It’s gone strikingly unremarked that the Cavs have the second highest cap number in the league at $88.2 million, just below tonight’s opponent, the Brooklyn Nets ($89.6 mil) according to Spotrac. As far as bang for your buck, the Cavs have a slight advantage.
The Nets are tied with Charlotte, a half-game behind Boston and Indiana, in the quest for the final playoff spot. While everyone’s acting as though the Cavaliers have nothing to play for, that’s wildly inaccurate. Though it seemed impossible at 19-20, the fact is that Cavaliers are in competition for the third-best record in the league. That would secure them homecourt advantage against any team they faced in the finals aside from the league-leading Golden State Warriors at 58-13.
The Cavaliers have the league’s fifth-best record at the moment. The Memphis Grizzlies are third. They have a 3½-game lead on the Cavs, but they’ve lost four of their last ten. Since the Cavs have beaten them twice, Cleveland would get the seventh game if both teams finished with the same record. It’s not the type of thing the Cavs would probably admit to watching, but it’s not beyond their grasp either. LeBron says “just get me in there” but you know he’d rather play four in Cleveland .
Immediately ahead of the Cavaliers are the Houston Rockets, who’ve played two fewer games and have one more win. That equates with a 1½-game lead, but they just lost their starting point guard Patrick Beverley after he toe ligaments in his wrist. Initially it was suggested he was lost for the season, but now they’re suggesting a couple weeks.
Houston just got Dwight Howard back on Wednesday after sitting out two months with knee issues. They’re starting Paleolithic combo guard Jason Terry, but since James Harden handles the ball, skilled wing defender Corey Brewer frequently plays alongside.
It’s just something to watch.
Wait Till Next Year….
The momentary heat check on Sasha Kaun prompted me to wonder about next year. Coach Blatt described him as a “third-big” who was limited beyond the restricted area, with an offensive arsenal comparable to Bismack Biyombo.
He’s only 6-9 out of shoes, but he has a massive 7’6” wingspan, and about 250 pounds. Last year in the Euroleague shot 69% from the field and 65% from the line for 9.9 points, 4.6 boards (1.5 offensive), and a block in just under 20 minutes a game.
He has no jumper whatsoever, but he’s good defensively and according to Blatt his best attribute is his lateral agility and ability to defend the pick and roll. Kaun played for years for the Kansas Jayhawks, winning the 2007-2008 NCAA championship his senior year. He then returned to Russia where he was a bench player on Blatt’s bronze-medal winning 2012 Russian National Olympic team.
He’s not sexy, and Blatt suggested this may simply be a ploy since his contract is up next year. Threatening to jump to the NBA is a well-worn European ploy, and may be nothing more than that, as Jason Lloyd suggested a few days ago.
At 30, it’s a bit now or never for Kaun, but if ever there were a perfect situation it would be here where he wouldn’t need to do much more than Kendrick Perkins, who’s also 30, and is probably an even better choice, if he’s willing to come back on the cheap. Certainly nobody’s going to pay Perking the $9.6 he received in the final year of his contact.
What’s interesting looking forward is that there’s just three contracts on the books for 2016. As you may already know, the NBA salary cap will spike after the end of next season as the players get their cut of the $2.7 billion contract – almost triple the previous contact. According to the contract the union sign after the owners essentially borke them in 2011, the players get 51% of the pie, which must be paid out in salaries.
This means the cap jumps dramatically in 2016, and max contract sizes will grow commensurately. Indeed, for anyone to sign a multiyear contract this coming off-season is screwing themselves out of millions of dollars. LeBron will be able to jump his salary to $33 million. Love, based on his service time, would be able to get close to $30 million.
So it’s really just neckbone logic that has Love leaving after this season. He has a player option for $16.7 million and it would be wildly surprising if he didn’t exercise it for just the reason we stated. Why would you sign a multi-year contract this summer that maxes out at $19 million/year when you get another $10/million annually by waiting a year. You don’t think their agents can do that math?
That’s the one thing that makes the Tristan Thompson resigning sort of inevitable. Even if you overpay for him now – and the $52/4 years he turned down is as much as a fifth more than you’d like to pay – that contract will seem miniscule a couple years down the road. Hell, Irving’s $14.7 million extension will seem pretty tame when the best players are making twice that.
