IT'S THE time of the season when some teams try to set a course toward the Finals, while others maneuver with an eye to more distant horizons. Here's what to expect from each group as the Feb. 19 trade deadline approaches.
Among the four top contenders, the Cavaliers are in the best position to make a move, with swingman Wally Szczerbiak's $13.8 million expiring contract. Cleveland will strongly consider sending Szczerbiak (along with guard Boobie Gibson or draft picks) out West for one of two available centers: the Kings' Brad Miller or Marcus Camby of the Clippers. The other three teams have needs but nothing as enticing to offer. Still, Celtics G.M. Danny Ainge will try to fill out his roster's gaps—a backup big man and a bench scorer—by landing two players whose contracts might be bought out: Thunder forward Joe Smith, a solid vet who could be this year's P.J. Brown, and Knicks guard Stephon Marbury (left), who, despite carrying more baggage than a 747, can pour in points in a hurry. With Andrew Bynum out until at least early April, the Lakers could use help up front as well; if the Smith sweepstakes get going, expect L.A. to bid against Boston. The Spurs aren't known for deadline deals, but they could bid for Smith or try to cobble a deal for one of Oklahoma City's other bigs, Nick Collison or Chris Wilcox.
Around the league the big name being talked about is Amar'e Stoudemire. With the Suns falling to the bottom of the Western Conference playoff picture, teams have come asking after their 26-year-old All-Star power forward. "It's going to take an impressive package," says an Eastern Conference executive. "He is still a top 10 player." One possible suitor: the Heat, which has young talent to offer—such as forwards Michael Beasley and Udonis Haslem and guard Mario Chalmers—and would love to have Stoudemire as an inside complement to Dwyane Wade.