If the season ended tomorrow, the Cleveland Cavaliers would owe Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao, Dion Waiters, Tyler Zeller, and Alonzo Gee $28,079,120 in 2012-2013. They will almost certainly pick up C.J. Miles' $2.25 million deal, and they will have two first round draft picks likely to make a combined $4 million or so. This comes out to a little over $34 million dollars. Given a salary cap around $60 million, the Cavaliers will have about $26 million dollars to spend. The salary floor will be 90% of the cap, or $54 million. In other words, the Cavaliers will likely have to take on $20 million dollars in salary. Cavaliers fans also know that Dan Gilbert is likely to be fine with the Cavaliers spending above the salary cap, as he has shown in the past a willingness to pay the luxury tax.
But the Cavaliers are far from the only team that will be under the cap this summer; at least 11 teams are on track in the status quo to be able to offer a max level contract to free agents. This, along with a quick glance at rosters around the league, where mediocrity abounds, will tell you that there is real demand for difference making players, and people have the money to go get them. The problem, then, is supply. The NBA is already skewed towards the top because of a limited amount of superstars available, and player preferences for attractive markets like Los Angeles. Add to that the current fad of rebuilding teams shunning free agency in favor of the draft and the low contracts of rookie deals, and you have a league with a few teams well over the cap with established stars, whether they play like it or not, and a lot of teams saving their gun powder for ... well, I don't know. Frankly, it is hard to blame teams in the latter group. Did spending on Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva keep the Pistons in contention the last few years? Or what about Washington, who has added Nene, Trevor Ariza, and Emeka Okafor and their considerable salaries, but still will have trouble making the playoffs this season.
An easy point to make would be that spending money isn't bad, its that spending money on bad players is bad. And that is true. Charlie V is really bad at basketball. But Carmelo Anthony wasn't going to Detroit, at least not on the open market. The Cavaliers have a really fun young nucleus, but does anyone really think Josh Smith is itching to come to Cleveland? Teams that can't get the top free agents have to spend money somewhere. You can argue that once the Cavs start winning it will be more of an attractive place for free agents, but the problem there is that by the time the Kyrie Irving has the Cavaliers ready to contend, his contract, and the young guys around him like Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters will be making enough money to make a max free agent contract an impossibility. (I am not going to entertain the LeBron back to Cleveland thing in this article).
The final complication comes in that there just aren't enough good players in the free agent pool. Josh Smith is exciting, and if the Cavaliers were to trade for him and offer him a max contract it is likely he would sign it. But it isn't at all a sure thing that the Hawks want to trade him, and he isn't taking less money to come to Cleveland. Andrew Bynum is a possibility, but the Sixers are unlikely to let him go. If you think the DeMar Derozan and Jeff Green's contracts are problematic, just wait until you see what David West, Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap are going to get. Tony Allen is going to get paid. I am already shuddering thinking of what Nick Young will get. You think the Cavaliers need a small forward? Stephen Jackson is available. Chase Budinger is going to be in high demand.
So what does all this mean? Really, I don't know. Without knowing who is going to be in buy or sell mode as the season goes on, I would really be surprised if the Cavaliers don't make a trade this season to take on long-term salary. The Nuggets extended Ty Lawson, are very close to the luxury tax line, and have a glut of wings. Most people think a trade of Wilson Chandler is all but inevitable. They need shooting. Daniel Gibson and our Miami first rounder for Chandler seems reasonable, but I really don't know if Chandler is actually good at basketball. He hasn't played well in quite some time. But it adds salary for the Cavs, and gives the team a potential starter or depth at a position where they will need it. A foray back into the trade market for a big name, big money player shouldn't be ruled out either. With the Rockets landing James Harden, there might not be another team out there with the combination of picks and young players and expiring contracts to make a big deal work. Who that player is, I don't know.
Who will the Cavaliers spend their money on? Can they make a major deal? Stay tuned, and lets hope that we use our cap space a bit more wisely than Joe Dumars up in Detroit.