Coming off of winning the NBA finals, the Cavaliers are faced with some roster issues. Chief among them the cost of retaining key players like LeBron James and J.R. Smith who will get large raises while also restocking their bench for next season’s title defense. In any normal year, that would be a tough task. With the spike in the salary cap coming this summer, they will need to get incredibly creative.
Normally, a lack of cap space is terrifying. This year however, it’s right where you want to be.
As free agency gets set to kick off, we have seen some signs that there will really be only one or two teams truly happy with the money they end up spending when this is over. When Kevin Durant lands his max deal - wherever he chooses - it will be an unquestioned victory for that team. After that, it gets murky. Hassan Whiteside, Harrison Barnes, and Bismack Biyombo will command top dollar, four-year $80+ million contract and maybe more. Al Horford will be looking at over $100 million. There are even reports that Joakim Noah will be looking at a similar amount.
That list of players could make any GM who signs them look like a genius. There is also cause for concern with giving such massive numbers to each and every one. The problem is there is so much money available compared to so few players that teams have no choice but to offer top dollar.
That’s where the Cavs come in, for better and for worse. They don’t need to engage in this insanity. They have long term deals secured with Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson and Iman Shumpert. They will be obliged to cut Smith a huge check, but that’s fine. He’s an incredibly important part of the team and can’t easily replace him.
Similar to the free agency periods of 2007 and 2010, though, when the initial names dry up, there is a great chance teams will be handing out big money to talents that won’t ending up being “worth” the expense. I hate the term, because you’re worth whatever someone is willing to pay you, but there is sure to be some buyer’s remorse this summer. Recently David and I were discussing this with someone from a different network, and the point kept coming back to “but other teams can add talent”. That’s true. They can. The issue is that except for the Warriors and Spurs, none of those teams is adding talent to an already complete core. The rest of the teams either don’t have good players, or would have to jettison them to make room. The Cavs have insulated themselves from both severe talent deficiencies and crazy spending. That’s good.
The rub of course is that this makes the work they need to do in the margins much more difficult. Should Richard Jefferson choose not to retire, he would be faced with taking a deal slightly larger than the veterans minimum with the Cavs, or a large one year deal from a team with more money than they know what to do with. Names like Jared Dudley and Jamal Crawford, who normally would be looking at just a small decrease in salary to take the Cavs mini mid-level exception now have barely any reason to consider it. The Cavs will have to get extremely creative, and somewhat lucky with how they fill out the players around their core. Jordan McRae will probably get a look, as they control him for relatively nothing compared to what is on the market and he’ll play on their summer league team. Mo Williams picked up his option. Cedi Osman may or may not come over. Kay Felder is a possibility. Last year’s second round pick Sir’Dominic Pointer could be signed, particularly if he plays well in Las Vegas. No matter what, as a fan you might be underwhelmed.
Every name you have in your head for the Cavs to pursue is probably outside of their price range. That kind of stinks, but as far as problems go, not being able to spend too much money to compete in an inflated market is a good problem to have. Especially when it’s figuring out how to defend your title.