It seems a little absurd to me to even be considering thinking about the roster next season when the Cavaliers’ hopes in this current season are more than alive and well. I’d much rather look ahead to the playoffs than look ahead to free agency next year. It’s one thing to wonder what will happen to current free agents-to-be Anderson Varejao and Wally Szczerbiak, and quite another thing to wonder about outside players who the Cavaliers may be looking to bring in.
However, a bit of that happened this weekend when the Cavaliers played the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday. It’s no secret that LeBron James and Jason Kidd have formed a very close friendship, and that LeBron has publicly stated more than once how much he would like to play on the same NBA team with Kidd at some point. So, with Kidd being a free agent this off-season, I suppose it’s only natural that some would ask Kidd about the chances of him signing with the Cavaliers this summer.
“I could sit and watch from the bench. [LeBron] is so talented, he’s going to get guys wide open shots. So we’ll look at free agency and what happens for me next year.”
Kidd came far short of saying he was definitely considering Cleveland as a destination, but the quote was enough to get some Cavs fans talking and wondering what the chances of this happening really are.
The problem is, there’s more to that quote. Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News paints a slightly different story. His article, titled “Dallas Mavericks’ Kidd dismisses talk of free agency”, understandably spins things to make it sound a little less likely that Kidd will come to Cleveland. He writes,
After Sunday’s loss to James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, Kidd said he tries not to think about James calling him and suggesting a reunion next season.
The two became friends when they played together for the U.S. Olympic team.
“Yeah, that’s a hard call,” Kidd said. “You don’t want to answer the phone. I just have to explore my different options I’m going to have this summer.”
Kidd tries not to think about the summer. There’s plenty of season left for the Mavericks. But with the Mavericks playing the Cavaliers, it was inevitable the subject would come up.
No matter which way you want to look at it, it’s a little early to be seriously forecasting where guys will end up next year. Until we get a salary cap figure, we can’t fully understand the financial landscape of this summer, and so to try to predict the extent to which certain teams will be buyers and sellers now is not entirely prudent.
There are, however, several factors we can consider now. First, we can think about why the Cavaliers would be interested in Kidd’s services, and what the Cavaliers would potentially have to offer. There are essentially only two reasons why the Cavaliers would have any use/want/need for Jason Kidd at this point. One, he’s friends with LeBron, and two, the Cavaliers could use a true PG to backup Mo Williams.
The fact that he and LeBron are such good friends and that LeBron has such a strong desire to play with Kidd should not be taken lightly. The Cavaliers are always searching for any advantage in keeping LeBron in Cleveland, and if the Cavaliers go longer on years to sign Kidd, keeping him in Cleveland past 2010, it certainly wouldn’t hurt the Cavaliers’ chances of keeping LeBron. Plus, Jason Kidd is still seeking an NBA Championship. With the Mavericks lineup somewhat in flux and a lot of uncertainty surrounding the direction of that franchise, Kidd could be more receptive to coming to Cleveland to win a title with LeBron.
As for the type of player the Cavs would be getting, that one is a little tricky. Jason Kidd is 36 years old and is not the same player he once was. Yes, he is averaging 9.2 points, 8.3 assists, 6.3rebounds, and 2.1 steals per game this year (all numbers you would love to have in a backup PG), but his efficiency rating has been in a fairly steady decline going all the way back to the 2002-03 season. On the other hand, his turnovers are down this year at a career low 2.3 per game, and his 3pt shooting is up to 40.7%, which is a career high. Kidd has been making adjustments to help prolong his career. He may not be the nightly triple-double threat that he once was, but he is certainly still an above average PG.
There are some issues that making the Cavaliers signing Kidd seem pretty unlikely, though. First, and perhaps foremost, Jason Kidd has indicated that he doesn’t really want to leave Dallas. He’s been playing much improved basketball with the Mavericks lately, and he may not be too keen on giving up that situation. Beyond that, coming to Cleveland would likely mean a new role for Kidd: Sixth man. Kidd has started everywhere he’s been in the NBA, and if he stays in Dallas, he will still be the starter there. In Cleveland, though, he would almost surely be asked to accept a bench role. Mo Williams is 10 years younger, was an All-Star this year, is averaging 18.1 ppg on 46.6% shooting from the field (43.5% from 3pt range), and is an established team leader. It’s hard to imagine the Cavaliers being able to bench Williams at this point.
