GM-speak, for all its emphasis on obfuscation, is utterly predictable. When a GM says a specific player isn't on the market, he's saying "cut the crap, and make me your best offer." When a GM says change is on the table, they are saying "I'm willing to talk, but this isn't a fire sale".
So when a general manager piggybacks on a coaches criticism of a player by saying "we have to consider all our options", right before the all-star break no less, you know what he means. Steve Kerr did precisely that, and we know what he means. Since we know what he means, let's examine why he means it.
You remember the scene from American History X, when Ed Norton "throws a flag" by lifting his shirt and revealing a swastika? He wasn't doing so as an arbitrary demonstration of his beliefs. He had an audience. Kerr has shown the flag (we're talking about Amare Stoudemire, in case you are obtuse), so what's the audience?
Assuredly, an answer to that question is "The Detroit Pistons". That might not be THE answer, but that is AN answer.
To be sure, there are other teams that will enter the discussion. Utah suddenly has a logjam at the PF position, and could send two quality players in exchange for Stoudemire. With neither team looking like a contender, there might be a mutual desire to shake things up there.
The Bulls, as usual, can offer a hodge-podge of mediocrities. Outside of the sportswriter world, which sees gold on the Bulls roster where their seems to be pyrite, I can't imagine Phoenix biting. The Heat are out, I think, since a trade for Marion tacitly concedes that Kerr made the wrong move in the first place. Lamar Odom was born to be traded for better players, so he is always in the mix.
But the Pistons have the most versatility of any club in terms of a trade offer. Joe Dumars can offer young talent or proven talent, expiring contracts or long term pieces, or some combination thereof. Kerr knows this, and knows that Detroit negotiates from a position of relative weakness. The Pistons just saw an impressive sellout streak collapse in spite of the fact that they traded for a proven ticket draw.
So, assuming my instincts are correct, what does he want?
Let's eliminate two names off the bat. Rodney Stuckey and Allen Iverson are not going to Phoenix. Stuckey is off the table, and Phoenix has little use for cap space when:
a) Shaq is old, and so is Steve Nash
b) They are trading away one of the top 2010 prospects for which they might hope to acquire cap space
We can also eliminate McDyess (see: Denver), Afflalo (Phoenix just traded their defensive stopper, which means they don't want one), Kwame (what use would they have for him?) and non-rotation players (alas, no reunion for Herrmann and his long lost twin).
In fact, I think we can take Rip off the list. Phoenix has three top quality guards. Unless they are looking to make a personnel shuffle, I can't imagine why they would want Rip.
That leaves Sheed, Tayshaun Prince, Jason Maxiell and Amir Johnson.
I'm going to take it as a given that Sheed would be part of any package for Amare. He clearly isn't happy in Detroit. He has an expiring contract, and would be an outstanding compliment to Shaq. There is no trade that works without him as a lynch-pin.
Of course, if that was all Phoenix wanted, this trade would be done. So here's the discussion that will take place over the next week.
Steve Kerr's initial ask will be Sheed and Prince. Grant Hill is not the SF solution for a championship team, and an expiring contract who can still play remains insufficient compensation for a Stoudemire-caliber talent.
But such a trade works poorly for Detroit. Not only is Prince an excellent defender and a frequent offensive catalyst, but his replacement would represent a steep dropoff in production. In other words, this trade would not push the Pistons over the top. Dumars knows this, and will rightly refuse the offer.
Kerr, then, has two plays. He can
a) Ask for alternative compensation
b) Add more compensation himself
Route "a)" follows a pretty predictable trajectory. Kerr asks for both Maxiell and Johnson, knowing full well that he doesn't want both. Dumars counters, and Kerr gets whichever player (probably Johnson) he prefers, plus a draft pick. Thus, we have a Sheed-Amir for Stoudemire type trade.
Route "b)" is trickier. The obvious throw-in would be Grant Hill, which raises obvious red flags on a personal level. Setting those aside, we are left with a downgrade at the SF position. Further, we are left building around a nucleus of Stuckey and Stoudemire,a s Hill (who is 36) doesn't factor into future plans.
At the moment, it is unclear which route Joe D wants to travel. To his credit, he hasn't made any public proclamations, and has recouped much of his bargaining strength by making a deal earlier in the season. If he senses desperation on Kerr's part (the kind that led to the Marion-Shaq trade last year), he will get the deal he wants, and the Pistons will again become a contender.
After all, everyone remembers what happened to Ed Norton in American History X.