A good deal can make all the difference

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A checklist of essential items will follow, but it's not formatted in any particular order of importance.

OK, we have the flowers, the chocolate, gold jewelry, a backup point guard, maybe a wing shooter and inside depth. These gift suggestions are, of course, offered to NBA presidents and generals managers who must prepare for victory on Valentine's Day and the league's trading deadline that hits five days later.

While every franchise has at least some interest in improving its roster and/or luxury-tax vulnerability, we're here to assess what each contending team needs to keep contending and how those needs could be satisfied. It should be noted the contending reference is aimed at those teams seemingly prepared -- through our perception or theirs -- to sniff the O'Brien Trophy.



Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavs, currently checking in with the league's best record, could use E.T. or that movie character played by John Travolta who heals people by simply touching them. With one of those creatures in the fold, point guard Mo Williams and backup Delonte West might return from injury sooner.

But with LeBron James moving the ball around, Cleveland seems fine on the perimeter until Williams and West return. What coach Mike Brown really doesn't have is a card-carrying "stretch four." Well, we're not sure if the term "stretch four" has been around long enough to warrant the production of actual cards, but it refers to a power forward capable of making outside shots, causing the defense to spread out a bit.

That's what Orlando has (in stereo), and the Cavs wouldn't mind adding someone to do the same things while being able to guard Rashard Lewis during his trips beyond the three-point line.

The popular remedy reportedly is Washington Wizard Antawn Jamison, who really couldn't shoot it deep while playing for North Carolina, but he's pretty good at it now. By the way, the Wizards are pretty shaky, Jamison has a big contract and LeBron has been credited with wanting Antawn as a teammate.

The Wizards, however, like Jamison, who puts up consistent numbers and doesn't use the dressing room as an armory. So, with Antawn unlikely to move, Washington is eager to dump 29-year-old small forward Caron Butler. Butler is a very good player having a subpar season. He doesn't seem like much of a fit for Cleveland.

The alleged Plan B for a stretch four is Indiana Pacer Troy Murphy.

Philly swingman Andre Iguodala also has been mentioned (here and in several other locations), but even though he's an outstanding player, the latest A.I. might greatly change the way Cleveland plays without solving the stretch-four issue.

As trade collateral, the Cavs have two big players (Shaquille O'Neal and Zydrunas Ilgauskas) with big expiring contracts, but neither figures to have much deadline sway.

Orlando Magic

The Magic might be advised to hire someone like Dr. Phil or Tony Robbins. This means that while they may have the requisite pieces to return to the Finals, it might not hurt them to behave in a more mature manner.

It also would help if Vince Carter would either shoot reasonable shots at reasonable times or be someone other teams would want to acquire in a trade. Unfortunately, personal history and a fat contract make those things unlikely to occur.

As usual, Orlando could use another point guard; two teams with young backups are the Miami Heat (Mario Chalmers) and Charlotte Bobcats (D.J. Augustin). The Magic's top trade chip, reserve four man Brandon Bass, isn't a stretch four and has three more years on his deal plus an option.

The best bet for the Magic is to focus on just playing better basketball and hope that's enough.

Boston Celtics

The C's also could use a supernatural healer to put the spring back in Kevin Garnett's knee and get reserve swingman Marquis Daniels back on the floor.

For the record, Boston still hasn't come up with anyone who can spell Rajon Rondo and actually run the team; Stephon Marbury isn't expected back from China anytime soon, and he wasn't the answer last year.

As an answer, Chicago Bulls combo guard Kirk Hinrich can run the point and defend it. Despite having two years on a lucrative contract, he'll be a popular name in trade rumors involving several teams over the next two weeks. Boston has less to offer for Hinrich than other interested teams.

Now that we've reached February, it's also time for personnel sharpies to pledge allegiance to players in order to keep trade value high. With that in mind, Boston's Danny Ainge didn't exactly tell veteran shooting guard Ray Allen he's a goner, but he also stopped short of guaranteeing he'll still be around come playoff time.

With Tayshaun Prince (Detroit), Iguodala and Sacramento's Kevin Martin as possible trading chips and Allen's contract on its last legs, anything is possible. If Ainge could land Iguodala or Martin, Jesus Shuttlesworth probably would be heading out of town.

Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks have a nice starting lineup and an outstanding sixth man in guard Jamal Crawford. But coach Mike Woodson needs some depth up front, especially with Al Horford attempting to battle the likes of Dwight Howard, Kendrick Perkins and Shaquille O'Neal at 6 feet 10.

One player that would make some sense is Brendan Haywood, a large man who works for the potentially cap-clearing Wizards. Another might be veteran center Tyson Chandler (Charlotte), who's in the last year of his deal. With depth at center, the Bobcats brass may be willing to move Chandler's salary. But Chandler is the best post defender Charlotte has, and Coach Larry Brown -- who has built this playoff contender on defense -- probably would fight to keep him.

