The NBA lockout is coming. Everyone knows it, and there isn’t any momentum that suggests there is any way to stop before it comes. This is the reality that all NBA general managers must deal with. Until there is resolution to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, there will be no free agency in the NBA.
But that doesn’t stop the GMs from thinking about free agency. It doesn’t stop me from thinking about it, either. Ever since Cleveland Cavaliers GM Chris Grant offered up the information that the Cavs were looking at free agency as a way to bolster the roster rather than use the 2nd round of the draft, I’ve been thinking about who he could possibly have in mind.
As Scott pointed out yesterday, the free agency route is a tricky one. I think Scott nailed it with his usage of the word ‘gamble’. I think this is why so many people were confused by what the Cavaliers did in the 2nd round of the draft. When a team is rebuilding, there is little risk in taking a 2nd round draft pick. They don’t cost much money, they are given very short term contracts, and their contracts are not fully guaranteed. So if you take, say, Tyler Honeycutt, you can give him a chance while still having roster flexibility. If at any point he’s not working, you can either cut him or wait for his contract to expire in 2 years. Either way, there’s no real way to lose.
With free agency, the team is spending more money on longer terms (for the most part) with mostly guaranteed contracts. There’s a certain degree of risk built in. Anything the Cavaliers do in free agency carries a certain amount of potential damage to cap space, roster flexibility, and team chemistry (unless Chris Grant meant that he simply intends to sign an undrafted free agent or two again like last season).
Whether there is a hard cap or a soft cap when the lockout is over, the Cavaliers won’t have much cap space. Assuming Joey Graham is the odd man out to trim the roster size to 15, his contract is only $100,000 guaranteed. That would knock the Cavs down to $55,663,693 in salary for 2011-12 before signing the two new draft picks. According to their rookie scales (subject to change in the new CBA), Kyrie Irving will get $4,420,900 in 2011-12 and Tristan Thompson will get $3,202,500. This puts the Cavaliers salary at $63,287,093. The salary cap this last season was $58 million, and no matter what the CBA looks like, it would seem highly unlikely to see a cap higher than $63 million.
This means the Cavaliers will pretty much only have their mid level exception to use. Well, that and their bi-annual exception. But even then, who knows if such things will even exist in the new CBA. So we can’t really talk too seriously about money. All we can talk about is the type of players the Cavaliers might be looking at.
Scott mentioned a few guys yesterday, and he’s dead on in that the Cavaliers won’t be looking at the JR Smith, David West, Tyson Chandler, Caron Butler, Tayshaun Prince type free agents. There are, however, a few guys that I think the Cavaliers could consider targeting in free agency.
Unless the Cavaliers are willing to take extreme gambles on either Greg Oden, Kwame Brown, or Jeff Foster, I don’t see them addressing the C position. Instead, they will likely look for wing players who can play the 2 or the 3.
If they want to take an injury risk, one player they could look at is Josh Howard. Yes, this would be a huge gamble. Howard’s knees have completely failed him and nobody really expects him to ever bounce back. But this is the reality. If the Cavaliers want to take a shot at a pretty talented player, they will have to risk some baggage.
When he was healthy, Howard was a major talent and he would be a huge upgrade at the 3 over Alonzo Gee and Christian Eyenga. Howard may not draw a lot of big time interest and it might drive his price a little lower. I don’t know what kind of situation Howard is looking for, but the Cavaliers could offer him a chance to start and a place to get significant playing time and a chance to redeem his career and show the contenders that he can still play.
Another long shot risk for the Cavaliers would be Chris Douglas-Roberts. The former Memphis star was believed to be one of the players the Cavaliers considered in the 2009 NBA draft when they took JJ Hickson. Drafted instead in the 2nd round by the New Jersey Nets, CDR was traded last year to the Milwaukee Bucks where he couldn’t get off the bench and racked up the DNP-CDs. There’s no doubt he’ll be looking for a fresh start to remake his career, and again, this is something the Cavaliers can offer.
There’s no question CDR has struggled early in his career and there’s no guarantee he would be an upgrade over Gee and Eyenga. However, the CDR we saw at Memphis is an upgrade. If Chris Grant thinks there’s a chance that in the right type of system that he can be that guy again, then CDR could be an option at the 3 for the Cavaliers. Again, he won’t get a ton of demand from other teams and he won’t carry a huge price tag. By no means a sexy free agent, but CDR is the type of free agent that the Cavaliers can attract.
Finally, one more name I’ll throw out there, and this one would be a serious long shot, would be Marcus Thornton. On draft night the Sacramento Kings acquired Jimmer Fredette and John Salmons, thus theoretically making Thornton more expendable. Thornton is a restricted free agent and the Kings won’t easily let him go. Furthermore, I imagine there will be a handful of teams looking at Thornton and Cleveland probably wouldn’t be his first choice.
But Thornton is a young player who could be a great fit at SG in Cleveland. Although most feel Thornton is better used as an instant offense player off the bench, similar to Jason Terry in Dallas, Cleveland could use their open starting spot as a lure to sign Thornton. This would give Cleveland another young guard they could hope to develop into an impact piece in the future when they are ready to contend.
Again, none of these are great options. Just as the draft was considered a weak class, so too is this a pretty weak free agent class. There just aren’t a lot of perfect fits out there. If Chris Grant and the Cavaliers are intent on gambling on a free agent signing, those are the 3 names I would probably consider the most. If it were up to me, though, at this point I would probably just try the trade route and see what that can bring. The free agent route just isn’t a very attractive one this year.
Image Credit: Amy Sancetta/Associated Press