By Chris Broussard
While the Houston Rockets realize that trading Tracy McGrady will not be easy, the club now believes it has a better than 50 percent chance of moving the fading superstar by the Feb. 18 trade deadline, according to league executives.
The Rockets are in discussions with several clubs about McGrady, and sources say two of the teams near the top of their wish list are Washington and Chicago.
Nothing is imminent with either team, but there are potential deals with both clubs that Houston would be interested in pulling off.
Washington, which league executives believe is in cost-cutting mode after the Gilbert Arenas disaster, could have McGrady for a deal featuring Caron Butler and some expiring contracts, perhaps Mike Miller and Randy Foye.
Chicago, which has definite interest in McGrady, also has the combination of young talent and expiring contracts the Rockets are looking for. There is a Bulls player Houston covets, but it's not clear who that is. Since the Rockets surely realize that Derrick Rose won't be traded, logic suggests it's Joakim Noah.
A package of Noah, Brad Miller and Jerome James (the latter two have expiring contracts) would work financially, but sources say the Bulls have no desire to part with Noah.
As for the Bulls, Kirk Hinrich is ahead of even Tyrus Thomas on their list of players they'd love to trade. In fact, Thomas is being offered around the league as a sweetener in any Hinrich deal. But with two years, $17 million left on his contract after this season, there's not a great market for Hinrich.
Believe it or not, sources say Philadelphia has not completely ruled out a McGrady-for-Andre Iguodala deal, if only because if the losing continues, Sixers ownership may order a fire sale.
Talks between the two teams have taken place but they have not reached the serious stage. Philadelphia hinted at a package of Iguodala and Samuel Dalembert for McGrady. But while Houston loves Iguodala's talent, it's not sure such a deal would make it a legitimate championship contender. To take back the four years, $57 million remaining on Iguodala's contract after this season, Houston has to be convinced it would become an immediate title contender once Yao Ming returns next season.
+ Several league executives disregarded Minnesota president David Kahn's proclamations that Al Jefferson is not on the trading block. But two sources who recently spoke with members of the Timberwolves organization said they've been told Jefferson is not available. And Kahn has told Jefferson that he will not be traded, according to sources.
There are circumstantial reasons to believe Kahn. Like, why start shopping Jefferson now, when he's coming off a knee injury and not yet at the top of his game, especially in an economic climate that has few teams willing to take on long-term contracts?
+ Sources from both the Los Angeles Lakers and the Toronto Raptors insist there have been no talks between the two clubs regarding an Andrew Bynum-for-Chris Bosh swap.
The Lakers view the 22-year-old Bynum as a key building block and a player whose best years are ahead of him. And Toronto has thus far been steadfast in its stance not to entertain trading Bosh this season.
Sources say the Raptors will not consider moving Bosh before next month's trade deadline unless Bosh tells them he definitely will not return to Toronto next season.
Toronto's Plan A has always been to re-sign Bosh. However, in considering all possibilities, the club has had internal discussions about Plans B and C, which would include trying to get as good a big man as possible for Bosh (if re-signing him was out of the question).
Obviously, Bynum would fit the bill. Still, for now, put this one in the category of fantasy.
+ Having lost 13 straight games, the perimeter-heavy Detroit Pistons would like to get their hands on Carlos Boozer. A Boozer-for-Rip Hamilton trade works, but Utah doesn't want to take back the three years, $38 million remaining on Hamilton's contract, even though he'd made a sweet backcourt mate for Deron Williams.
Boozer for Tayshaun Prince also works financially, but Prince has one more season after this one at $11 million, and the Jazz aren't looking to add salary for next season.
Utah coach Jerry Sloan wants to keep Boozer, who will be a free agent next summer, for the rest of the season, and perhaps beyond. To that end, the Jazz are shopping Andrei Kirilenko with all their might. But good luck with that one. Kirilenko won't have any takers until next season when he's in the last year of his deal.