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The Unhappy Star

When we read in the Post about Carlos Boozer’s apparent desire to join the Nets, we thought about how it could happen. Boozer isn’t a free agent—he has a player option for next year at $12.3 million, and the Nets don’t have the cap space to sign him outright.

So how can this happen?

The most likely route, of course, is a sign-and-trade in which Boozer opts out and the Nets work out a reasonable deal with Boozer and the Jazz. But what kind of trade? If the Nets and Jazz follow the usual pattern, the Jazz will get what most NBA teams have gotten for their unhappy star: a package drawn from a menu of expiring contracts, draft picks, young players, cash and if possible, a trade exception. (We can't see the Jazz wanting Vince Carter and his $37 million contract.)

There have been a few exceptions. Sometimes stars are traded straight up for stars: Allen Iverson for Chauncey Billups, Jason Kidd for Stephon Marbury and Shaquille O’Neal for Shawn Marion. But take a look at recent trades of stars who wanted out and what their former team got for them…drawn from RealGM’s player archives. The pattern holds true.

(Players with expiring contracts are marked with an asterisk)

--February 18, 2008: The Dallas Mavericks acquired Jason Kidd, Malik Allen*, and Antoine Wright* from the New Jersey Nets for Devin Harris, DeSagana Diop*, Trenton Hassell, Maurice Ager, a signed and traded Keith Van Horn*, two future first round picks, and cash considerations believed to be $3 million. The Nets also received a $3.3 million trade exception.

--February 2, 2008: The Los Angeles Lakers acquired Pau Gasol and a 2010 second round draft pick from the Memphis Grizzlies for Kwame Brown*, Javaris Crittenton, a signed and traded Aaron McKie*, the draft rights to the #48 pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, Marc Gasol, and two future first round picks.

--July 31, 2007: The Boston Celtics acquired Kevin Garnett from the Minnesota Timberwolves for Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green*, Al Jefferson, Theo Ratliff*, Sebastian Telfair, the return to Minnesota of the future first round pick that was initially traded to Boston on January 26, 2006, and a future first round pick from Boston. Simultaneous with the trade, Kevin Garnett removed his ability to opt out after the 2007-2008 season and then signed a multi-year contract extension with the Boston Celtics which will begin in the 2009-2010 season.

--June 28, 2007: The Boston Celtics acquired Ray Allen and the draft rights to the #35 pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, Glen Davis, from the Seattle Supersonics for Wally Szczerbiak, Delonte West, the draft rights to the #5 pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, Jeff Green, and the better of Boston's own 2008 second round pick and Portland's own 2008 second round pick

-- December 17, 2004: The New Jersey Nets acquired Vince Carter from the Toronto Raptors in exchange for Alonzo Mourning, Aaron Williams, Eric Williams and two first-round draft picks.

--December 19, 2006: The Denver Nuggets acquired Allen Iverson and Ivan McFarlin* from the Philadelphia 76ers for Andre Miller, Joe Smith*, and two 2007 first round draft picks (Dallas' top 7 protected 2007 first round pick and Denver's top 1 protected 2007 first round pick).

--July 15, 2004: The New Jersey Nets signed Kenyon Martin to a seven-year, $91 million contract with a $1.5 million signing bonus and a player option after the 6th season, then traded him to Denver for three future first round picks. The Nets also received a $5.2 million trade exception.

--July 14, 2004: The Los Angeles Lakers traded Shaquille O'Neal to the Miami Heat for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Brian Grant*, and a future first round draft pick.

(We're not including the Marcus Camby trade from Denver to the Los Angeles Clippers for a second round pick last summer. That was a pure salary dump and Camby wasn't at all unhappy in Denver, but it does go to the idea that GMs can do seemingly strange and counter intuitive things that ultimately work out.)

Aside from the fact that Rod Thorn seems to specialize in deals like this and worked the two most lop-sided ones in recent memory—the Kidd and Carter trades, what stands out is that there is no correlation between the unhappiness of the star and the deal his former team gets. Kidd was unhappy for a year, may have staged a one-game strike and yet the Nets got the best deal of the group. O’Neal engaged in a public war of words with virtually everyone in LA but the Lakers came away with two rising stars and a first round pick.

Boozer's not too unhappy, it appears, but he and his agent know how to work the media to their advantage...and that includes us!

All that aside, it would seem at first glance that the Nets could offer its biggest expiring contract, Bobby Simmons, who has one year and $11.24 million remaining; one or more of its younger players—Yi Jianlian, Ryan Anderson, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Josh Boone and/or Sean Williams, and one or more of its five first round draft choices over the next three years—three of their own plus the unprotected Mavs pick in the 2010 draft and the heavily protected Warriors pick in the 2011 draft.

Couldn’t the Jazz do better? That’s often the question asked after a trade. Raptors fans asked it after the Carter trade and Grizzlies fans practically screamed it after the Gasol trade. Probably, but sometimes GM’s want rebuilding pieces more than big contracts. It was reported that in the hours after ESPN broke the news of the Carter trade, GM’s called Toronto claiming they could do better. While Rob Babcock lost his job as Raptor GM because of the trade (and some atrocious draft choices), the trade did eventually free up money so the Raptors could sign inexpensive European stars and re-sign Chris Bosh.

The Jazz are stuck in a bit of a quandary. Paul Millsap, their 24-year- old power forward who filled in brilliantly for Boozer last season, is a free agent. They want to keep him. There’s no way that they can satisfy him with money and minutes and hang on to Boozer. If Boozer decides to opt out on June 30, then they will have lost a 20-and-10 two-time all-Star and gotten nothing in return. There’s also the issue of the two other Jazz stars with player options, Mehmet Okur and Kyle Korver. They’ll have to work a deal with them too.

There are factors that should work to the Nets disadvantage. The biggest is that the Pistons can sign Boozer outright if he opts out and becomes a free agent. No fuss, no bother, no sign and trade.

Also, if Korver stays, are the Jazz going to be that interested in a one-dimensional, injury-prone Simmons? The Jazz don’t really need a draft pick, particularly next year, when they have their own and the Knicks' unprotected pick, a quite delectable treat. This year’s draft is weak so the prospect of giving two players guaranteed deals doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense...particularly when next year's draft is so much stronger. Why waste money on two picks this year? Moreover, all the Nets' good young players with the exception of CDR are big men and the Jazz have a lot of those: Millsap, Okur, Kosta Koufos, Kyrylo Fesenko and the draft rights to 7’2" Ante Tomic of Croatia, all but Millsap jump shooting big men.

Finally, there is the issue of how much the Nets--and Bruce Ratner--would be willing to pay him in a new deal.

Boozer is indeed a prize, IF healthy and that’s always been his issue. He missed 45 games last year and 142 over his seven year career. But he is a two time all-Star, an Olympic gold and bronze medal winner and an NCAA champion. There’s only one other player in the NBA with that resume: Carmelo Anthony, and we all know how the Nets swooned over him last summer. Boozer could be this year's 'Melo. We know he was visited New Jersey May 8 with his agent, presumably talking to the Nets and telling our own PsychoNets34 that he was "house-hunting".

Bottom line: we think this rumor has legs.