There appears to be quite a deal of confusion about the Cleveland Cavaliers’ salary cap situation. Let’s try to clear the air with some math, shall we?
Just last week, GM David Griffin said the team could clear space for a max contract “just by waving our hand and making it happen.” Seems simple enough, no?
And then today, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst grouped the Cavs with the Rockets and Bulls that would “need to execute significant shuffling and perhaps even offload star players to clear [the maximum] $22.2 million.” Well that’s a bit of a different picture.
Turns out, Windhorst is likely just exaggerating. I prefer that reading/narrative as opposed to him being fed or purposefully listing out wholly inaccurate information. The chart to the right shows everything we know about the Cavs salary cap situation right now. It’s complicated, so be patient.
Let’s start from the beginning. If the Cavs are actually going to be serious players for a max free agent, they’ll do one thing first: Renounce their right of first refusal to Luol Deng, Spencer Hawes and C.J. Miles. This would remove those dreaded cap holds currently eating up the team’s space, although limiting their bargaining power with those free agents. The Deng renouncement is probably a near-guarantee, no matter what.
Next, the Cavs will have decisions to make on those not-fully-guaranteed contracts. Hopson’s deal was made to be flexible; the $1.45 million could easily be traded or cut quickly for savings. The second-rounders are just space-fillers at the moment. They’re likely to stay, but could be cut if needed, too. Teams need to have at least 12 players, obviously.
Pause for a moment now. Including the entirety of Varejao’s contract and maintaining that 100% rookie scale hold for Wiggins, and you’re at about $49 million. The projected cap is $63.2 million. The Cavs would need to clear an additional $8 million, approximately. There are a variety of ways in which they could continue to do that:
— The easiest step would be to trade or release Varejao. If released, his $4 million guarantee would still count against the cap (savings of $5.7 million). If traded, it’d ideally have to be to a team with a trade exception possible, thus the Cavs wouldn’t need to bring back equal-ish salary.
— Other players also could be traded. This could include Jarrett Jack1, Brendan Haywood2 or literally anyone else. It’s not the type of “significant shuffling” or star-unloading that Windhorst alluded to. Sweetening the pot with future draft picks, the Cavs shouldn’t have too much trouble removing an additional $2-3 million or more as needed.
Trying to clear space for two (!) max contracts? Now that’d be much, much more difficult. I’d count that as “significant shuffling” a la trading away nearly everyone besides the team’s “star” players. But only clearing space for one? Not so hard. A few waves of the wand, as Griffin said. Nothing much more.
As usual, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Yes, the Cavs currently don’t have the space for a max contract, but after a few moves, they could relatively easy have that necessary space. If LeBron James (or someone else) is actually going to make it known they want to be in Cleveland, the Cavs won’t have too much difficulty making the math work.
Jason Kidd seemed to really want Jarrett Jack in Brooklyn. Perhaps a deal could be worked out to send him off to Milwaukee? [↩]
Fascinating tidbit from The Score about Haywood’s contract: He has a $10.5 million completely unguaranteed deal for the 2015-16 season. That’s a humongous possible trade asset for the summer of 2015. [↩]
Jacob Rosen is a long-time contributor to WaitingForNextYear. He's also a writer online at SportsAnalyticsBlog and Nylon Calculus . An Akron native, Jacob is a current MBA student at the University of Oregon's Warsaw Sports Marketing Center. You can follow him on Twitter @WFNYJacob or e-mail him at udjrosen(at)gmail(dot)com.