It’s for these reasons that you’re probably going to see a lot of these same faces next year. J.R. Smith could probably opt out of this $6.4 million player option, and still might. He’s played well enough to rehabilitate his value, but as well as he fits, he may very well hang out and hope to cash in here in 2016.
Timofey Mozgov still has another year on his contract at an almost embarrassing $5 million annually. The problem in 2016 is that he will be 30, and it’s questionable how much you want to invest in a player who’s athleticism is so important to him, particularly offensively. Further, there will be a smorgasbord of free agents to choose from.
Mike Miller has a $2.8 million player option for next year, and we’d have to assume he’s going to pick that up unless he’s got some inside information on Lotto numbers or a very rich uncle.
Iman Shumpert is a restricted free agent, and it’s hard to guess how much he can command on the market, but the Cavaliers can match any offer and he’s certainly not talented enough offensively to attract the kind of godfather offer that led Chandler Parsons to jump from Houston to Dallas. While $6-$7 million annually still feels like a lot, that’s probably the neighborhood we’re talking about.
If the Cavs want though, they can let Thompson become a restricted free agent and match what the market dictates. However other teams are also aware these contracts are going to be bargains in a few years and might like to make the Cavaliers sweat it. Matthew Dellavedova is also a free agent, but it’s hard to see anyone valuing him quite as much as this coaching staff.
Joe Harris is still on a rookie contract and will make $845,000 providing a good cheap bench option. Brendan Haywood will almost certainly be unloaded trading his $10.5 million to someone trying to unload a contract, perhaps to sign a free agent. This year it netted the Celtics Tyler Zeller and a first round pick, so who’s to say? That said, those opportunities are limited, with only one or two a year. There simply aren’t as many salary dumps anymore.
So you bring back the starting five and the first four guys off the bench (Varejao,Thompson, Delly, Shumpert) as well as long-distance wings Mike Miller and Joe Harris, and a draft pick. That’s twelve.
You would probably like a swing forward type that can shoot from the arc and perhaps another sort of combo guard with point guard skills. You might like another big, so maybe you bring back Perkins or bring Kaun over. Given the chemistry the team’s developed and the roles of the bench guys it’s difficult to figure what you might use Haywood’s $10.5 marker on.
But here’s a list of some guys that might make sense:
Jeff Green ($9.4M). Green has a player option and Memphis is not necessarily looking to unload assets. Then again, you’re paying Tony Allen and Vince Carter a collective $9 million, but it still doesn’t seem much of a fit for Memphis even if they are resigning Gasol. Indeed, Randolph’s contract drops by almost $7 million next year, giving them extra room.
Channing Frye ($7.9M). This guy barely plays in Orlando, despite shooting 40% from 3. (He shot 39% from 2.) He’s 31 and signed for another year after next which isn’t very attractive either, but he’s just the kind of playoff-tested (Portland, Phoenix) stretch 4 the team would like off the bench. Just seems like a big overpay for a 15/min a night guy.
Mavin Williams ($7M). The Charlotte SF/PF is only 28 but hasn’t done great there and after a disappointing season could be tickeed out. He’s a good defender and shoots 37% from distance. He doesn’t require a lot of usage and is by all accounts a stand-up citizen. This would be a nice-pickup and makes since from both sides.
There really aren’t many guards in the $6-$10M range that make sense aside from Greivis Vasquez ($6.6M), but he’s done well in Toronto, and there are always decent point guards near the bottom of the first round, where the Cavs will be picking.
The depth chart would then look something like this:
C – Mozgov, Varajeao, Perkins/Kaun
PF – Love, Thompson
SF – James, Williams, Miller
SG – Smith, Shumpert, Harris
PG – Irving, Delly, 1st Round Pick?
For a final piece maybe you look for an older guy up for his final run at a ring. Maybe someone like Tayshaun Prince, Drew Gooden, Jason Terry, Mo Williams, John Salmons, or Elton Brand, all of whom will be free agents and might have trouble finding a long-term contract. If you’re playing year-to-year why not take a shot with a contender? A lot of that will probably depend on whom the Cavaliers select in the draft.
Given how well they’ve performed, and the given the cap situation it would be surprising to see them do anything other than around the edges.
As always you can follow me on Twitter @CRS_1ne and find my columns now daily in the Cleveland Scene blog.