Acquiring a FA through sign-and-trade has been a muddy issue for the 2010 offseason, at least for me. I've been unsure what we'd have to give up, whether teams without cap space are threats to get involved, and whether cap space gives us a better chance at landing a blue chipper than, say, a Gordon + Tyrus trade package. Here's all the big contract sign-and-trades that I could find from the past 15 years. I can't guarantee complete accuracy but I tried checking multiple sources to get the details right:
Peja Stojakovic to the Hornets for a trade exception. The Hornets had plenty of cap space, but the Pacers didn't want to lose Peja for nothing. So they offered the Hornets $250k to persuade them to acquire Peja via sign-and trade instead, allowing them to get...
Al Harrington to the Pacers for a 1st round pick. The Pacers did not have cap space, but neither did any other option after the Bulls signed Ben Wallace and the Hornets traded for Peja. The Pacers though had their trade exception, making them "the only Harrington suitor that could complete a sign-and-trade without forcing Atlanta to take back significant salary." The Hawks were slashing salary after ownership issues, and the Pacers got Harrington for a 1st round pick.
Brad Miller to the Kings for Scott Pollard and a trade exception. This is the only example I could find of the "use other teams with cap space as leverage" idea posed by tyger and Mike McGraw. The Nuggets and Jazz had cap space and offered big contracts to Miller, but Miller wanted to join the contending, over the cap Kings, and the Pacers jumped at the trade instead of losing Miller for nothing.
Grant Hill to the Magic for Chucky Atkins and Ben Wallace. This goes far enough back where the details get a bit sketchy, but it looks like the Magic had enough cap room to sign two max FA's outright and agreed to a sign-and-trade to give Hill a 7-year max deal.
Tracy McGrady to the Magic for a 1st round pick. Sketchier again, as I can't remember or find out why McGrady was traded for so little despite being just a 3rd year player. I'm assuming he was unrestricted. The Magic had just brought in Hill and still had the cap room to sign McGrady, and they again agreed to S&T to give McGrady the full 7-year contract.
Restricted FAs require sign-and-trades if the acquiring team wants to avoid the offer sheet process, so their cost has been higher.
Joe Johnson to the Hawks for Boris Diaw and two 1sts. The Hawks had the cap space for Johnson's 5-year, $70 mil deal. The Suns were considering matching the offer (JJ was a restricted FA), but chose to honor Johnson's wish and let him walk in exchange for Diaw and two 1sts.
Eddy Curry to the Knicks for a 1st and a right to swap another 1st. Bulls had the right to match any offer, the Knicks wanted him, so he was swapped essentially for what became Tyrus and Noah. The Knicks were above the cap when this happened.
A few thoughts:
(1) I'm surprised by the consistent (lack of) compensation received by former teams of unrestricted players, and it makes me think that if LeBron/Wade/Bosh want to come here, we'd only have to give up a 1st or so in return.
(2) Rudy Gay, Randy Foye, Anthony Morrow, Kyle Lowry, JJ Redick, Sergio Rodriguez are restricted free agents, and the cost of acquiring a restricted FA can be ridiculously high. The Nuggets, for example, had to pay $90 million AND three 1st round picks to get Kenyon Martin (!!). Not that the players above will command much more than a 1st in most cases, but the trade cost should be factored in, especially for a Bulls team that will need the 1sts for depth.
(3) Why haven't there been more Brad Miller type S&T's to over-the-cap contenders? That trade scares me because that means, in theory, every team has a shot at LeBron/Wade/Bosh. I just can't figure out why this hasn't happened more often. Dozens and dozens of talented players have been unrestricted free agents in the past 15 years, yet there's just one instance of this happening? Any ideas?
My only guess is it could just be a GM freeze-out thing like we saw with Ernie Grunfeld and the Celtics deal he didn't make. A GM who trades LeBron/Wade/Bosh/Amare/Boozer/Johnson to a contender for crap just to avoid losing his player for nothing probably burns a lot of important bridges.
Overall, it looks like getting under the cap increased our chances of landing a blue chipper. I'm not suggesting the Bulls + Gordon + Tyrus would've been a contender that would force a GM freeze-out; but it's just that S&Ts to teams without cap space have been so rare.