PORTLAND OR - OCTOBER 26: Nicolas Batum #88 dribbles the ball agaionst Hedo Tukgolu #19 of the Portland Trail Blazers of the Phoeninx Suns on October 26 2010 at the Rose Garden in Portland Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and or using this photograph User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
The Cleveland Cavaliers have a lot of money available to spend. They won't always have a lot of money available to spend. As our young guys improve and progress they are going to be getting raises. You can go over the salary cap to resign your own players. Once you go over the cap, however, there are strict rules about ways to bring in players from other teams. Kyrie Irving is going to get a max extension. Believe it or not, but Tristan Thompson is probably going to get at least an 8 million dollar extension. If Dion Waiters is the player the Cavaliers believe he can be, he will be getting serious money. As for Zeller, look at what starting Centers are getting in Free Agency. The point is, the Cavaliers are probably going to need to make a big free agent splash before they start locking up our young guys. This is where Nicolas Batum comes in.The Cavaliers have to build on the assumption that their 3 players that they invested top 5 picks in, Irving, Thompson, and Waiters, are starters in the NBA. We can take for granted that Kyrie is already on that level. I haven't seen anything to lead me to believe that Thompson or Waiters won't be productive starters on a really good basketball team. Zeller also has a chance to be a functional starter. Building blocks are in place at the 1, 2, 4, and 5 positions.
The next area to look at is the Cavaliers salary cap situation. Everyone knows the Cavaliers have a bunch of cap space for this upcoming season, and that 13 million dollars to Nic Batum won't put us in the luxury tax. We could give him that much next season, and give Alonzo Gee 4 million a year, and still not be over the cap. But the following year is even better. With Luke Walton, Omri Casspi, and Daniel Gibson coming off the books, the Cavaliers will be in better cap shape than ever before. The 2013-2014 Cavaliers roster is as follows:
Anderson Varejao - 9.1 million, Kyrie Irving - 5.9 million, Tristan Thompson - 4.3 million, Dion Waiters - 4 million, Tyler Zeller - 2 million. We can add in the Cavaliers two guaranteed first round picks at 6 million dollars, which is actually more than they are likely to be. Add in Alonzo Gee at 4 million, and the Cavaliers have 35.3 million dollars wrapped up in eight players. Add in Batum, in the second year of his four year deal at 13 million more, and the Cavaliers still have 12 million dollars to add another impact player, assuming the salary cap is 60 million dollars, which is conservative. The Cavaliers won't have the opportunity to extend Kyrie until the end of what would be Batum's third season, and wouldn't have to significantly go over the cap in order to do so. By the time Waiters and Zeller are eligible for extensions, Batum will already be off the books.
In other words, the money the Cavaliers spend on Batum the next four years won't hurt them. It isn't until 5 years from now that the team will have to make serious decisions about who it can extend and who it should extend. Furthermore, after four years of playing together, the Cavaliers will have a better idea about which players they should invest in and who they shouldn't invest in.
This article has thus far simply been about why the Cavaliers can afford to spend in free agency over the next four years. While Nicolas Batum isn't the perfect player for Cleveland to invest in, he does have a lot of things going for him. For one, he plays Small Forward, the one position where the Cavaliers don't have a building block for the future. He is also young, and at 23 years old is still improving. He has the perfect body to be a solid wing defender, though he has yet to show it in actual games. He is an excellent shooter, scores efficiently, and can score without having the ball in his hands consistently. He is good in transition. His PER of over 17 came without the benefit of a functioning Point Guard, and he represents a serious upgrade over Alonzo Gee and Omri Casspi. He would allow Gee, if the Cavs chose to keep him (and I see little reason why they wouldn't) to come off the bench, focus on his defense, and have more consistent energy.
We would, potentially, be looking at having above average players at every starting position by 2014-2015. We would still have cap space for next summer. We would still have 2 first round draft picks next June. We would still have Anderson Varejao as trade bait, or to even perhaps make a serious playoff run in 2013-2014. This might sound crazy, but do you think Dwayne Wade, Shane Battier, and Mike Miller would have fun chasing around our ultra athletic wings up and down the court, or deal with Kyrie Irving in Year 3? It wouldn't jeopardize our ability to resign Irving or Thompson. It wouldn't change our identity of being an athletic team that likes to run. It would help our spacing in the half-court by having someone who could stretch the floor with Kyrie. If it makes you feel better, just think of the contract as being 6 million dollars a year. It won't make much difference to anyone other than Dan Gilbert. After 3 years, worst case scenario, we have a big expiring contract to use as a trade chip.
One of the huge benefits of building through the draft and getting rid of excess contracts is the freedom to take on one or two at your own choosing, instead of out of desperation. The Cavaliers could go into the season with an Irving-Waiters-Batum-Thompson-Varejao starting 5, with Gee, Gibson, Zeller, and Erden coming off the bench. We would get to see how they all develop together. If it works, great. If not, the Cavs can go in a different direction. Offer him the contract, offer him the chance to play with Kyrie.