Top non-playing trade assets

Tracy McGrady has been splitting his time recently shuttling between Chicago and Houston, alternating between working out with famed athletic trainer Tim Grover and spending time with his family.

His only constant has been the waiting.

McGrady expects to play again this season, one way or another. If the Rockets trade him, he'll report to his new team and try to show he has something left. If the Rockets don't trade him, he'll seek a buyout prior to March 1, allowing him to sign as a free agent with a playoff team.

A seven-time All-Star, McGrady is the crème de la crème of this season's version of our annual list of the Top Non-Playing Trade Assets as we barrel toward the Feb. 18 NBA trade deadline. Technically, McGrady is probably ineligible since he's in playing shape, he played this season, and he's been playing ball on the side to try to stay in shape while continuing to strengthen his knee following microfracture surgery. But with the Rockets having sent him into exile, what else can you call him except a Non-Playing Trade Asset?

So with that clarification, let's get right down to the meat of things with information gleaned from various team executives, agents and other heavy hitters from around the NBA.



No. 1: Tracy McGrady, Rockets

Sources with knowledge of the McGrady discussions say there are five teams realistically in play with eight days left until the deadline: New York, Washington, Chicago, Philadelphia and Phoenix.

Here is the situation with each:

Knicks: They've come to the conclusion that Houston probably isn't going to take Jared Jeffries off their hands, but they're still willing to offer several of their own expiring contracts -- a list that includes Al Harrington, Larry Hughes and Chris Duhon.

But the Rockets want rookie Jordan Hill, too, and New York is currently saying no. What the Knicks will have in their corner at the 11th hour is $3 million in cash and a willingness to take on Brian Cook, which would help Houston shave $2.62 million off its payroll to get beneath the luxury tax line, bringing them another $4-plus million when luxury tax payments are divvied up this summer among non-taxpaying teams.

Wizards: Houston would be open to doing a lopsided deal for Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and filler, offering Washington little more than enormous cap relief. But the Wizards, understandably, want more than that if they are going to part with Butler, and they're still going to have to find a way to reconcile with (unlikely) or trade (more likely) Gilbert Arenas before the start of next season. Still, one source said Tuesday that a Washington deal for McGrady has the most potential of coming to fruition.

Bulls: McGrady appeals to them because he would get them far enough under the salary cap to make a run at two max free agents this summer, but the Rockets do not want to take on Kirk Hinrich's contract (owed $17 million through '11-12). If Chicago offered the expiring contracts of Brad Miller, Tyrus Thomas and Jannero Pargo, Houston might be more apt to bite.

76ers: Yes, there have been discussions between the teams that have included Andre Iguodala, but no, the 76ers aren't going to give him away for long-term cap relief and nothing else. As of Tuesday, one source described these talks as dormant, if not dead.

Suns: Phoenix was described as a wild-card team in any and all McGrady trade scenarios, because a three-way deal involving McGrady and Amare Stoudemire as the main principles can be brokered to get all three teams what they are seeking.

Wally S.


No. 2: Wally Szczerbiak, unrestricted free agent (Cavs)

The Cavaliers hold his Larry Bird rights, meaning they can sign him to a three-year deal, even one with an atrociously high starting salary (he made $13 million last season) in which only the first season is guaranteed (and prorated), and then immediately trade him -- presumably for the "stretch 4" they have been pursuing, the guy LeBron James wants them to add: Antawn Jamison.

(Wally at $8M plus J.J. Hickson at $1.43M for Jamison would work under salary cap rules, and the Cavs could keep Zydrunas Ilgauskas. But the Wizards know as well as anyone that LeBron is pushing for this deal, and they'd use that leverage to ask for more.)

Szczerbiak, who underwent knee surgery three months ago to clean out loose materials, is currently employed as a studio analyst for CBS' college sports channel.

"I'm working out trying to get my knee better, enjoying the new gig and seeing if it'll lead to something in the future," Szczerbiak told ESPN.com, adding that he wouldn't hesitate to report to a new team and attempt a comeback if he was part of a sign-and-trade deal.

"Of course, if that opportunity arises, I'd have to go take the physical -- that's the drill -- and see what happens. I definitely wouldn't be opposed to it. I'm moving around well, but we'd have to see as far as stuff like back-to-backs. It might take some time to see where I'm at," Szczerbiak said.

No. 3: New York's 2010 first-round pick (unprotected)

The rights to this pick belong to the Utah Jazz, who acquired it from Phoenix after Isiah Thomas sent it to the Suns seven years ago to acquire Stephon Marbury.
Utah general manager Kevin O'Connor always says he will listen to any and all offers, but there's no realistic chance the Jazz -- who have been waiting patiently for five years for this pick to come their way -- will part with what could end up as a very high lottery pick.

No. 4: Phoenix's 2010 first-round pick (unprotected)

This piece of property belongs to the Oklahoma City Thunder, though it is losing value with each passing day as the Suns have recovered from their mini-slump to win five in a row to rise to fifth place in the West.

