NEW YORK -- The most coveted big man on the trade market found a home last Friday when the Memphis Grizzlies dealt power forward Pau Gasol to the Lakers for a package that included Kwame Brown, a retired player and the next three male members of the Gasol family. Now the attention turns to the hottest backcourt commodity.
No, not Jason Kidd.
I'm talking about Sam Cassell.
No, I'm not suggesting that Cassell is superior to Kidd. It's just that despite the rash of rumors that have Kidd going anywhere from Cleveland to Dallas to Los Angeles, I remain steadfast in the belief that Kidd isn't going anywhere.
"Trades don't grow on trees," a veteran Eastern Conference assistant coach told me recently. "And when you are talking about a Jason Kidd, more likely than not the talks won't lead to anything."
So for the purposes of this discussion, let's assume Kidd isn't going anywhere. Cassell, however, could be before the Feb. 21 trade deadline.
There is little doubt that Cassell, 38, the NBA's third-oldest player, who is making $6.1 million this season in the last year of his contract, will be looking to finish his career with a contending team. The Clippers, meanwhile, already have their point guard of the future in Shaun Livingston, who is recovering from knee surgery and is expected to be back at full strength for the 2008-2009 season. Moreover, Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy has made it clear that Cassell and the rest of the team's point guards have not lived up to expectations this season. (Cassell did have a solid 11-point, seven-assist, one-turnover performance in the Clippers' 103-94 victory against the Knicks on Monday).
The Clippers have been inundated with trade offers in recent weeks. Besides Cassell, L.A. has been approached about dealing injured power forward Elton Brand and surprising center Chris Kaman. But Cassell, a savvy veteran who boasts career averages of 15.9 points and 6.1 assists, is a hot commodity.
"There are no big-time players that are going to be out there for the most part that would get you there," Dunleavy said recently. "Somebody is looking for a piece. I understand why they would throw Sam's name out there. Sam is a piece. He is a guy that can put up big numbers from a backup position and start a game for you, so I can understand that."
The most commonly circulated trading partner has been Boston, where Cassell would be reunited with former Minnesota teammate Kevin Garnett.
"I hear a lot of that," Cassell said before Monday night's game. "What can you do? You can't get too high and you can't get too low."
Boston, however, is an unlikely destination, at least via trade. The bulk of the Celtics' payroll is committed to Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, with the restdivided among lower-salaried players. The only real pieces the Celtics could offer the Clippers would be James Posey ($3.2 million), Kendrick Perkins ($4.4 million) and Brian Scalabrine ($3 million). Boston won't deal Posey or Perkins, and the Clippers want no part of Scalabrine.
There is also the possibility that the Celtics don't even want Cassell. Boston director of basketball operations Danny Ainge passed on Troy Hudson in the offseason and made no effort to acquire Damon Stoudamire when Stoudamire was bought out by Memphis last week (he signed with the Spurs). Ainge has been unwavering in his support of second-year point guard Rajon Rondo. He's also been satisfied with combo guard Eddie House as Rondo's primary backup.
"A lot of the Cassell stuff may just be about KG," a league source said. "I'm not sure Danny is all that interested."
So Cassell waits. He maintains that he is not miserable in Los Angeles, just disappointed that a Clippers team that was within one game of the conference finals two seasons ago has fallen to such depths.
"I enjoy these guys," Cassell said. "What has happened here, it's not something we predicted. Playing this summer, I thought this was going to be a real good team."
• A source tells me that Boston plans on holding Garnett out of the lineup until after the All-Star break because of his abdominal strain. If that happens, Garnett will miss the Celtics' game at Minnesota on Friday, Boston's lone trip to Garnett's former home this season.
• Cassell also weighed in on former Timberwolves teammate Latrell Sprewell, who hasn't played since the end of the 2004-05 season. "He don't want to come back," Cassell said. "I tried to get Spree to come back to the Clippers two years ago. I thought I had him but he turned me down. He felt like he would have to answer too many questions about feeding his kids and that stuff." (In 2004, unhappy with contract negotiations with Minnesota, Sprewell said: "I've got a lot at risk here. I've got my family to feed.")
• A synopsis of my thoughts on the Gasol trade, which I wrote about in this week's issue of Sports Illustrated: It's a good get for the Lakers, a steal if Gasol steps up his defense in Los Angeles.