Despite no longer having LeBron James, the Cleveland Cavaliers will still have several interesting storylines to follow this year. Of course everyone will want to watch and see how the Cavaliers play with their franchise player no longer a part of the franchise. I’m sure an ongoing storyline will be Byron Scott’s performance in his first season with the Cavaliers. How will Andy Varejao adapt without his partner in crime in the pick and roll game? Will JJ Hickson continue his development or will he go backward without the safety net of LeBron? Will/can the Cavaliers trade Mo Williams and/or Antawn Jamison? Will Ramon Sessions rebound back to his Milwaukee form?
Those are all interesting storylines to keep an eye on, but perhaps the biggest question that will linger over the Cavaliers all season long has to deal with the Trade Exception the Cavaliers picked up in the LeBron James trade. Until they either use it or it expires, you can count on Cavalier fans relentlessly inquiring as to whether the Cavs will use it and who they might use it to acquire.
Prior to the LeBron trade, we had several discussions on the site as to whether or not the Cavaliers should do a sign and trade with LeBron and the Heat in order to get the Trade Exception. I wrote at the time that I was against the Cavaliers getting the Exception because I was afraid the Cavaliers would not be able to resist the temptation to use it. I was afraid, especially after Dan Gilbert’s letter, that they would use it to get someone like Andre Iguodala or Andrei Kirilenko. Both of those are fine players to have if you’re a contending team. If you’re rebuilding, though, it’s just senseless money you’re spending on guys you can’t build a team around.
Having said all that, though, the Trade Exception could come in handy should some decent younger players become available for whatever reason. Fran Blinebury of NBA.com wrote an article today outlining a few players who he thinks might be on the trade block this year at some point. Sure enough, he has the obvious Iguodala and Kirilenko names on his list, along with veteran Chauncey Billups who seems to always be on the trade block to some degree.
None of those guys are the types of players the Cavaliers should be targeting. However, the last 2 names on Blinebury’s list are at least mildly interesting. Those names would be Jeff Green of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Jason Thompson of the Sacramento Kings. Of course, those guys are a bigger stretch to end up being traded than the initial 3 names on the list, but it’s worth considering.
So why would Jeff Green actually be on the trade block? Why would the Thunder look to ship out a 24 year old who put 15.1 points and 6 rebounds last season? Blinebury explains his reasoning:
Why in the world would the up-and-coming Thunder even think about breaking up their young threesome that includes Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook? It’s the usual one-word answer: money.
Oklahoma City just signed Durant to a new deal that will cost — and be worth — every cent of $85 million and they’ve got Westbrook standing in line waiting for his payday. It’s just not as simple as having the ATM spit out a fortune to everyone who is next in line. The Thunder invested the No. 3 pick in the 2009 draft on James Harden and expect him to steadily take on a bigger role and minutes. Up front they now have Cole Aldrich moving into the lineup. Green would naturally be a small forward on most teams, but that’s the domain of the out-of-this-world Durant. There are going to be times in the development of the Thunder as a small-market contender when some of the decisions will have to be made with an eye on the bottom line and this is one.
Now, there are plenty of reasons why the Thunder won’t actually trade Jeff Green this season already. First of all, until we know what the new CBA will look like, it seems a little strange to talk about money as a reason for trading someone. We simply don’t know yet how money will affect the bottom line for teams until we know what the new cap system looks like.
Secondly, the money won’t really become an issue for the Thunder until a couple years from now. After this season, the Thunder will have a $5.082 million team option before he becomes a restricted free agent the following season. So Westbrook’s big contract is still several years away (he will have a $6.703 million qualifying offer the following season, making him a restricted free agent…..under the rules of the current CBA).
On the other hand, though, Jeff Green does have the ability to be a restricted free agent this off season should he reject Oklahoma City’s qualifying offer. If another team swoops in and gives him a contract in the $8 million per year range, would the Thunder be able to match it knowing they would have to extend Westbrook in a couple years? That would be the reason to trade him now and get something in return.
Of course, therein lies the problem for the Cavaliers. Even though the motivation for trading Green would be money, the Thunder would presumably be looking to get something in return for him. Otherwise, they might as well give Green his qualifying offer and take the chance that nobody else gives him an unmatchable offer sheet.
The one thing most would agree on is that the Thunder are going to be a better team than the Cavaliers for the next few years at least, so perhaps the Cavaliers could package some of their draft picks with the trade exception to give Oklahoma City the chance to draft young, cheaper talent while using their cap space to focus on keeping Durant and Westbrook together. It’s not likely, but a trade like that is precisely the type of thing the Cavaliers should be looking at and at least trying to get done.
Similarly, Jason Thompson is a young PF who can play center and would be perfect for the Cavaliers. Also 24 years old, Thompson stands at 6’11” and averaged 12.5 points and 8.5 rebounds in his 2nd season with the Kings last year. The Kings are under even less pressure to even consider trading Thompson right now as they still hold a reasonable team option for the 2011-12 season. Blinebury’s logic for why the Kings would move Thompson is more based on whether or not Thompson regresses in the suddenly stacked Sacramento frontcourt.
If Thompson is unhappy and/or his play suffers because of new arrivals like Carl Landry, DeMarcus Cousins, and Sam Dalembert, maybe Sacramento would look to move him while his value is still high, but again, a Trade Exception probably isn’t exactly what the Kings have in mind when it comes to return on their investment.
Which brings us full circle back to the problem with the Trade Exception the Cavs are holding. With an uncertain future CBA, teams are less likely to make salary-motivated trades in the first place, and even then, the types of players the Cavaliers should be going after are more difficult to acquire with a Trade Exception than are the veteran over-priced players who are better suited to help contending teams.
It’s a dilemma that could get the Cavaliers into a lot of trouble if they’re not patient and careful with their Exception. Should they use it improperly, they could set their rebuilding plan back years and revert the franchise back to the post-Kemp era days. There will be trade rumors all year long in the NBA, and the Cavaliers will have an enticing Exception for any salary-motivated deals. It will be fun for us to speculate when rumors like this one from Fran Blinebury come up as to whether or not the Cavs get involved. It will be up to Chris Grant and crew, though, to use this Exception wisely and only use it when it serves the long term interests of the franchise.