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Chris Grant's approval rating may be at an all-time high. One day removed from leveraging cap space flexibility into a probable future lottery pick and solid bench help, as well as fantastic performances from his 2011 draft picks against a solid Boston defense, Grant might not be faulted for taking a minute to take a moment to relax, and pat himself on the back. But the trade deadline is less than a month away, February 21, and the Cavaliers can still be active. Let's take a look at what they could do.
The most likely splash the Cleveland Cavaliers might still make would be one very similar to what they did on Tuesday. Even with adding Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington, and Josh Selby's pro-rated contracts, the Cavaliers still have cap space to take on salary. The updated Trade Machine at ESPN actually puts the number over $10 million. Teams that find themselves just over the $70.3 million luxury tax threshold could find themselves desperate to rid themselves of a contract or two. For example, the Chicago Bulls have notoriously never paid the luxury tax, despite playing in a huge market and being hugely profitable. That could change this year, as they have to cut about $3.7 million to avoid the status. They could break from their policy this season, but with Derrick Rose still out and with an uncertain timetable, it seems weird to spend so much in a season like this. A very simple trade that works starting on February 15 (a restriction comes off Livingston on that date) of Richard Hamilton for Shaun Livingston and a protected first round pick from Charlotte owed to them would allow Chicago to save about $8 million and avoid repeater penalties for being a luxury tax offender. The details of the protected pick look like this: Charlotte's own 2013 1st round draft pick to Chicago (top-12 protected in the 2013 Draft, top-10 protected in 2014, top-8 protected in 2015 and unprotected in the 2016 Draft.)
Golden State is in a similar position, though their assets are pretty weak. In all likelihood, their first round pick this year is going to Utah, and they would probably be unwilling to move their young players. They aren't that appealing, anyways. Unless you like Draymond Green, or Festus Ezeli, they don't have much to offer. Still, they need to cut $1.2 million to get under the tax, and you could do something like Livingston for Brandon Rush and their 2015 first rounder.
Denver presents a different situation. They aren't over the luxury tax for this season, but are projected to go over it next season when Ty Lawson's contract extension sets in. For this season, they can still add $6 million without having to worry about entering luxury tax payer status. They can technically wait for the summer or even into next season before making a deal. The Nuggets have had a brutal schedule thus far, playing a heavy slate of road games just like the Cavs, and have weathered the storm. I think they are primed to finish the year strong and be right with Memphis, the Clippers, and Spurs in challenging Oklahoma City. The biggest issue they seem to face is the inability to shoot from the outside. Gallinari seems to finally be getting his stroke back, but the other wing options, Corey Brewer, Andre Iguodala, and Wilson Chandler, are not consistent from three point range. Daniel Gibson played last night for the first time in awhile for Cleveland, and if he could somehow string together a solid month of basketball, he might be appealing to Denver as a guy who could help them at shooting guard off the bench. A straight up trade of Daniel Gibson for Wilson Chandler could make for a wing rotation of Iguodala and Gallinari, with Gibson and Brewer coming off the bench, while helping Denver avoid the luxury tax next season. When healthy, Chandler has been a pretty good player, but those times seem to be few and far between.
In general, the Cavaliers basically have three things to use as trade chips between now and February 21. First, they still have cap space to absorb contracts, as outlined above. Second, they have many first round picks coming over the next few years, and teams are likely to find them valuable. Third, they have the expiring contracts of Daniel Gibson, Omri Casspi and Luke Walton. The expiring contracts are less valuable this season than maybe they have been in the past; there are a lot of teams with an abundance of cap space heading into the offseason, and not many free agents teams are genuinely excited to make a run at (although Dwight Howard is a pretty big caveat to that, at this point).
Still, teams might find them interesting or valuable. Take this trade that I have outlined over at the Pistons blog, Detroit Bad Boys. Long story short, the Pacers would get Tayshaun Prince and Rodney Stuckey, the Cavaliers would get Danny Granger and Charlie Villanueva, and the Pistons would get Tyler Zeller, Luke Walton, Alonzo Gee, Miami's pick this year, and the Cavs top 3 protected pick in 2014, or the Memphis protected pick, whichever they prefer. With Paul George developing, Danny Granger is a bit superfluous, and Stuckey could give the Pacers much needed scoring off the bench. Prince is a 3 and D small forward that doesn't need the ball in his hands to be effective. The Pistons get a ridiculous amount of cap space, can go into full tank mode for Ben McLemore (who I believe would fit perfectly with Brandon Knight), and can move forward with a young, promising big rotation of Monroe, Drummond, and Zeller. For Cleveland, the Cavaliers go into next season with a projected starting lineup of Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Danny Granger, Tristan Thompson, and Anderson Varejao, and our high first round draft pick and cap flexibility to fill out the rest of the roster. Granger's contract is expiring so Cleveland still has 2014 cap space to spare. The trade instantly makes the Cavaliers an interesting team heading into next season.
There are a couple obstacles to getting deals done with Walton and Gibson that make it difficult to come up with a ton of good hypothetical scenarios, and perhaps you guys can help me out in the comments. But here are the obstacles, as best as I can tell, some obvious, some perhaps not: First, a bunch of teams just already have a lot of cap space, or don't value cap space like the Cavaliers do. Take the Wizards, who added Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza, torpedoing any cap room they might have this summer. Second, Walton and Gibson are pretty bad at basketball. Walton has been relatively helpful for the Cavs because he is a decent passer and our young guys need the help keeping the offense moving, but that value doesn't extend to contenders. Gibson has been hurt or bad for a few years now. Third, even if a team did want to gamble on him hoping his shooting will help, a lot of the contending teams that might need or want more shooting are just a $1 million or so away from being over the tax line. Adding Gibson's cap figure, regardless of whether it expires, would mean that a team like Oklahoma City who traded for him is now paying the tax. A trade that might make sense in theory, say, Reggie Jackson for Daniel Gibson, needs to be ruled out; OKC just wouldn't do it.