Last week Carmelo Anthony erased any doubt that he wanted out of Denver, telling Yahoo! Sports that "it's time for a change." The Nets, Knicks and Rockets are the leading candidates to land Anthony, while several others have made inquiries. And why not? The Nuggets' forward can single-handedly shake up the NBA Etch A Sketch, making a bad team good or turning a good team into a title contender.
But Anthony, 26, is not alone in that category. Here are four huge difference makers who could be dealt before the Feb. 24 deadline.
Steve Nash, PG, Suns Ridiculous? Maybe three years ago. But since then Phoenix has stripped away the talent around Nash to the point where even he admits that the team will struggle to make the playoffs. The Suns are rebuilding under new president Lon Babby, and 24-year-old backup Goran Dragic, who through Sunday was averaging 10.7 points and 3.7 assists in just 15.3 minutes, has been impressive. Owed a reasonable $22 million over the next two seasons, Nash, 36, still has plenty of game, and would-be contenders Portland, Atlanta and the Clippers need a better playmaker.
Zach Randolph, PF, Memphis His six-year, $84 million contract expires after this season, and a league source says he's not happy that the Grizzlies didn't offer him an extension. Randolph, 29, has put up 20 and 10 in each of the past two seasons and last year shrugged off the loser label by powering Memphis to a 16-win improvement, earning his first All-Star berth. If the Grizzlies, who committed $82 million to Rudy Gay this summer and will have to spend big to retain free agents Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, are looking to deal, multiple sources say Randolph's preferred destination is Detroit, where he would fill the gaping hole in the Pistons' frontcourt.
Chauncey Billups, PG, Nuggets "They don't want to trade him," says a pro personnel scout, "but if they decide to rebuild, they will." In other words, if Melo goes, Chauncey will follow. Billups, 34, scored a career-high 19.5 points per game last season, but it's his playoff bona fides that make him so intriguing. Acquiring Billups is low risk: His $14.6 million salary next season is a team option.
Andre Iguodala, G-F, 76ers His stock has risen since his stint as Team USA's defensive stopper at the world championships this summer. While Iguodala is an excellent finisher in transition, he can't carry a team; since he arrived in 2004, Philadelphia hasn't won more than 43 games. But he can be a complementary piece on a team with an established star, like, say, the Knicks or the Mavericks. The Sixers have a glut of talent at the wing positions and would love to shed the $56.5 million Iguodala is owed over the next four seasons.
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FAST BREAK Brand New
The 76ers haven't seen much return on the five-year, $82 million investment they made in Elton Brand in 2008. But there are indications that signing Brand, who has set career lows in scoring in each of his two seasons in Philly, may yet pay off. Through his first three games the 6'9" Brand is averaging 14.7 points and 9.0 rebounds. Over the summer Brand swore off candy and fried food, and he didn't start playing pickup games until mid-July, working out in the pool and on his bike instead. He reported to camp 20 pounds lighter at 255. What's more, Brand is healthy for the first time since tearing his Achilles tendon in 2007. "My legs feel fresh," says Brand. "At times last year I didn't feel quick or strong enough to get the ball. Now I'm confident I can do anything."
Photograph by JOHN W. MCDONOUGH
APPRAISING ARIZONA Several contenders would love to acquire Nash, a two-time MVP who's going strong at 36.
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