The National Basketball Association took the “11th hour” cliché to a whole new meaning this past weekend when a deadline deal to have basketball on Christmas Day leaked into the early hours of Saturday morning. In principle, what we are left with is a season of NBA hoops, albeit a shortened one, that will include all of the bells and whistles of it’s regular brethren including an All-Star weekend, a postseason and a draft that is not in the determining hands of a Googlesque algorithm.
While Yahoo!’s Adrian Wojnarowski, CBS’ Ken Berger and the New York Times’ Howard Beck have been legitimate All-Stars in terms of keeping the world abreast of all of the details from Day One, the goal of this exercise is to answer all of the questions which could still be outstanding with regard to how the new NBA landscape will affect the Wine and Gold – niche entities get the luxury of such a myopic focus.
What follows are answers to the accumulation of all of the questions we have been pinged with via different mediums. Any that go unanswered can certainly be added in the comments. We’ll do our best to address what we know.
Before we get into the specifics regarding the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, let’s take a look at what the Cavaliers’ payroll looks like as of today:
Alas, a few quick caveats: These figures are based on the full season compensation which was due to the players. Feel free to adjust accordingly for 20 percent game checks missed over the last several weeks, but if we’re talking percentages, this doesn’t matter all that much. The “total guaranteed” figure strips out the unguaranteed contracts of Gee, Samuels and Harris while adding in the $100,000 guaranteed amount due to Joey Graham. Graham’s contract was fully guaranteed if the player was not released by July 14, but this was post-lockout and how the league treats this remains to be seen. For those looking for clarification on the expired Traded Player Exception, how the league handles the Graham situation could be akin to that of the potential extension; if Graham can be released sans ramifications, the TPE is is good as gone. Also, this serves as a reminder that both Luke Harangody and Semih Erden are still on the Cavaliers.
So, knowing where we stand, what does the new agreement do to our rookies?
Per the new CBA, rookie contracts will not be impacted. Thus, the Cavaliers can expect to sign both Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson to deals that would cost approximately $5.5 million per player in 2011-12. Given this, we can add $11 million to each total, bringing the Cavs to $66 million and $63 million, respectively.
One of the concessions for the lockout to end was, despite the players only getting paid approximately 80 percent of their salary for this season, that the salary cap itself remains constant at $58 million – this “cap,” a soft one, is also expected to be present for the 2012-13 season though some projections have it increasing to roughly $61 million. As hard as it is to believe, the Cavaliers roster listed above, save for a few minor tweaks for roster-space reasons, will be close to – if not above – the 2011-12 salary cap.
First-round draft selections have their contracts fully guaranteed during the first and second year, with options abound for subsequent seasons. Given where the Cavaliers project to be in 2012-13 (only $31 million guaranteed, excluding rookies), their reasons for not moving up into the first round for a third selection and trading the soon-to-be-extended JJ Hickson make financial sense for the long-term health of the franchise.
If the team is near or above the cap, what can they do in the free agent market?
The luxury tax line is expected to be, like the salary cap, similar to it was prior to the lockout and will come in somewhere in the neighborhood of $70 million. Given that the Cavaliers are not above this line with the rookie contracts theoretically added to their present total, Chris Grant will have the ability to use his version of the Mid-level Exception. Wherein teams that come in over the luxury tax line will have $3 million to use annually over three years, Grant and his below-tax counterparts will have up to $5 million to spend annually over four seasons, with the deal growing at three percent after the second year. If the team could drop below the salary cap figures (more on this later), they would be granted an additional $2.5 million exception that could conceivably put them over the cap.
The Cavs could place bids on the free agents of other teams where the new CBA would allow said team only three days to match offers. This helps all parties as the ‘limbo’ period is drastically reduced.
As discussed around these parts several times, it is anticipated that the Cavaliers opt to bring back free agent shooting guard Anthony Parker – for his locker room presence as well as his ties to Omri Casspi via Maccabi Tel-Aviv – who would soak up a portion of the team’s MLE. Parker has a cap hold of $3.7 million (120 percent of his 2010 salary) as of today; it would be expected that he would sign for something close to the $2.8 million he was paid last season. This would leave the Cavs around $2 million of the MLE which they could spend as they see fit.
Given that the Cavaliers are not tax-payers as of present day, they would also be afforded the bi-annual exception which was present in the last CBA. It cannot be used in consecutive seasons and has a two-year cap starting at $1.9 million. The team used a portion of their bi-annual exception in 2009-10 when it re-signed Zydrunas Ilgauskas following his release from Washington, so their full BAE should be in tact for the coming season.
Free agency is slated to start on December 9.
What about all this “amnesty” stuff we’re hearing about?
