Yesterday we touched on how Leon Powe can help the Cavaliers by giving them some depth at the power forward. The issue there, however, is that Powe is currently rehabbing his knees after tearing his left ACL and having microfracture surgery. Even though the Cavaliers signed him now, they know he will not be able to play in the first half of the season, and according to Brian Windhorst, the team realizes that, potentially, “Powe may not be able to contribute on a meaningful level until the end of the upcoming season.”
This is where Joe Smith can come into play. While there is both merit and value in having guys like JJ Hickson and Darnell Jackson getting some additional playing time early, the value is only there is the players actually progress. If their outputs stays the same, or even regresses, then the lack of having a true backup for Anderson Varejao can be disastrous on the Cavaliers’ season. That may sound like hyperbole, but just being a good team isn’t enough for the Cavaliers anymore. Sure, without a backup at the 4 they will still make the playoffs and be a high seed. The goal is much higher than that, though. And without a reliable rotation at the 4, it is hard to imagine this team fully realizing its full capability.
As of right now, Joe Smith is a free agent, but as we are starting to see NBA Free Agency wind down, Smith is not going to sit by and wait for the Cavaliers much longer. The Atlanta Hawks are similarly desperate for some depth at power forward, and according the Journal Constitution’s Sekou Smith, the Hawks have been pursuing Joe Smith for over a month.
There’s no question that Joe Smith is comfortable in Cleveland’s system, having played here in parts of the last 2 seasons, and by all accounts, Cavaliers coach Mike Brown is equally comfortable with Joe Smith and would like to see him added to this roster. If there is mutual interest, then why hasn’t a deal been done yet? Well, it’s the nature of the NBA. Sometimes you focus on other, more hard-to-get free agents (like Parker, Moon, and Powe) before you focus on the guys you feel want to play for your team. Other times, it’s simply a matter of making sure you can fit a guy on the team financially.
If you look at the Cavaliers’ roster for this season, the salaries are already pretty extreme, particularly when you consider the cap went down to $57.7 million this year with a luxury tax threshold of $69.920 million. As of right now, the Cavaliers’ roster stands at:
Shaquille O’Neal – $20,000,000
LeBron James – $15,779,912
Zydrunas Ilgauskas – $11,541,074
Mo Williams – $8,860,000
Anderson Varejao – $6,300,000
Delonte West – $4,254,250
Daniel Gibson – $4,088,500
Jamario Moon – $2,750,000
Anthony Parker – $2,644,230
JJ Hickson – $1,429,200
Leon Powe – $855,189
Darnell Jackson – $736,420
Jawad Williams – $736,420
Although 2nd round draft pick Danny Green has yet to be signed, the Cavaliers are expected to get a deal done at some point this offseason, presumably somewhere in the ballpark of $700,000 for this season. That puts the Cavaliers salary at somewhere around $80,675,195 for this season, meaning that Dan Gilbert is already looking at paying somewhere around $11 million in luxury tax penalties alone already as it is.
If the Cavaliers were to still sign Joe Smith, they could do so using either the Bi-Annual Exception or else the Minimum Salary Exception. The Bi-Annual Exception is $1.99 million and Joe Smith’s minimum salary would be $1,306,455.
For Gilbert, he would thus be looking at having to spend an additional $2.613 million to $3.98 million just to give the team the additional luxury of adding a 34 year old, 14-year veteran power forward to help stabilize the position until Leon Powe returns. Gilbert has shown time and time again that he is willing to do whatever it takes to give this team the best chance to win the Championship, and this is another time it would be nice to see the Cavaliers do just that and go out and sign Joe Smith once again.
We’ve seen what Joe Smith can bring to the table, and the Cavaliers certainly know his strengths and weaknesses. A better offensive player than Darnell Jackson and a better defensive player than JJ Hickson, he certainly could have a role on this team. Smith likely knows he would play a much more significant role on the frountcourt-challenged Atlanta Hawks team, but he knows this Cavaliers team and the simple fact he has rebuffed the Hawks’ advances for over a month leads one to believe he is still waiting to see if the Cavaliers are going to offer him a contract.
Through his 14 year NBA career, Joe Smith has played for the Warriors, 76ers, Timberwolves, Pistons, Bucks, Nuggets, Bulls, and Thunder. His shots at glory have been very limited, and it’s not hard for one to believe that Smith wants another chance at winning an NBA title. He’s not going to get that chance with the Atlanta Hawks, and he knows it. Not that the Hawks aren’t a very good team, but with the Cavaliers, Magic, and Celtics all ahead of them in the East, and with the Raptors and Heat still hanging around there, the Hawks are stuck in the middle.
The Cavaliers are right on the cusp, and you get the sense that they are closer than ever before to having an NBA Championship team. There is more depth on the Cavaliers than we have ever seen before. But for the first half of the season, there is still that one hole in the roster behind Anderson Varejao. There’s a chance Hickson and/or Jackson could fill that role, but rather than leave it up to chance, the Cavaliers would be wise to realize that this is the last season LeBron James is guaranteed to be a Cavaliers. Taking that into consideration, picking up a solid veteran guy like Joe Smith, who the team already knows can instantly mesh with the personalities and skills on this team, could be the final piece to top off what has already been a masterful offseason by Danny Ferry.