Free Agency Not Likely To Offer Much for the Cavaliers

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

  • Lyon

    I’d rather have Thornton, but he seems more likely to head to a contender to play that Terry role. CDR just needs to latch on somehwere & Cle would be a good spot to try.

    If he plays well, he’s better than Gee & Harris. If he sucks, cut him. It’s not like his salary is going to be so high we can’t just eat the cost.

    Overall, I expect no FA signings and to go into the season with the team we have now. But, I’d love to throw some $ at Oden & see if we can’t get him to give us half a season @ C.

  • mgbode

    I sort of expect a couple trades before the season starts (assuming there’s enough time to do any).

    not sure how the Graham guarantee on July 16th will work since the lockout effectively shuts things down July 1st. Does that mean we have to cut him tomorrow? Or 16 days from when the ‘new season starts’?

    if the latter, then we can possibly use that $1mil to balance some trades (if trades still work the same way).

    ugh. this is going to be 100x messier than the NFL dispute.

  • Cam

    I say leave our team as is right now, get a good spot in the draft again, wait for better free agents to come out…no sense in over paying mid-low range players just to get a few more wins…tank, then tank again and build through the draft

  • Wil

    Okay, I know I’m going WAAAAAAYYY out on this one….. but, a while back there was a lot of rumbling that Portland was trying to convince Brandon Roy to retire, as they had no faith in him to come back from his knee injuries. I am aware that this would be a HUGE gamble by the Cavs…. is there any thought to offer the TPE to Portland for Roy if they include the rights to Oden (the plain dealer reported that Cleveland would be interested in Oden if portland did not give him a qualifying offer). This would essentially be the same as buying out Rip Hamilton’s contract for a draft pick….. an injury prone draft pick…. but Roy isn’t the locker room distraction that Hamilton is, and is much younger at 26. If Roy can be even a portion of what he was he would be an upgrade at SG, if not then try to buy him out. And if Oden is past his injury bug the Cavs may hit lightning in a bottle. This would be a potential high risk/high reward situation….. but it would push the cavs much further over the cap……. which if the NBA sticks with a soft cap, would essentially give the Cavs more of an ability to make trades. Being that the Cavs are not worried about spending money as much as not handcuffing them… this may not be such a bad move.

  • Harv 21

    Josh Howard – really? Wouldn’t want him with good knees. Still see him jacking up clueless 3s, missing one after the other, as his own fans booed in the playoffs against us. Immature, uncoachable, injured, no thank you.

  • mgbode

    that is certainly out-of-the-box thinking and I encourage that. i wouldn’t be for that particular trade because it comes without the 1st round draft pick that the Rip trade would have provided

    and, i would worry that a sometimes healthy Roy and Oden might be enough to get the Cavs to the dreaded 6-10seed area of mediocrity that is difficult to escape.

    finally, i would think Portland would be unwilling to just write those players off just to get their cap in better shape unless they knew more about their injury status that put the risk >> reward (because of the PR-backlash)

  • Chris M

    Bandaids and broken arms.

    As Cam stated, there’s no point in signing overpriced scrubs / fringe players to put them into the 8th seed. It’s a truly useless way to spend money.

    This is a slow process, people. There is no quick way for Cleveland to make this happen.

  • TSR3000


  • Wil

    The option of buying out Roy’s contract is still there, and I am aware that it doesn’t come with the #8 pick that the Hamilton deal would have…… but a healthy Oden (obviously still a gamble) would most likely be better than anyone we would have drafted at #8 (obviously we would not have drafted Knight). In regards to getting into the 6-10 seed range…… I believe Oden will still be outfor the begining of next season if that happens, meaning we will be playing scrubs again. To play the devil’s advocate on that, a 6 seed with Irving and Thompson as rookies wouldn’t really be all that bad. They should both improve and with experience. Neither Chicago or OKC were a top 4 seed in the playoffs thier first years back in….. and that turned out fine for them.

  • Wil

    I just still see a hole at the Center spot, and no real Center’s in this next draft. A healthy Oden has more potential than any 5 in the 2011 or 2012 draft………….. key word being healthy…….. it’s a risk, but any player could get hurt at anytime (as shown by last season).

  • Believelander

    @Wil: love the idea of acquiring Oden + roy. If we catch lightning in a bottle, then we do. If not, well, DG has shown a propensity for finding assets by tossing out cash. The same cash can erase blemishes in high risk acquisitions.

  • JeBron Lames

    What about O.J. Mayo? He is a solid 2, and he is young. I don’t know the situation in Memphis with Gay, Gasol, and Mayo though. And a I don’t know the rules/stipulations that come with the TPE. Can they just use it to sign a player like Mayo? Also I feel that Wilson Chandler of the Nuggets could be a good possibility for a SF, at least until we get Harrison Barnes.

  • ben

    The Cavs are pretty obviously rocking the 2-3 year rebuilding plan.

  • Chucky Brown

    tyler honeycutt would of been an upgrade at the 3, too bad we decided to dismiss the 2nd round this year

    with that said I like Wilson Chandler

    I dont see this team getting a top 4 pick next year, so I will not allow myself to get excited over Harrison Barnes. Stern hooked us up this year, no way were getting that treatment 2 years in a row