The Hawks also could use more depth at forward, but having no depth means there's little for Atlanta to bargain with besides its own rotation players. And then we're back where we started.


Los Angeles Lakers

The older Derek Fisher gets, the less effective the defending champs are at defending dribble penetration by opposing point guards. Well, Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown are decent defenders, but -- even running the triangle -- they're not much at directing an offense.

Making this issue even trickier is Fish's inability (along with almost everyone else lining up next to Kobe Bryant) to make perimeter shots at a decent rate. It won't exactly be a breeze to find a competent floor leader who also can shoot. Even though Chicago's Hinrich might be a fine addition, even the Lakers would flinch at adding that much loot to their luxury-tax lineup.

Of course, the Lakers could use a little frontline clarity, especially if Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol fail to get out of each other's way on the low post. The big tease of a trade rumor would send Toronto superstar power forward Chris Bosh to L.A. before he could become a free agent and leave the Raptors for nothing. The Raptors would receive a budding super center in Bynum, who would work well with Andrea Bargnani, who prefers shooting from deep and not getting his hands dirty. But the Raptors still would have Bosh to use as a chip in a summer sign-and-trade bonanza.

Although this might be the best Toronto could hope for, the addition of Bosh might make the Lakers deadly. Just prepare to keep exhaling through the deadline.

Denver Nuggets

Last year's conference final silver medalists could use a sixth man with some emotional consistency, but management (at least some of it) seems committed to keeping talented-but-somewhat-troubled J.R. Smith.

The next addition of use would be an inside player to trim some minutes from Denver's current three-man rotation. The aforementioned Haywood and Milwaukee Buck Kurt Thomas and Sixer Samuel Dalembert will come up in talks involving many teams. But if Smith is considered a keeper, the Nuggets have little that anyone would want (assuming they'd want J.R.).

Dallas Mavericks

OK, from here on down we may be stretching the contender banner a bit, but the Mavericks certainly are capable of making the others perspire.

A recent losing skid prompted owner Mark Cuban to announce that "we suck right now" and suggest looking into roster changes may not be farfetched. It is believed Josh Howard is the major chip for a team that could use help on the perimeter and on the interior (with defense an emphasis).

The Sixers' Iguodala and well-paid center Dalembert have been mentioned; Dalembert makes a decent wage, but is much cheaper than Philly albatross Elton Brand. This will make Sam's club very popular over the next several days. Butler's name comes up, but Shawn Marion works at small forward in Dallas and Caron is a reach at shooting guard. His down season has done little to inspire a move in that direction by Dallas.

Rip Hamilton reportedly is up for grabs, but after this season, the Detroit Pistons' two guard still has three years and about $38 million on his deal. Good luck movin' him.

Sacramento's Martin reportedly is a Mavs target, but even Howard's deal (team option for next season) may not entice the Kings, even though Martin and rookie Tyreke Evans seem to be in each other's way since Kevin returned from injury.

San Antonio Spurs

We're officially not sleepin' on the Spurs, who have embarked on that bonding event known as the Rodeo Road Trip.

While chemistry probably isn't an issue, coach Gregg Popovich's team could use more length to help Tim Duncan on post defense (remember rookie DeJuan Blair is only 6-6 and change). Gossip has included Phoenix Sun Amar'e Stoudemire, which seems pretty amusing on its face.

First, we can't imagine the Suns doing anything to assist the Spurs. Second, Stoudemire would add some length, but not much defense. Then again, if the Spurs -- who aren't really defending like typical Spurs teams -- had Amar'e, they could just outscore most opponents.

With Tony Parker, George Hill, Roger Mason Jr. and (potential trade bait) Manu Ginobili in tow, San Antonio can score from the perimeter. They really could use someone like Richard Jefferson; the alien currently occupying RJ's body just isn't playing the way the Spurs expected him to.

Utah Jazz

What Utah needs is a shot-blocker not named Andrei Kirilenko. Sure, AK is a fine rejecter, but usually spends an inordinate amount of time chasing threes on the perimeter. So, with ground-bound Mehmet Okur, Carlos Boozer and Paul Millsap working inside, the Jazz will be challenged to prevent, oh, the Lakers from murdering them on the post.

Boozer, by the way, has had a fine season and coach Jerry Sloan can go double power forward with him and Millsap; hey, with no shot-blockers anyway, what can it hurt? But Utah has money issues and dumping Carlos now might bring a decent player before free agency brings cap relief. Boozer also could be a summer sign-and-trade commodity, but the Jazz would have to take back salary they may not be able to afford.