Looking beyond just his role on the team, you have to consider the financials as well. This season, Jason Kidd is making $21.372 million dollars. As the Cavaliers are over the salary cap next year, they would only be able to sign Kidd using one of their exceptions. The bi-annual exception ($1.99 million) will not be enough to get the job done. That will leave just the mid-level exception, which could be as low as $5 million next year, depending on how much the cap drops. So, in order to come to Cleveland, the Cavaliers would either have to work out a sign and trade with the Mavericks, or else ask Kidd to accept a $16 million pay cut. The Mavericks, though also over the cap next year, will have Kidd’s Bird Rights and thus would be able to offer Kidd a higher contract than what the Cavaliers can offer.
Assuming that in all reality, Jason Kidd isn’t going to come to Cleveland for $5 million (even if the Cavaliers offered a 5 year deal), the Cavs will be left with few options. The Cavaliers could try to defer some of the money to fit Kidd under the cap this year, but thanks to the Over-36 rule, that isn’t a realistic option. In fact, the fact that Kidd is already 36 years old means that if the Cavs did sign him to a four- or five-year deal, the deferred salaries from those years would have to be front-loaded into the deal, thus meaning the Cavs couldn’t even offer him the full $5 million this year (Kidd would still be paid $5 million, though, as the deferred compensation would be paid up front). The best the Cavs could do is sign him to a 3 year deal with 30% of his salary this year deferred (thus meaning the true value of his contract next year would be approximately $7.143 million). Again, the Mavericks simply have the ability to blow that offer out of the water, while still offering significantly less than the $21 million he made this year.
The best chance for the Cavaliers to acquire Kidd, then, would be via sign-and-trade. The problem here is that once again, the Cavaliers have few tradable assets. The Cavs could offer Ben Wallace, but the Mavericks would probably just rather take the salary relief of losing Kidd than take on $14 million of Ben Wallace for one season. Furthermore, if the Cavaliers wanted to re-sign Varejao, the addition of Kidd’s salary would pretty much eat up all of the Cavaliers’ 2010 cap space once you take LeBron’s salary into account.
There are only two ways I see the Cavs being able to sign Jason Kidd. First, Kidd could simply decide he wants to take the $16 million pay cut to come to Cleveland, come off the bench, back up Mo Williams, and try to win a Championship with LeBron in Cleveland. The second way, would be if it became clear that Varejao is not going to re-sign in Cleveland for the amount the Cavaliers want to pay him, and Kidd makes it clear to Dallas that he doesn’t want to sign there and wants to play in Cleveland. In that scenario, the Cavaliers and Mavericks could possibly work out a sign-and-trade involving Varejao going to Dallas and Kidd coming to Cleveland.
Ultimately, it would seem highly unlikely that Jason Kidd will be a Cavalier next season. For Danny Ferry, there are simply too many variables. He needs to figure out how to keep Anderson Varejao and what to do about Wally Szczerbiak, all while being mindful of their 2010 cap space. While there’s little question that Jason Kidd would be a more favorable piece to the puzzle than Szczerbiak, if the choice is between Varejao and Kidd, the Cavaliers would unquestionably choose Varejao. Once we know the cap figure for 2009, we will have a better idea of what the 2010 cap projection might be and can better gauge what kind of space the Cavaliers will have. If they decide that they won’t have enough space to go after another big free agent in addition to keeping LeBron, then perhaps adding on Kidd’s salary would be an option, but with the primary focus likely to be on Varejao, it would seem that all the talk of Kidd coming to Cleveland in recent days is centered more on fiction than fact. As always, Ferry will explore all of his options, but Cavs fans would be wise to not get their hopes up.