With flexibilty firmly intact, Chris Grant delivers Andrew Bynum in win-win fashion

Los Angeles Lakers v Portland Trail Blazers

Los Angeles Lakers v Portland Trail Blazers

One year ago, the Philadelphia 76ers—seeking Eastern Conference contention on the heels of a bright, young point guard and an up-and-coming wing out of The Ohio State University—made a trade. One part of a four-team deal, the Sixers packaged two first-round draft picks with All-Star forward Andre Iguodala, center Nikola Vučević and swingman Maurice Harkless. In return, they would receive a 24-year-old center who could potentially change the franchise’s fortunes by the name of Andrew Bynum.

One year ago, the Cleveland Cavaliers front office was looking over their payroll, wondering just what they would get in return for their investment. In addition to those players who were going to be a big part of the team’s future—budding superstar Kyrie Irving, for instance—Cavs majority owner Dan Gilbert was going to be cutting sizable checks made payable to names like Baron Davis, Kelenna Azubuike, and Luke Harangody, totaling to roughly $15 million. Additional checks were cut to shooting guard Daniel Gibson ($4.7 million) and forward Luke Walton ($6.1 million). The Cavaliers pondered a deal that would bring Bynum to Cleveland, helping facilitate a deal that would send the highly-coveted Dwight Howard from Orlando to Los Angeles, but there was concern over the health of Bynum’s knees. With the Cavs in asset-collection mode, sending multiple first-round draft selections for potential was not a risk team general manager Chris Grant was willing to take.

When it was all said and done, point guards Davis and Josh Selby, acquired in a mid-year deal with Memphis, didn’t even see the Cavs’ locker room; Azubuike barely made it past media day despite having an optimistic outlook on his future; and Harangody didn’t make it to December. None of them would appear in a contest. Gibson would fight injuries of various types and degrees all season long; Walton, a locker room leader, had several solid games off of the bench, but could only do so much. The Cavaliers won just 24 games in an up-and-down1 season. The return on the investment from a summer earlier was, well, not very good. But in a vacuum, the return was at least better than what it would have been had they pulled a similar trigger to that of the Sixers as Bynum would play in nary a game and would suit up for just one practice. The players and picks were long gone and the center was staring directly at unrestricted free agency.

With his value firmly suppressed due to ailing knees and the occasional run in with the knucklehead stick, Bynum, a former All-Star center who once pulled down 30 rebounds in a contest against one of the league’s best teams, was looking for a suitor. Once it came down to NBA teams who were in need of a center and could also commit funds in a CBA-strapped environment, Cleveland was one of three teams to present an offer. The Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks, both perennial playoff teams over the last several seasons, coveted the big man, but could only offer market demographics and nightlife and recent history. A wake-up call to be sure, Bynum was faced with the reality that his knees and his quesionable behavior had done considerable damage and it was up to him to repair his value. The Cavaliers could offer an All-Star point guard, a coach with whom he is already familiar, and the chance to make cosiderably more money in the event that he sees the floor.

Bynum quoteNo first-round picks, no All-Star players and no budding, 22-year-old centers who would go on to average 13 points and 12 rebounds per game were needed. For just $6 million in guarateed money—less than Luke Walton; less than half of what was paid to Davis, Selby, Harangody and Azubuike—the Cleveland Cavaliers signed Bynum, signaling not only the team’s desire to win, but that all of the waiting, all of the asset collecting and all of the otherwise baseless banter about Cleveland and free agency2 all came to a front. In today’s NBA, $6 million often doesn’t amount to much. On a day when the Los Angeles Clippers introduced the left coast media to Ryan Hollins, the Cavaliers spent Luke Walton money on a player who could ultimately provide the city of Cleveland with their best center since Brad Daugherty, and a player who could ultimately be one of the best centers in the Eastern Conference3 to pair with one of the best point guards in the NBA.

Chris Grant has made a career out of signing players to team-friendly deals. His unwillingness to hand over assets leading up to draft night may rub opposing general managers the wrong way. His unwillingness to give players all of the leverage in negotiations may not sit well with representation and inherent entourages. But as the years pile up, nothing has been the mark of Grant more than the words “team option,” effectively sharing the risk of an investment with the hopes of eventual reward.

