NBA News and Notes: Cavs hire Potapenko as Assistant Coach, 2013-14 Salary Cap projection reported

USA TODAY Sports

Two underplayed stories were reported over the last two days, but could have a dramatic effect on the Cleveland Cavaliers over the next few seasons. What happened?

Mike Brown continues to fill out staff

Yahoo! Sports is reporting that the Cleveland Cavaliers are bringing back Vitaly Potapenko, a man famous for being drafted by the organization a spot ahead of Kobe Bryant, as a player development coach. These coaches usually do not travel with the team, but instead often offer individualized instruction to players in practice. Potapenko's NBA career wasn't particularly impressive, but he does appear to have a strong reputation coaching, both in the NBA and in the Developmental League. The Cavaliers coaching staff and front office now has a decidedly international feel to it, with Potapenko joining Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Igor Kokoskov as Eastern Europeans playing a large role in moving the young Cavaliers forward. Potapenko and Ilgauskas were both selected by the Cavs in the 1996 Draft.

Projections for 2013-14, and 2014-15 NBA salary cap reported

This is truly big news, and, frankly, I don't think the projections could have worked out better for the Cavs than what is being reported. ESPN's Marc Stein reported on Sunday night that teams are being told that the projected cap will be $58.5 million, with the luxury tax penalty's kicking in at $71.6 million.

So, what does this mean? A lot of speculation around the league was that the salary cap would be around $60 million, and while $1.5 million may not seem like a lot, it is. Teams like the Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets, desperate to create enough cap space to lure free agents like Chris Paul and Dwight Howard to Texas will have to try even harder to remove salary. Dallas will be more likely to unload Shawn Marion and their 13th draft pick, and the Rockets are in a tougher position as they shop Thomas Robinson around. It also reduces the amount of money the Cavaliers need to spend to reach the salary floor, which is set at 90% of the cap. This means the Cavaliers must spend approximately $52.65 million. If they don't reach the floor, there are no real penalties, and the money gets distributed to players under contract, but the player's union wouldn't appreciate it and the public backlash wouldn't be fun. Plus, the Cavaliers should make a good faith effort to spend money on the product for the fans who pay money.

The luxury tax being low at $71.6 million will both raise the bill for teams willing to pay it, but also make teams who aren't work even harder to get underneath it. Teams like the Chicago Bulls, Memphis Grizzlies, Miami Heat, Golden State Warriors, Denver Nuggets, and Washington Wizards (that is just off the top of my head) all could be around this number, leaving them to be great trade partners for the Cavaliers. The Cavaliers are not planning on signing any players to a max level deal this summer, and would be interested in fleecing teams trying to avoid the luxury tax, so the low cap figures are fantastic for Grant.

Until Larry Coon's tweet, however, I thought there would be a downside. I had been assuming a $60 million cap in 2013-14, and a $62 million cap in 2014-15. When the numbers were lower for 2013, I assumed this would hold true for 2014, limiting Cavalier flexibility for the summer of 2014 when Cleveland does have max free agent ambitions. Wrong. $62 million is a pretty darn good number for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Let's take a look at what Cleveland could have on the books for 2014-15. Note, this could all change, and some of it probably will. But the Cavaliers have to operate under the assumption that this is what they have, and that they need to have 35% of the cap free, because that is what LeBron James will be eligible for next season. If my calculations are right, this means LeBron would be eligible for a $21.5 million dollar deal. If someone has a different or better number, I would welcome it, but I think it's about right. I am further assuming that LeBron's deal would be a sign and trade so that it is more lucrative from him, and so that Miami isn't left with nothing. Again, there are a lot of assumptions here.

So let's do some informed speculation.

Likely under contract in 2014-15 for Cleveland, and salary figures*

Kyrie Irving - $7.5

Tristan Thompson - $5.4

Dion Waiters - $4.1

Tyler Zeller - $ 1.7

2013 1st overall pick - $5.5 **

2013 19th overall pick - $1.5**

Anderson Varejao - $9.8

A cap hold for 2014 1st round pick - $2***

*numbers in millions

**numbers reflect 120% raises over the cap hold that 1st round picks almost uniformly receive

*** assuming pick is somewhere between 12-16

So what does this mean? The Cleveland Cavaliers have $37.5 million committed in the status quo for 2014-15. Add in a $21.5 million offer to LeBron James and you are at $59 million. If you buy out Anderson Varejao for $4 million, the Cavaliers are then around $53 million with around $8 million to spare. So why does this matter? If Anderson Varejao is in the Cavs' plans, they have around $3 million in wiggle room of salary they can take on for 2014 and still go after James. If he isn't, the Cavs look even better. The projected jump in next summer's cap comes at a perfect time. Between now and then the Cavaliers can add more than the $3 million in 2014-15 salary if they want, but they risk getting into Dallas Mavericks territory, where they make trade-offs and possibly give up assets for less than they are worth in hopes of luring a big fish that may never come. Just as likely, though, the Cavaliers will decide not to give a free agent a contract because they aren't willing or able to add $6 million in 2014 and still offer James a contract.

My point is, yes the Cleveland Cavaliers have flexibility. But the need to have max cap space available next summer already limits that flexibility. There are free agents that they will likely pass on that could help in the immediate future. There are free agents they will likely pass on who could help Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters develop. They will pass on free agents that would help them win more basketball games. I don't know if it is worth it or not. It is a fun debate, and one that has been raging on Twitter. What isn't a debate, in my opinion, is whether the devotion to 2014 cap space limits the Cavs flexibility. It does.

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