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Who Are These Guys? (Rockets Edition)

Who are these guys the Nets would get in a Vince Carter trade and what else might the Rockets have to offer? Here’s a thumbnail assessment of each, including their salaries next season. Carl Landry would have to approve the trade. Under the collective bargaining agreement, a team that matches an offer sheet (as the Rockets did with the Bobcats' offer to Landry last September) cannot trade that player without the player's permission for a year. Also, in one permutation, the deal is VC plus Josh Boone. In another, it's VC plus Ryan Anderson and Trenton Hassell.

Carl Landry, 6’9" power forward, 25 years old. The key player the Nets would get back, he would likely back up both Brook Lopez and Yi Jianlian, as he did Yao Ming and even Tracy McGrady. As close to a Devin Harris as one could get in this proposed trade. In fact, both are from Milwaukee. He was originally drafted by Seattle with the first pick of the second round in 2007, then traded to Houston for a future second rounder. After not playing in 33 of the Rockets' first 36 games last season, Landry took off as injuries hit Houston. He became a key player in the Rockets' 22-game winning streak. Called "a tough-as-nails interior defender" by John Hollinger, Landry moves his feet so well he’s capable of picking up guards on switches and has the size to guard power forwards down low. A great finisher and offensive rebounder, he has no perimeter game and few post moves. But he was hellaciously effective underneath, with the best inside scoring average in the NBA, making 117 of 181 shots or 64.6%. Had knee injuries at Purdue. Houston originally wanted a physical examination of his knee before signing him in the off-season, but the Bobcats sent him a three-year, $9 million offer sheet so the Rockets matched. There's a team option in 2010-11. Averaging 9.2 ppg and 5.6 rpg.

Shane Battier, a 6'8" forward, 30 years old. The quintessential Dukie, an all-around player with his head firmly screwed on tight...the anti-Artest. If Carter leaves, Battier would automatically fill at least part of his leadership role. The subject of a lengthy profile by author Michael Lewis in this week's New York Times, the bottom line of which was this: "Here we have a basketball mystery: a player who is widely regarded inside the NBA as, at best, a replaceable cog in a machine driven by superstars. And yet every team Battier has ever played on has acquired some magical ability to win." Lewis quotes Moneyball-type stats gurus who point out that Battier's plus-minus numbers for the season so far is +10 "which put him in the company of Dwight Howard and Kevin Garnett, both perennial All-Stars. For his career he’s a plus 6. 'Plus 6 is enormous,' [Rocket GM] Morey says. 'It’s the difference between 41 wins and 60 wins.'" Much of Battier's success is attributed to his baskeball IQ and his defense. Battier's still not entirely right after offseason foot surgery and has missed occasional time this season. He's owed $6,864,200 in 2009-10 and $7,354,500 in 2010-11. He's averaging 6.4 ppg and 4.8 rpg, playing in only 31 games. His scoring average is a career low.

Ron Artest, 6’7" small forward, 29 years old. As John Hollinger of ESPN says, "When his head is on straight, Artest is one of the best two-way forwards in basketball." Of course, that is always the issue. He makes Sean Williams look like a choir boy. Ron-Ron has had a series of clashes with owners, GM’s, coaches, teammates, and of course, fans in the famous "Malice at the Palace" incident that almost cost him his career. Still, on the court, when under control, he can be a monster. His last year stats show just how effective he can be. Artest averaged a career-high 20.5 points, posted career bests in shooting (45.3 percent) and 3-point percentage (38.0 percent) and also set a new high in efficiency…but he only played 57 games. His defense of course is where he gains his most accolades. He is tough, still quick and perhaps beyond anything else, physically strong enough to handle forwards of every stripe. In his last two seasons, he has also shied away from on-court issues like poor shot selection and dumb fouls. But he also has publicly criticized his teammates, in particular, Tracy McGrady. His numbers this season are down from last year, except for his three point shooting. In fact, his three point shooting percentage is higher than his overall shooting percentage and he continually misses games with various maladies. He has an expiring contract valued at $7.4 million this season. A native of Queensbridge, Artest has always wanted to play close to home so if the Nets would be interested in re-signing him, they would have the double advantage of having his Bird Rights and being so close to home. Averaging 15.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg and 3.1 assists.

Luther Head, 6’3" combo guard, 26 years old. The Nets were interested in Head earlier this season in their long search for a third point guard. Head however is more of a combo guard and while he is a good shooter, the rest of his game leaves a lot to be desired. Deron Williams’ running mate at Illinois, Head averaged nearly 10 ppg his first three years in Houston, shooting 39.3% from deep and passing out 2.3 assists. This year, his numbers are down across the board, in part because of his defense, which has been described as scrappy and willing, but not much else. As an undersized wingman, Head has value off the bench but not for long stretches because of his lack of strength. As a point guard, he lacks court vision but knows how to run the court. He will be a restricted free agent this summer, so the Nets can simply not extend a contract, wait to see if he gets anything better and decide to match or not. Any offers are likely to be in the LLE range or about $2 million, perhaps less. Averaging only 4.8 ppg and 1.3 apg in only 15 minutes a game. All his other stats are down as well.

Draft Picks: Draft picks are not likely to be part of these discussion because the Rockets have so few. They traded their 2009 first round pick to the Kings in the Artest deal last August, which means they can’t trade their 2010 pick either. They have traded their second round picks in 2009 and 2010 as well.

Draft Rights: the Rockets retain the draft rights to three European players, but only one, Lior Eliyahu, might be of interest. A 23-year-old 6'10" Israeli forward, he plays for Tel Aviv Maccabi, a European powerhouse. Eliyahu was drafted in the second round with Orlando’s pick in 2006. He is described as a quick, energy-oriented power forward with a nose for the ball, but without much range. He has no three point shots this season. He is among the Euroleague’s top big men, averaging 15.7 ppg and 6.5 rpg this season.

The biggest argument that could be made for this deal, beyond how it might improve the team’s defense, is how much cap space the Nets would save. Artest’s contract is expiring, Head will become a restricted free agent in July, Landry has only two years and $6 million left, a bargain, while Battier is owed $14 million through 2010-11. Bottom line, and that would be the bottom line in this trade, the Nets could save more than $20 million over the next three years and get way under the cap.

Here's how it would work:

After this season, Carter is owed: $37.65 million which includes the $4 million buyout he will be owed in 2011-12. If they dont buy him out that number goes above $50 million. After this season, Boone is owed: $3.97 million. Total: $41.62 million.

After this season, combined, Battier, Landry, Artest and Head are owed: $20.23 million, including a $3 million team option on Landry in 2010-11. The Nets would have Bird Rights on both Head and Artest in July and so could try to re-sign them, but we'll assume they won't.

That's a savings of $21.39 million. (Could be as much as $24.39 million if they exercised the team option on Landry).

Assuming no other trades and the Nets exercise their option on Jarvis Hayes, the Nets would have 14 players under contract next season at a cost of $53.67 million. That would put them about $6 million under the cap. You could get a nice player for $6 million and if you wanted to dump Hayes and get $8 million under, you could get a very nice player, someone like Ben Gordon. (Of course, a draft choice could cost you another $1.5 to $3 million depending on where you stand after the season and the lottery.)

It's questionable how many games they'd win, however.