When you consider that Oklahoma City also has an expendable $7.9 million expiring contract (Etan Thomas) which can be combined with Matt Harpring's insurance-covered $6.5 million deal, and if you postulate that the Thunder would also be willing to give up their own pick or the Suns' pick to acquire a stud, they could be sneaky big-time players a week from Thursday.

No. 5: OKC's other extra draft picks/assets/flexibility

We just mentioned Harpring, who was acquired along with Eric Maynor from the Jazz on Dec. 22, and whose contract is being paid by an insurance company. Also, Harpring (because he was traded into open cap space) is exempt from what's known as the two-month rule, which would normally prohibit him from being combined with another OKC player in an outgoing package for two months.

We should also mention that the Thunder hold the rights to Minnesota's second-round pick, which will likely fall somewhere between No. 31 and No. 35, plus an extra second-round pick (Chicago's, Houston's or Portland's, whichever is the least favorable), plus their own second-rounder, provided it is in the top 45 (otherwise it goes to Dallas).


No. 6: Rights to overseas players

Minnesota GM David Kahn insists he has no plans to trade the draft rights to Ricky Rubio, who cannot get out of his contract with FC Barcelona until 2011, or 6-foot-11 Serbian center Nikola Pekovic (31st pick, 2008).

In San Antonio, the Spurs currently plan to have Brazilian forward Tiago Splitter aboard next season, three years after they drafted him 28th in the first round. (Splitter has been waiting all that time so he will not have to sign under the rookie scale, which would have limited his salary to $900,000 this season.)

The Spurs can now sign him with mid-level or bi-annual exception money, and Portland is now in the same situation with Petteri Koponen, who went No. 30 in 2007.

Orlando still holds the rights to Fran Vazquez (11th overall pick in 2005), who also is no longer covered by the rookie scale, and it would seem Greek point guard Nick Calathes might be expendable now that Dallas owner Mark Cuban has deemed Rodrigue Beaubois untouchable.

No. 7: Large trade exceptions

A trade exception is special because it can be used to acquire a player while getting around the rule requiring the other team to send back a player or players in return whose salaries are within 125 percent of the traded player's salary. In other words, you can trade garbage, such as a conditional second-round pick or the rights to Yuri Eurostiff, and take back a player whose salary fits within the size of the trade exception. It is this particular rule that allows cap guys to get creative when coming up with multi-team trade scenarios.

The largest trade exceptions belong to Orlando (a $6.86 exception which expires July 9 from the Hedo Turkoglu sign-and-trade deal) and Utah (a $6.5 million exception that expires Dec. 22 from the Harpring deal.) But with both of those teams over the luxury tax threshold, those exceptions become much more viable and pliable commodities after July 1.

Also, Miami has a $4.26 million exception (Marcus Banks) that will expire this coming Monday, Feb. 15; Dallas has a brand-new $2.9 exception from trading Kris Humphries to New Jersey; Chicago has two $1.9 million exceptions (Andres Nocioni, Thabo Sefolosha) that expire next Thursday; and the Lakers have a $2.5 exception (Chris Mihm) that is use-it-or-lose-it by Feb. 18.

No. 8: Grizzlies' three 2010 first-round picks

Memphis has its own pick, the Nuggets' pick and the Lakers' pick. For what it's worth, the Grizzlies also own Toronto's 2016 second-round pick (within the next decade we'll know whether that was truly an asset or not).

Other teams that have multiple first-rounders are the Nets (their own and Dallas'), Thunder (own and Suns'), Heat (own and Toronto's) and Timberwolves (see No. 9 on this list).

No. 9: Timberwolves' three 2010 first-round picks

Minnesota has its own pick, Charlotte's pick and Utah's pick, which seemingly should earn them the No. 8 spot on this list. But what knocks them down one notch is one of Kevin McHale's bad trade legacies -- the Wolves still owe the Clippers a first-rounder (protected 1-10 in 2010 and 2011, unprotected in 2012) from the 2005 Sam Cassell-Marko Jaric trade.



No. 10: Donyell Marshall

Let's say the Sixers needed an extra salary to make a deal work numbers-wise. They could look no further than their own broadcast table, where Marshall is doing color commentary. He could be signed-and-traded for a pro-rated share of the veteran's minimum, and he would then have to report to his new team and go through the same charade as Aaron McKie and Keith Van Horn did when they were used as sign-and-trade chips in the Pau Gasol and Jason Kidd deals, respectively.



No. 11: Javaris Crittenton

He has been suspended by commissioner David Stern for the remainder of the season, and his contract expires June 30. But there is no rule preventing a team from trading a suspended player, and he could be included as an outgoing piece of a Wizards trade to make the salaries and/or roster slots match. The acquiring team would then presumably waive him, and 48 hours later Crittenton would be free to sign overseas while serving his NBA misconduct suspension for the infamous gun incident in the Wizards' locker room.



No. 12: Cuttino Mobley's expiring $9.5 million contract.

This insurance-covered contract would have been higher on this list if not for the following: The New York Knicks have applied for salary cap relief (which would cut their luxury tax bill by $9.5 million), and Mobley (who retired because of a heart condition) cannot be dealt until the Knicks get a ruling on their cap relief petition -- and New York is frustrated at receiving no indication from the league office on when that ruling might come.