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Buy Opportunity

GM's can fix their squads with one-sided deal so why don't they?

by Ric Bucher

If an NBA team's primary goal is to win a championship, clearing cap space for the 2010 free agent class is a close second. Players who otherwise would have been tasty trade bait by now--Vince Carter, Josh Howard, Kirk Hinrich, Chris Kaman and Jason Richardson, to name a few--have stayed put because no one wants to take on hefty contracts that run beyond the Summer of Lebron.

Which raises this question: If a championship really is the No. 1 priority, shouldn't some teams be taking advantage of the current stagnation? It's the simplest of counterstrategies, rooted in Wall Street fundamentals. Plenty of sellers offering talented big moneyed players in exchange for little more than expiring deals (say, Carter for Wally Szczerbiak and Anderson Varejao) provides the perfect opportunity to land immediate help. Doesn't that beat waiting for the chance to bid on Lebron, Chris Bosh or Dwyane Wade with the horde of other cash-flush suitors? "You'e better off spending now when there's less competition," says one West exec. "I, that is, your motive is to win."

The Cavs, Suns, Mavs and Raptors are four teams that can go either way. All are one quality player away from being serious contenders. All also have the expiring contracts that put theim in positon to enter the 2010 sweepstakes. Only the Raptors, though, claim to be looking aggressively to bolster their lineup now. Sources say Toronto has inquired about Al Harrington and Gerald Wallace and GM Bryan Colangelo says he happily would give up his place at the free agent table two years from now for an upgrade today. "I'm a realist," he says. "There are only three prize guys and we're trying to keep one of them (Bosh). I'm in the market to do something."

Of course, only Colangelo knows if the is just talking, a front office version of false hustle. Several GM's say most owners are toying with fans by making them think they're preparing to chase the Class of '10 when their real goal is just to cut costs. "It's a good way to be cheap," says a GM. "Pretending to do something."

That's a bold accusation.