Sure, there is a chance that Cleveland experiences similar fallout to that of the Sixers one year ago—injuries, the crazy-hair sideshow, missed playoffs. But the deal agreed to by Bynum and the Cavaliers, like many before it, offer essentially no downside. Grant’s issue, if he has any, is the apparent hope that is clung to on the mark of upside. He traded for a well-over-the-hill point guard in Davis with the hope that an unprotected lottery pick would net him one of the best point guards to ever wear a Cavaliers jersey. He dealt Jon Leuer with the hope that he receives another first-round pick; the production provided by the now-departed players—guard Wayne Ellington and forward/center Marreesse Speights—was just a bonus. CJ Miles? Team option. Leon Powe? Team option. Anderson Varejao, Tristan Thompson, Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, and Tyler Zeller? All impending team options. The flexibility that Grant has provided himself to this point, while not exactly amounting to much in terms of present-day wins, has been nothing short of exceptional.

The old adage states that the best-case scenario for a free agent signing is that he4 lives up to expectations; that he produces to the level required by his recently inked contract. Last season, Houston signed center Omer Asik to a $25 million deal. Tiago Spilliter just signed a $36 million deal with the San Antonio Spurs despite averaging roughly half of what Bynum did in 2011-12 in terms of points and rebounds per game. Nikola Pekovic, a player in whom the Cavaliers had interest, is setting up to sign a four-year, $50 million deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

[Related: Andrew Bynum! – Cavs, Indians, Browns and more – WFNY Podcast]

In the case of Bynum’s deal, a guaranteed $6 million5 with performance-based incentives and a second-year team option, is the black swan of recent contractual agreements in that it offers essentially zero downside. If Bynum suits up for less than half of the season, the Cavs are out $6 million there is a solid chance that the Cavaliers are looking at another lottery appearance. If you haven’t heard, the 2014 NBA Draft is shaping up to be a fairly good one. If the Cavaliers let Bynum walk based on what would be irreparable knees, their salary cap flexibility remains for 2014 and beyond and the desire to win is still apparent given the risks taken this past offseason. Sure, the Cavaliers could have added a 35-year-old Elton Brand; he may have been a safer route. Andrei Kirilenko, 32, was an option, but his cost may have been higher and he hasn’t exactly been a poster boy for indestructible players6.

A

t the end of the day, the Cleveland Cavaliers signed a marquee free agent. Sure, this free agent isn’t exactly at peak market value for a variety of reasons, but it is here where we can let the cynics wrestle with the straw men7. Who was the last player of this caliber to choose Cleveland? Juan Gonzalez? The player, though riddled with question marks, has a chance to show the other 29 teams who did not give him a chance that they made a huge mistake. Twenty-five-year-old seven-footers aren’t exactly easy to come by; productive ones are even more rare, and those on a $6 million deal are legitimately unheard of.

We don’t know for sure what offers, if any were made by other franchises. Teams aren’t exactly going to leak information when they’re on the losing end of a pitch.8. But in Cleveland, after Bynum poked and prodded by the team physicians, Mike Brown was a huge part of the sales pitch. Kyrie Irving joined the thousands of Cavalier fans on Twitter to show his excitement, adding multiple exclamation points for good measure. People, for what amounts to a litany of potential reasons, want to play in Cleveland. The Cavaliers, in turn, show that they want to win, and win now, regardless of the gamble. Sure, it hasn’t been the smoothest of roads; it cost the team’s head coach from the last three seasons his job. But it shows that Chris Grant, for all of the predispositions that some may have against him—for his “surprise” draft picks, for his canned, clichéd responses to essentially every media inquiry—is making smart, calculated decisions that amount to building his Cavaliers team to compete, eventually, with the best of the NBA.

Last season, while the Philadelphia 76ers were hoping that their investment would yield anything, the Cavaliers spent most of their season losing games, but did so in a considerably less-costly fashion. Rookie center Tyler Zeller was the starting center for many of those losses, getting pushed around by bigger bodies, learning the ropes of the NBA in a “trial by fire” fashion. Come October, Zeller—thanks to health, drafting and free agency—could enter the season as the fifth big man in the Cavaliers’ rotation. The avaerage age of the current expected roatation of this Cavaliers team: 24. The number of guaranteed contracts for 2014-15: 39. Let that all soak in.

