Which team that vowed not to be a taxpayer considers cutting a check?
Which team that preached cap sanity goes a bit insane?
Which team that made July 1 the priority decides to fast-track?
Unlike the NBA trading deadline in so many previous years, the Feb. 18 deadline features a collective set of variables heretofore unseen.
There are economic hardships that have teams not only desperate to get below the dollar-for-dollar tax on excessive payroll, but have those same owners angling for one of the $4.5 million checks that goes to teams finishing the season below that threshold.
There are big spenders who had vowed to be no-so-big spenders, as the league seeks solidarity entering the impending round of collective-bargaining negotiations.
And there are teams who put all their fiscal eggs in the 2010 free-agency basket, with that strategy showing cracks now that LeBron is thriving at the top of the league in Cleveland and Chris Bosh has the Raptors at heretofore unseen levels.
So is a season of change upon us?
That just might be the case.
Paul Allen appeared to be reformed; Mark Cuban appeared headed that way.
The free spending hasn't been as free-flowing in recent years. Allen has his Trail Blazers below the tax and reasonably close to the salary cap. Cuban, although still operating in a stratosphere, has at least spoken a more conciliatory game about cost containment.
Yet the Blazers are fighting for their playoff lives without a true center, and the Mavericks have been erratic.
That has had Portland linked to big men with reasonable contracts, such as Washington's Brendan Haywood, as well as small forwards with not-so-reasonable contracts, such as the Wizards' Caron Butler.
It is possible that by the trading deadline, the Mavericks bypass the Lakers for the league's loftiest payroll and that the Blazers move closer to the tax threshold.
In each case, the perspective has been on the standings, which, these days, is not always the driving perspective.
The 2010 fantasies
This was supposed to be when the Raptors would give up hope. Instead, Toronto is a clear No. 5 seed in the East.
So those visions of acquiring Chris Bosh, then using his Bird Rights to more easily maneuver through this summer's personnel process? Ain't gonna happen.
As for the Cavaliers getting nervous about LeBron? There has not been any point during James' career when he has appeared more comfortable, more set, better positioned, and more financially secure from an endorsement perspective.
In other words, it might be time for Plan B for those hoarding 2010 cap space.
The Heat, amid its recent slide, no longer can feel quite as comfortable about its waiting game with Dwyane Wade. That could lead to a quick-strike move for Amare Stoudemire, even if it means having to deal with the possibility of the Suns forward bypassing his 2010 option. Carlos Boozer, a Miami offseason resident, could be another option.
The Knicks, however, seemingly are over their fantasy of a playoff berth, so they will keep trying to unload the contract of surprisingly productive Jared Jeffries, even if it means packaging him with proven talent.
Watch Chicago as the deadline nears, too.
Although it appeared likely at the end of last season that John Salmons would bypass his 2010-11 player option, that no longer is the case, amid his declining productivity. That means the cap-conscious Bulls can't take the chance of Salmons ending the season on their roster.
With the situation of hometown Wade having turned so tenuous in Miami, figure on the Bulls doing everything possible to maximize their 2010 cap space. That means Kirk Hinrich could be in his final hours in Chicago.
Although it appeared 2010 free agency initially would mute the trade market, it actually could increase the chatter by the deadline.
The taxing issues
The single most significant number at the deadline? That would be $69,920,000, the luxury-tax threshold for this season.
Operate above it, and you pay a dollar-for-dollar penalty for any payroll overage.
Operate below it, and there is a $4.5 million check with your name on it.
For the Hornets, who have spent the season juggling their books to avoid the tax, with selloffs of players such as Rasual Butler, Hilton Armstrong and Devin Brown, the question becomes whether they can survive the absence of Chris Paul with only the limited help of 10-day contracts (which is all they can afford under the tax).
Similarly, the Heat, which is fighting for their playoff life, can send forward Dorell Wright to the Grizzlies, who have expressed interest, and that would get Pat Riley's team below the tax. Problem is, Wright has been playing lately as Miami's best small forward.
PBT: LeBron James took over the 4th quarter, Ray Allen hit a huge three to force OT and the Heat survived to force a Game 7.
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