Cavs remain leaders to land Stoudemire

The Phoenix Suns are getting closer to making a decision on the future of Amar’e Stoudemire(notes), and the Cleveland Cavaliers have emerged as the frontrunner to acquire the All-Star forward, league sources told Yahoo! Sports.

Multiple sources believe the Suns have decided to move Stoudemire before Thursday’s trade deadline and are simply positioning themselves to get the best possible offer.

The Suns have had serious discussions on a trade that would send Stoudemire to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Zydrunas Ilgauskas(notes) and J.J. Hickson(notes), but sources say neither side has yet to commit that it will make the trade should the other give the nod. Nevertheless, the Cavs are the clear frontrunner over Philadelphia and Miami for the simple reason that Cleveland has an acceptable deal on the table for the Suns.

The Cavaliers are dealing in a position of strength because there are so few buyers on the trade market now. Cleveland has won 13 straight games, has the league’s best record (43-11) and doesn’t have to make the deal for Stoudemire.

Still, the Cavs’ ownership and front office will spare no expense to make a move they believe will result in a championship. As much as anything, they believe the re-signing of LeBron James(notes) could well rest with winning the title. James is a major proponent of the Stoudemire trade and much will be incumbent on him to make the partnership with him, Stoudemire and Shaquille O’Neal(notes) work.

However, James has given the Cavaliers no promise that trading for – and retaining – Stoudemire would assure that he re-signs this summer. Acquiring Stoudemire could help, but James and his inner circle continue to privately insist they’ll explore free agency in July before making a final decision.

If there’s one trade offer that would be likeliest to usurp the Cavs’ proposal, it would be the Philadelphia 76ers softening on their stance that they won’t include Andre Iguodala(notes) with Sam Dalembert in a package for Stoudemire and Leandro Barbosa(notes). The Suns had been receptive to that deal, despite the belief of some in the league that Phoenix owner Robert Sarver doesn’t want to take on future contracts, just shed them.

Sixers general manager Ed “Stefanski doesn’t want Stoudemire and [Elton] Brand together,” one source said.

The Sixers also haven’t been pro-active about trying to get a three-team deal going.

“A three-way would take effort on their part,” one league official said, “and they haven’t shown much of that yet.”

The Miami Heat desperately want Stoudemire to play with Dwyane Wade(notes), but don’t have a combination of young players, expiring contracts and picks that appeal to the Suns. The Heat are trying to find a third team to give the Suns an acceptable young player, but one league source involved in the process said, “It will have to include a piece I would be shocked to see them obtain.”

Stoudemire is rooting hardest for that scenario because he will eagerly opt out of his contract’s final year and sign an extension with the Heat this offseason. The Cavaliers would be intriguing for Stoudemire to re-sign with – simply because of LeBron – but so far there’s been no discussion.

Most believe Sarver, who has had financial turmoil, is driving the Cavaliers’ scenario because a buyout of Ilgauskas’ $11.5 million expiring contract could get the Suns under the luxury-tax threshold.

One source said James even probed Stoudemire over a month ago on his willingness to play a supporting role with the Cavaliers. Apparently, James liked Stoudemire’s response. Whatever issues that Stoudemire and Shaq had playing together for a season and a half in Phoenix are resolved to the satisfaction of the Cavs.

Cleveland also is still considering deals for Washington’s Antawn Jamison(notes) and Indiana’s Troy Murphy(notes). Despite some speculation, the Cavaliers haven’t had any dialogue with the Detroit Pistons about a three-way deal that would result with Richard Hamilton(notes) coming to Cleveland, a league source said.

Neither Washington nor Indiana is sure how serious the Cavs are to make a deal for Stoudemire, or whether Cleveland GM Danny Ferry is just trying to pressure those teams into lowering their asking prices. Nevertheless, the idea that the Cavs would leverage Suns GM Steve Kerr to the deadline on Thursday and leave them stuck without a trade is unlikely. “Danny and Steve are best friends,” said one league source who talks frequently to both of them. “He would not use Steve like that. No way.”

While it’s against NBA rules to make a pre-arranged deal, multiple sources say Ilgauskas would have to be on board with taking a buyout from the Suns, allowing him to return to the Cavs after the 30-day waiting period. The Suns certainly factor in how much Ilgauskas would want in a buyout to make sure this trade gets them maximum tax relief. Much of that buyout would hinge on how much the Cavs could give him to re-sign. The Cavs still have their bi-annual exception available to re-sign Ilgauskas.

A source close to Ilgauskas insisted the issues he had with coach Mike Brown over where and when he would break Cleveland’s record for games played wouldn’t affect his desire to return.

Adrian Wojnarowski is the NBA columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Adrian a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Monday, Feb 15, 2010