.46 million or less without the outgoing salary having to match. No other teams currently have any Disabled Player Exceptions.

ASSET No. 12: Expiring trade exceptions
OWNERS: Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder, Denver Nuggets

A trade exception allows the acquiring team to take on a player making an equal or lesser amount of salary without the trade having to conform to the 125 percent rule. There are six trade exceptions that expire Feb. 23, the largest of which belongs to the Bulls: a $5.205 million exception from the deal that sent Joe Smith to Cleveland last year.

The Cavs have a $1.63 million exception from including Cedric Simmons in that deal, and the Thunder have a $1.89 million exception from the Delonte West end of that same trade. Two of the Rockets' six trade exceptions (Bonzi Wells, $2.284M,
and Kirk Snyder, $917K) expire Feb. 23, and the Nuggets have an expiring $771K exception from last year's Von Wafer deal.

Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.