NBA Free Agency 2014: What Comes Next if LeBron doesn't sign with the Cavs

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

If the Cavaliers' don't sign LeBron James, their next moves could be difficult to pull off.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are currently in a holding pattern. As the front office looks to clear out cap space to sign LeBron James, that makes sense. Although nothing is 100 percent clear at this point, it seems as if the Cavs are at least being considered by James and his camp. And if the best basketball player in the world is considering signing to your team, you put everything else on hold to see if you can sign him.


But the Cavaliers should (and it seems as if they kind of do) have a Plan B ready incase James stays in Miami. It’s a very real possibility that he re-ups with Miami and the Big Three teams up again with a re-tooled supporting cast that is already being assembled. Although the Heat lost the Finals, it’s not like they were a bad team. Winning 54 gams isn’t a fluke. And while he was bad against the Spurs, Dwayne Wade isn’t a useless player. For at least next season and maybe a few more after that, Wade and Chris Bosh is a better duo than Kyrie Irving and Andrew Wiggins.

Hypothetically speaking, let’s say James goes back to Miami and the Cavs don’t trade Jarrett Jack. Assuming Wiggins is paid 120% of what he is slotted to make as the No 1 overall pick, the Cavs will have slightly more than $52 million in committed salary on the books. With the cap projected to be at $63.2 million and, that leaves the Cavs with a little over $11 million dollars to spend in free agency. Of course, if they so choose, they could get up close to the $77 million dollar mark and not have to pay the luxury tax. 

In theory, the Cavs would not have to spend any significant money this offseason and could go into next season with the roster basically as is. But considering the Cavaliers’ stated desire to make the playoffs next season – with or without LeBron – it doesn’t seem likely that the Cavs would go into next season with an even younger roster than they had last season.

All that being said, the logical starting point for the Cavs in a post-LeBron world would be Trevor Ariza. The Cavs reportedly already have interest in Ariza and it makes sense. He’s an ideal fit with Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters Andrew Wiggins and company on the wing. If last season is the Ariza you’re going to get, he’s a three-and-d type on a team that needs three-and-d more than anything else.

But there are problems with Ariza. For one, if the Cavs pay him in the $9-$11 million dollar range he’s seeking, that takes up most of their remaining cap space. And it’s also arguable that you could sign two players (say Alan Anderson and Xavier Henry) to do what he does for a similar cost. If the Cavaliers are going to spend that kind of money on one player, it’s worth looking at restricted free agents Gordon Hayward and Greg Monroe.

Both of those players, however, have their own issues and could tricky to acquire. Any offer sheet that Hayward signs is likely to be matched by the Utah Jazz and the Cavaliers aren’t the only team interested in Hayward. The Charlotte Hornets, Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns all have interest in him and the necessary cap space to offer Hayward a large contract. If this LeBron situation drags out and the Cavs don’t bow out, Hayward might no longer be a potential fallback option.

Monroe is a slightly different story. A few teams have had interest in him, but there haven’t been any visits to date. And while Monroe isn’t a shooter, he’d give the Cavs an inside scoring presence and a good fit with some offensive sets that David Blatt may use. As he is a restricted free agent, the Detroit Pistons can match any offer sheet he signs in the same way the Jazz can match offer sheet Hayward signs. But there’s a difference in the situation: The Pistons could become more functional if they dealt Monroe and moved Josh Smith back to power forward. A combination of picks and player(s) (Tristan Thompson, perhaps) might get it done, depending on what Stan Van Gundy’s grand plan is.[1]

Of course, all three players mentioned above could go back the teams they played for last season. That would leave the Cavs in an even tighter spot. There are still some cheap shooters and bigs available, but the market could dry up quick. Some of the best fits for the Cavs – C.J. Miles, Spencer Hawes, Josh McRoberts, Channing Frye, etc. – have already signed with other teams. As a result, the market is already starting to thin out.

At that point, it would be finding the right players as quickly as possible. When LeBron and Carmelo Anthony sign with whatever team they ultimately sign with, it’s going to kick start a series of moves. For instance, if the Big Three go back to Miami, the Heat will immediately look to fill out the roster with necessary role players.

From there, it might come down to an individual players inclination. Does a players sign with a contender for a little less money (and playing time) than they would get with the Cavs? In the end, that might be the $9-$11 million dollar question.


[1] Also worth noting: To afford Hayward or Monroe, the Cavs might need to clear space to pay a competitive offer. That could mean Jack still gets moved.

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