Breaking It Down
When the Bulls decided to send Larry Hughes to the Knicks for Anthony Roberson, Jerome James and Tim Thomas instead of to D.C. for Etan Thomas and Mike James, I didn't get it. Thomas and James have deals that will expire next season and it could be argued that the Bulls took garbage for Hughes instead.
Then, it came out that the Bulls can pocket $9 million if James, who has played four games in two seasons and is out for this season with an Achilles' injury, has to retire. That money won't count towards the cap or tax but hey, $9 mill is $9 mill right? That pretty much summarizes the day's moves. A bunch of teams were looking to dump money.
According to multiple league and team sources I was in contact with today, the Wizards were active. Ernie Grunfeld would have done the Hughes deal and while I can't say for sure, he may have sent Thomas/Mike James to the Knicks for Jared Jeffries and Malik Rose. Jeffries would've stayed on the books two more seasons but that move would've freed up over $7 million after the season when the Rose contract comes off.
One league source I trust told me that the only real offers the Wizards received were for Butler or Jamison.
"Let's put it this way," the source said. "People saw a team with what, 12 wins? And a team in a tough situation in terms of the tax and they smelled blood in the water. It was an opportunity to get a pretty darn good player without giving up that much. You better believe that folks were drooling over the idea of getting a Caron Butler or Antawn Jamison. For a team like the Cavaliers, it would've meant a chance at a championship."
The one thing Ernie wasn't going to do was give Caron Butler or Antawn Jamison away in a bad deal just to cut costs.
I spoke with Ernie not long ago and asked him a few questions.
How close were you to getting a deal done? (he wouldn't address specific deals)
Ernie: "We were having a number of conversations and usually those conversations go right down to the deadline. There were a couple of things we thought might happen but nothing came to fruition that we thought was going to help us."
I asked Grunfeld about the team's impending luxury tax issue. By not clearing some space today, the Wizards are effectively boxed in. They either have to pay the tax next season, trade the lottery pick in a package with a player like Thomas, James, Songaila or Stevenson or, sign the pick and try to get under before next year's deadline.
That last part is very difficult to do.
Ernie: "Those are issues will be looked at in the off season. We didn't want to give up a good player just for financial reasons."
Me: Are you under a firm mandate to avoid the tax at all costs?
Ernie: "We have flexibility. You want to be responsible but at the same time, we don't want to give up any assets that can help us as a basketball team."
Translation: No, he is not under a firm mandate but owner Abe Pollin, like most owners, does not want to pay the tax. But remember this about Pollin: the man ate over $8 million to fire Eddie Jordan. Agree with that move or not (I didn't and still don't) but an owner worried only about the bottom line wouldn't have done it.
He's also given $100 million deals to Huggy Bear Howard and Gilbert Arenas. He paid a 32-year old Antawn Jamison $50 million and built that arena on his own dime.
My read is that if this team has a choice between keeping top flight pick AND Butler/Jamison or, making a trade purely for financial reasons, he'll go over the tax.
That's just my read. I could be wrong. Another thing to keep in mind: I hear that Pollin, more than many owners, is weathering this financial storm pretty well.
Another thing to keep in mind about that pick is this: Other than Oklahoma's Blake Griffin, the scouts I've spoken with do not see a real instant impact guy. Assuming that Arenas and Brendan Haywood come back, wouldn't it be a good move to package any pick below No. 1 with a bad contract and bring a vet in here who can help?
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