Sometimes, the best trades are the ones you don’t make. And sometimes, the waiting—regardless of how painful—is worth it in the end. Andrew Bynum may never swap his dress shoes for high-tops while under contract with the Cavaliers. If that happens, the Cavaliers, and their fans, will not be negatively impacted in any way. But if the knees check out, if being right next to The Cleveland Clinic bears fruit, well, the Cavaliers will take the floor with one of the best point guard-center combinations in all of the Association. What’s not to like?

(Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images)

  1. Mostly down. []
  2. The Indians signed Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn; the Browns signed Paul Kruger and Desmond Bryant. Save it. []
  3. Don’t forget, Dwight Howard went to Houston. The bar isn’t exatly high here. []
  4. Or she, eventually. Maybe. []
  5. The cap hit, for what it is worth, is the full $12 million. []
  6. He played just 64 games last season, 58 two seasons prior, and is, after all, 32-years old []
  7. Coffin match, please. []
  8. It was not all that long before accepting his deal with Cleveland that it was reported that the Cavs felt the free agent big man was heading to Dallas []
  9. Both first-round draft picks from this year will get at least two guaranteed years plus the recently-signed Jarrett Jack. Every other player is a team option. []
  • Harv 21

    Thought bubble for your photo above:

    MB: “No threes, Andrew, ok? Forget the threes.”
    AB: “My first three will be from right … there. If I miss it, next one same spot.”

  • Harv 21

    For those who wanted the Cavs to draft Noel, Bynum will probably also start playing around December-January. With more skill. So everybody can be happy now. It’s Grant Symmetry, baby.

  • Natedawg86

    haha

  • Natedawg86

    When we win the championship, can we get “Grant-Land that I love” T shirts?

  • JNeids

    Only if you beat Bill Simmons to the punch.

  • JHop

    You probably should trademark that.

  • Ezzie Goldish

    Really well written piece.

  • JK

    What if I just punch Bill Simmons?

  • Mark Nandor

    Worst case scenario, can’t he still be moved at the trade deadline? With the 2nd year team option, its essentially an expiring contract

  • JNeids

    If you get a picture of it and make shirts I’ll buy one.

  • Natedawg86

    I was thinking hat too, but since we have not been able to get FA to sign here, might not send a good signal to other FA considering CLE in the future

  • mgbode

    did you have to compare Bynum to our previous best allstar center who had his career shortened a ton due to a degenerative injury?

  • Dan

    This is the best Cleveland contract i have seen, pretty much ever, very low risk, very high reward. Great job Grant.

  • mgbode

    “one of the best point guard-center combinations”

    if Bynum is even 75% of what he was the last time he played for Mike Brown, then there are few that even can compare

    Parker + Duncan (the ruler of the roost until age hits them – it will, right?)
    Deron + Brook (only if Deron starts playing like he did for Sloan)

    Jeremy Lin + Dwight? (only due to Dwight)
    George Hill + Hibbert (more evenly balanced but neither the superstar upside)
    Rose + Noah (only due to Rose)

  • mgbode

    think it’s probably important to kill the AK-47 dreams here.

    Let’s add it up:
    http://hoopshype.com/salaries/cleveland.htm

    $28mil (subtract out the 2 non-guaranteed guys in Quinn & Jones)
    +12mil (Bynum)
    +6mil (Jack)
    +4.5mil (Clark)
    +~7mil (rookies — includes Felix though he’s technically not guaranteed)

    Cavs 13/14 cap number = $57.5mil (maybe be higher with real rookie deals)
    NBA ’13/14 cap number = 58.769mil

    So, all we have left is the $2.5mini-midlevel. Factor in that we would likely only offer AK-47 a 1year deal and it’s very doubtful he’d take it.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I read that Bynum will be prepared to practice from day one so maybe he’ll see the court sooner then December. Regardless I expect the Cavaliers to do what Houston did with Yao Ming. No back to back games and probably an off day before a scheduled off day that way he’d get a couple days off. 60-65 games played possibly. This makes Zeller and the other guys just as important because they will still be heavily needed.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Hey man we’re on a Bynum binge baby don’t go killin’ our dreams! AK47 the best nickname in the NBA to go along with our newly drafted Russian sniper Karasev and our assistant from Philly.

    Putin approves!