Well, there are two different options here. There is the much-discussed amnesty clause that will reportedly allow a team to completely wipe a player’s salary off of the books; this player has to currently be on the roster. There were hopes that this would be a coupon of sorts that an owner/general manager tandem could hold on to for a future addition gone awry, but that will not be the case as it can only be used on players who were rostered as of July 1, 2011. It’s worth noting that players who are released via the amnesty clause will go through a “secondary waivers” system that will allow teams below the salary cap to bid after the player clears the initial waiver run.
Given that there is a salary floor as well as a cap (85 percent), teams that are vastly under the current cap – Denver, Sacramento, Indiana, Memphis, etc – to offer contracts to any of the players who are told ‘thanks, but no thanks.’ It is widely assumed that as many as three-to-six teams will actually take advantage of this provision as its largely used to avoid luxury tax situations. Alas, after hearing what the rule truly turned out to be, it’s getting a lot more run in media circles than may actually be deserved.
There is also a “stretch” provision, that will allow a team to release a player under contract while paying him his salary but only having him count against the books at a mathematically adjusted rate of twice the remaining deal plus an additional year. For example’s sake, Baron Davis is due approximately $29 million. If the team were to use this provision, he would be on the books for five years at $5.8 million per season. This provision can be used on a future contract.
The Cavs front office will undeniably have some decisions to make. These have been laid out here and here. Rather than re-writing them, please feel free to check out the past publications while noting the current payroll discussed above.
After all of this lockout nonsense, are we finally free of players deciding where they can go while teaming up with friends and creating supergroups that would make Temple of the Dog blush?
No. Not at all. If anything, player movement will now be increased due to the NBA’s ownership team looking to shorten the length of maximum contracts as well as potential exceptions and the league deciding that trades increase interest in the sport as it did this past season via television ratings as well as merchandising. Increased trade volume means new jerseys that get to be racked in team shops across the nation, meaning increased revenue and more money to split. Everyone’s a winner, save for the guy who just purchased that Dwight Howard Orlando Magic jersey.
The much-discussed point of owners hoping to limit the sign-and-trade or extend-and-trade abilities of tax-paying teams was one of the last second concessions prior to the agreement getting done. LeBron-to-Miami and Melo-to-New York are deals that are just as possible this time around as they were in the not-so-distant past. Sure, it’ll cost these teams more money as the luxury tax implications are increasingly more drastic, but buying wins is still a possibility.
If there’s any good news to be had in the area of wheeling and dealing, non-taxpaying teams like Cleveland can now take back up to 140 percent plus $100,000 of any players they send out. For example, if a team really wants Antawn Jamison’s glorious expiring contract, they Cavaliers could theoretically take up to $21.2 million in return. Tax-payers are restricted to 125 percent, meaning that if the roles were reversed and the Cavaliers were looking to acquire Jamison – as they were back in 2010 – they could now pay more to Washington than a team like the Los Angles Lakers.
If free agency doesn’t appear to be an option at this point, what else can the Cavaliers do to improve?
For this team to flourish in the future, they will need to draft well while making smart, strategic trades; acquire draft picks, hit on them and then make moves when the timing is right. You know, how Oklahoma City, San Antonio and the notoriously tight-walleted Chicago Bulls have done it?
As far as fans and the front office is concerned, the only real untouchable player on the roster isn’t even signed yet, and that’s first-overall selection Kyrie Irving. Sure, we can group Tristan Thompson in there, but I sense that the team would consider moving the highly athletic defensive specialist if the price was right.
Teams will likely inquire about Anderson Varejao, Ramon Sessions and Daniel Gibson. Sure, two of the three are certainly fan favorites, but there’s a reason why other teams would covet them and their various sets of skill. Varejao would take a king’s ransom and there is still some uncertainty as to the health of his ankle. Gibson started off strong last season, but faded due to a bevy of injuries and off-court issues. This leaves Sessions as a player who is inexpensive and could start for several other teams if not prove to be one of the premier back-up point guards in the league.
What these players could pull back in return remains to be seen. Surely, the team would love to add additional first-round draft picks; Varejao would likely command at least a starting player as well.
Between Davis, Jamison, Irving and the rest, do the Cavs have what it takes to make the playoffs this season?
Stop it, already. Seriously. The last thing this team needs to do is make the playoffs or – God forbid – fall just short. This team will be building around Irving, Thompson and, to an extent, Omri Casspi. If forgoing a season and drafting 22nd on an aggregate scale was bad, making the playoffs would be worse. Sure, Davis and Jamison could each be good for 20 points per evening, but this will do the team nothing two seasons from now. The veterans will be here to teach and lead; winning will be the sole responsibility of Irving et al after a couple classes in Byron Scott’s School for the Athletically Gifted.