Brendan Haywood, and his contract, was acquired by the Cavs on draft night over a year ago. Virtually everything about the Cavs is different from when the deal was made. Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett are gone. Dion Waiters is gone. Kyrie Irving scuttled all talk of indecision and re-signed long term with the Cavs. And the Cavs added two maximum salary players to their core in LeBron James and Kevin Love.
The Brendan Haywood contract, which is worth $10.522 next season, can be waived on July 1st when the new league year starts. This is valuable for a few reasons. One, when teams make trades in the NBA, if one team is over the cap, the incoming and outgoing salaries have to be largely similar. This certainly applies to the Cavs, who are very much over the cap. If they want to acquire a player who will make around $10.5 million next year, they'd need to send out something like Haywood's contract. Two, teams that are over the cap and perhaps in the luxury tax, or perhaps want to carve out salary cap space, might want Haywood's contract so they can waive it. Interestingly, this logic applies to the Cavs. They can waive Brendan Haywood's salary and lower their tax bill significantly.
If Kevin Love were going to leave, or if Kevin Love and LeBron James had never come to the Cavs, the team might be interested in pairing Haywood, Wiggins, or Waiters or Tristan Thompson and a bunch of first round picks for a really nice, star level player this summer. Maybe they'd try and make a run at DeMarcus Cousins. Maybe they'd make a run at Kevin Love. But that stuff already happened. I wouldn't count on the Cavs to be able to pull off something like that now.
Two factors constrain the Cavs when it comes to moving Brendan Haywood. First, they are way, way,way over the cap. Every dollar they take back for Haywood will up the luxury tax bill. David Griffin has hinted that the piece was acquired before they had serious financial commitments to star level players. Cavs owner Dan Gilbert is going to be opening up his wallet regardless, but there are issues of prudence here as well. It just doesn't make sense to assume the Cavs are going to have a total payroll and tax bill of over $250 million, and that number is in play if they bring everyone back AND try and get a real piece back for Haywood.
Second, is the fact that the Cavs are just about out of assets to pair with Haywood. 2/3 of the roster, conservatively, are either retiring or are free agents. Kyrie Irving, Joe Harris, Mike Miller, and Anderson Varejao (who might have the worst contract in the league) are the only guys under contract. Cedi Osman, Rakeem Christmas, and Sir'Dominic Pointer are guys they took in the second round and probably have varying amounts of value. So if another team wants to send something the Cavs way for Haywood's contract, you're looking at what will largely be a salary dump.
Let's look at a few options.
The Backup Point Guard issue
We saw in the playoffs that if Kyrie Irving is hurt, too much pressure is put on LeBron James to be the primary ball handler for the Cavs. So the team is looking to fix that. One potential target might be Brian Roberts of the Charlotte Hornets. Things Brian Roberts can do: dribble and shoot. Things Brian Roberts can't do: everything else. He had a rough season in Charlotte after being serviceable in New Orleans. Charlotte actually traded Haywood to the Cavs, but the trade can happen at the start of the new league year. The problem: at that point, Haywood's $10.5 million salary is tough to match with Roberts at $2.7 million. The Hornets don't have the cap space to absorb Haywood's deal.
If something like this actually happened, the question is whether or not Roberts would actually be good enough. I could see second units with Roberts, Iman Shumpert, LeBron, and Tristan Thompson being pretty good. But it might just be that Roberts is a fringe NBA player who isn't quite good enough to be a consistent rotation guy.
Another player that might work is the Boston Celtics' Evan Turner. Turner is not good, really, but he is owed $3.4 million next season and the Celtics have plenty of space to accommodate Haywood's deal. He can dribble and initiate a little bit. The problem here might be that he isn't as good as he thinks he is. LeBron James has historically enjoyed letting him know.
They can punt
Maybe the Cavs want to wait and see how things shake out with the roster before committing to someone now. They could potentially trade Haywood for a second round pick to a team under the cap like the Philadelphia 76ers and create a trade exception they can use later. $10.5 million in money off the tax books, but available to use in a potential trade in January or at the trade deadline for a difference maker could be really valuable. And think of this way: a player making $10 million or so will be owed less of that by the trade deadline. That's less money going towards the Cavs cap number.
Let's get a wing defender
Reggie Bullock is in Phoenix, and after being drafted and buried on the Clippers bench has never been given consistent minutes. This trade should work both now and once the new league year starts. The Suns are under the cap, and can absorb Haywood's deal. All this said, I'm not sure how much the Suns value more cap space. They are sort of in no-man's land.
What about the big money guys?
Remember, without real assets to pair with Haywood, you're just looking at salary dumps. And it's expensive for the Cavs to take them on. Eric Bledsoe, Tiago Splitter, and Ty Lawson are all available, to some degree. I just wouldn't count on them. Houston wants to cut salary, so maybe Trevor Ariza is there. Of course, they want to shed salary to make a run at Kevin Love, among others.
We will know soon enough which direction the Cavs go in. Until then, it remains confusing and complex.