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    AMEN!

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Expectations can be a great thing. Unfulfilled expectations can be a terrible thing.

  • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

    Woj reported that Dallas didn’t even make Bynum an offer. Based on the reports that are out there, the best guess is that nobody else but Cleveland made him an offer.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Interesting… lots of possibilities as to why they didn’t offer, but I wonder if we’ll ever find out.

  • Clown Baby

    Cleveland (or somebody) made the Cleveland offer pretty public. The Cavs offered more than anyone else could have so my guess would be the other teams figured why bother with an offer and potentially lose face.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com/ Scott @ WFNY

    Exactly. Not to mention that they were “negotiating” as recent as yesterday afternoon.

  • BenRM

    agreed

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Brad Daugherty?

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Grant pushed most of his chips into the middle of the table which would have forced Dallas to go all-in. I’m guessing Cuban wasn’t prepared to take the risk which is why they were probably still deciding on whether to make an offer and if so for what.

  • MrCleaveland

    I love seeing us limiting our risk. If this guy remains a head case who’s not worth the trouble, we can just get rid of him. His contract won’t be dragging us down for years.

    (You might guess that I’m not too optimistic that this leopard is going to change his spots.)

  • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

    This all makes sense to me. I think the main point though is that it’s hard to say Bynum came to Cleveland for any reason but the money.

  • Harv 21

    is your point that Grant overpaid? If so, it could likely instead be that Grant determined, based on other teams’ caps and liabilities next year, the right amount in guarantees and incentives for a successful preemptive strike. And the Atlanta and Dallas visits were the standard GM-agent game of chicken.

  • Harv 21

    ah, we finally agree. Certainly not for the winning tradition or the plethora of fine micobreweries.

  • Clown Baby

    I hope that is true actually. If it’s all about the money then he’ll be motivated to earn an additional $6 million via incentives. I would say in this case, greed is good.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com/ Scott @ WFNY

    Thank you, Ezzie.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com/ Scott @ WFNY

    Appreciated, Ben.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com/ Scott @ WFNY

    Which is fine, but, if true, lets not pretend its a significant amount of money.

  • Clown Baby

    Right on. There’s a difference between overpaying and being able to pay more than everyone else.

  • mgbode

    why?

    worst case we just spent our Luke Walton $$$ on nothing.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    No I was saying to put Irving/Bynum into a class with those other PG/Cs would seem to be some mighty high expectations given Bynum hasn’t played a minute of professional basketball in a year plus.

  • JNeids

    “Which is fine, but, if true, lets not pretend its a significant amount of money.

    I understand what you’re getting at, but poorly worded, especially after such a well-written article.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com/ Scott @ WFNY

    All my commenting is done via mobile. Apologies given the haste.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Jeez… just looked at a poll on ESPN-SportsNation and Ohio is the only state in the country who believes that the Cavs are a playoff team with Andrew Bynum. That’s kind of shocking to me, I mean in my mind it’s almost impossible for them to miss the playoffs if Bynum plays a significant role this season.

  • mgbode

    I think you just hit it. Ohio is the only state that believes Bynum will play a significant role. We’ll see. Worth the gamble at least (and we might be a fringe playoff team even if Bynum doesn’t play a minute for us).

  • Harv 21

    yeah, that target date was from his agent while shopping him. Who also admits he’s 15 pounds overweight. So whatevs, Bynum and Bennett can bond over Slimfasts but I don’t expect to see him very soon. But no matter, the contract structure gives him incentive to rehab with purpose, and this is not Noel; when/if he’s physically ready he’ll be ready with well-rounded, elite NBA skills.

  • saggy

    my buddy, who lives in Vegas, told me the line for the Cavs to make the playoffs mysteriously dropped from +500 to +175 before the Bynum announcement. Needless to say, he put some $ on Bynum to the Cavs.

    Plus, the Cavs’ win total o/u was 27.5 last week. It went to 34.5 right before Bynum, and then OFF as the signing was announced. Not sure where it is now, but i think the Cavs make the playoffs – and so does Vegas.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    That’s definitely reassuring… Vegas usually knows what’s up.

  • architrance

    Math good. AK47 must have really wanted out of Minny – decline $10m to sign in Brooklyn for $3m. (Title chaser?) Or his math bad.