On his blog, Bee beat writer Sam Amick quotes an anonymous trusted source who says Miami is still after Ron Artest, despite the second worst record in the league. I've resisted the new conventional wisdom Miami's too terrible to keep adding pieces; yes, the Heat are 6.5 games out... but New Jersey (!) is holding down the 8th seed. And when you have Dwyane Wade, the 8th seed doesn't look so hopeless. Besides, how can you ever rebuild when you have an untradeable $20 million flagging ex-superstar locking up your cap for the next two years?
There have been murmurs (which Amick replicates here) that Geoff Petrie is looking to tag Kenny Thomas onto an Artest or Mike Bibby deal. Of course, we'd all love that. My question: Is it incentive enough? The problem with dealing with Miami has been its lack of assets. Could its willingness to soak up a highly undesirable contract serve as its asset? Artest and K-9 (woof!) for Ricky Davis and Jason Williams works under the cap; Miami would need a replacement point guard first, so perhaps they can use other assets (Udonis Haslem, a draft pick, a package of small expiring contracts, Dorell Wright) to go get Andre Miller, then pull a deal for Artest.
Depending on whether Pat Riley prefers Miller or Bibby, it could work another way: Use the smaller package (or maybe just Smush Parker) to go get Mickael Pietrus, and use the bigger expirings plus Haslem to land Bibby and Thomas. Of course, Petrie hasn't budged on previous Haslem + expirings offers; who knows if Riley had been willing to take a bad contract back as well.
Nothing can happen until Bibby and Artest come back, though. Bibby's been practicing a lot, and I wouldn't be surprised if he were back next week (one week ahead of schedule). Artest hasn't had his operation yet, so who knows?
Back to whether losing that nasty K-9 (woof!) contract is incentive enough: Yes! If you manage to trade Bibby and Thomas, and either trade Artest or let him leave in free agency, you have $43 million of dedicated salary next season for 8 players. You have to sign Beno Udrih or another point guard ($5 million) and at least one draft pick in the same zone as Spencer Hawes (roughly $2 million). That puts you at $50 million, and in place to compete for a lower-end free agent if you choose (if that free agent is a point guard, you could make it a higher-end one -- you could certainly afford Jose Calderon if you so chose). If not, hold your dollars or blow them on a one-year deal... or wait a summer until Mikki Moore's deal (likely) comes off.
In any case, the Kings would have to lose Brad Miller to make a play for guys like Emeka Okafor (who isn't leaving Charlotte) or Josh Smith (whom seems to have caught Philadelphia's eye). Ben Gordon -- a high-volume small two-guard -- doesn't fit and Luol Deng will likely a) be too expensive, and b) sign the first deal Chicago offers. (I've read enough to know he hates all this contract stuff.) Delonte West and Louis Williams are prospects to keep an eye on -- both are quick combos (know any GMs who love those?) and would fill a need (if Beno isn't re-signed and Calderon isn't chased) at a cheapish price.
Of course, another benefit: The further you get from the luxury tax, the easier it is to work trades. Unless you're landing the #1 pick, you'll need to trade for a promising but expensive big. Petrie has been said to covet Nene in the past; I wouldn't be shocked if he pursued the (overpaid, oft-injured but occasionally thrilling) Brazilian between now and Jan. 1, 2009.
Ah, trade talk. My favorite time of year.