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The Cavaliers’ Alec Burks trade is a trade about more trades

Potential trade targets for Alec Burks’ salary.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Utah Jazz Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

The news that Kyle Korver was traded wasn’t shocking. Korver is 37, the team was not very good and it has been mentioned for months that the Cavs had a handshake agreement with him to deal him were LeBron James to leave. The news that Korver had been dealt to the Jazz for Alec Burks, though, was shocking.

For months there has been talk about the 76ers sizing him up, but no mention of the Jazz whatsoever. The final deal: Korver in exchange for Burks and two second-round picks. The reality of this deal is that it likely has nothing to do with what Burks can bring the Cavs, but what he is paid.

Before we dive into how Burks’ deal is important, let's lay some groundwork as to why:

The NBA salary cap and luxury tax lines for the next two seasons are vitally important as the Cavaliers look to restructure themselves going forward. There are a lot of mediocre teams currently paying the tax, and there are a lot of teams that will be looking to spend on a massive free agent crop next season. The Cavs aren’t ready to be in that second group; they are years away and need to build a foundation of young talent under cheap control. One of best ways to accelerate that is by taking on other team’s bad contracts in exchange for draft picks and young players.

The numbers you want to remember: The tax line for this season is $123 Million. The Salary Cap and tax for next season (a projection that can rise or fall slightly based on revenues) are $109 Million and $132 Million respectively. The Cavs will be ideal partners for people looking for space away from EITHER of those numbers, be it for a free agent signing or just avoiding the costly tax penalties/deadly repeater tax penalties. The Cavs also, for the first time in a million years, are not a luxury tax team. This means that they have more flexible trade rules for the first time in a long time — Cleveland can take back up to $5 million more than they send out in a trade, as long as they receive between $6.533 and $19.6 million in the deal. Outside of that range, things are slightly different, but given the Cavaliers’ tradeable salaries, this is the range that matters.

So where does Alec Burks fit in, and why is he different from other Cavs assets?

Everyone knows the Cavs have a lot of salaries that can save teams money next year. J.R Smith is scheduled to make $15.7 Million, of which only $3.87 million is guaranteed if he is waived by June 30. George Hill is scheduled to make $18 million, of which only $1 million is guaranteed if he is waived by July 1.

Burks’ $11.5 Million is fully expiring, whereas Korver also has a partial guarantee of $3.44 million on his $7.5 million salary for next season. Any trade the Cavs could put together to take on some of the truly wretched salaries in the league would still leave that team on the hook for about $5 million because they would have had to pair any two of those Hill/Smith/Korver salaries. Instead, in a stand alone Burks trade, the Cavs can take in his salary plus $5 million, or $16.5 million. That is immediate and massive savings, especially for cap teams where every dollar is charged with 150% to 450% in tax. However, the Cavaliers currently sit about $4.1 million from the luxury tax line and will definitely want to avoid going over that mark.

I can never remember the trade rules, when and how can he be traded?

Burks can be traded alone at any time once the trade is official. If the Cavs want to aggregate his salary into other deals, they will need to wait 60 days from the official trade date, so ballpark Jan. 28-Jan. 31. For reference, the NBA trade deadline is Feb. 7, so they have positioned themselves well to be players there.

Ok Ok enough about calculators and calendars. What are some targets?

Let’s outline the teams first, in tiers.

They pay the tax, and they aren’t very good:

Miami Heat ($158 Million in salary this year!), Washington Wizards (Not a tax team next year)

They pay the tax, and need to remain flexible:

Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder, Golden State Warriors (Kevin Durant expiring), Toronto Raptors (Lowry and Leonard expiring), Detroit Pistons, Portland Trail Blazers

Clear the decks for free agency/re-signings:

Los Angeles Clippers, New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, Memphis Grizzlies, Charlotte Hornets, Minnesota Timberwolves, Philadelphia 76ers

There are a lot teams the Cavs can help in a variety of ways, and I have a few specific players in mind (all salaries are current number, not their 2019-20 number):

Chandler Parsons ($24.1 million) - Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies have about $104 Million committed next season and a LOT of their rotation expiring. Removing Parsons will give them a mountain of breathing room. They owe a pick to Boston this year that is protected 1-8, so you ideally would target a 2021 first with as little protection as possible.

Alec Burks and George Hill for Parsons, Jevon Carter and that first would work.

Nic Batum ($24 Million), Bismack Biyombo ($17 million), - Charlotte Hornets

This is tricky for the Hornets because Batum plays a large role on the team, but he also is owed $25.5 million next year and has a player option for the following year at $27 million-plus. Biyombo has a player option for $17 million next year, and it’s hard to see him declining it. With $102 million committed, and Kemba Walker expiring, the Hornets are at a crossroads. Keeping Walker should mean shedding Batum and Biyombo if possible and looking for supporting talents in this massive free agent class.

Alec Burks and George Hill for Batum, Frank Kaminsky, a 2019 first and the Cavs own 2020 second returning to them would work here.

For Biyombo, a straight deal of J.R. Smith works, or Burks plus another small salary at the bottom of the Cavs roster. Similar to the Korver deal, the Cavs’ 2020 second-round pick and the 2020 second-round pick of the Nets or Knicks (Charlotte gets the worse of the two) would be good.

Hassan Whiteside ($25.4 million), Tyler Johnson ($19.3 million) - Miami Heat

The Heat have an astounding $158 million in salaries committed for this season, and are slated to be third in the league next year with about $133 million committed. They are a constant free agent destination, a beautiful city and premier franchise in a state with no income tax, but their cap sheet is all bungled up. It’s also to-be-determined how much business they would be willing to do with the Cavs.

Still, if they want out of the hole, they need to move money. Whiteside and Johnson both have player options that they seem certain to take. Whiteside for $27 million-plus, and Johnson for $19.2 million. Also complicating things is they don’t have many picks, with a 2021 first-round pick owed to the Sixers, and all their seconds except for 2022 used until 2025. They’re also guard heavy.

Alec Burks, Ante Zizic and J.R. Smith for Whiteside, Derrick Jones Jr., and a 2019 first works. It’s a tough deal for Miami and doesn’t help them much on the court this year, but you’re eating about $30 Million in salary.

Alternatively a Hill for Johnson swap lines up perfectly, with a protected 2019 first.

Brandon Knight ($14.6 million) - Houston Rockets

The Rockets are in a desperate need of bodies, and guys that can play. Replacing Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute with Carmelo Anthony and James Ennis has been a disaster. Michael Carter Williams didn’t pan out as a backup point guard, and James Harden is playing 40+ minutes a night while Chris Paul sits and MCW can’t get on the court. Burks, Hill and Smith are all ideal players for them. Houston also has all of their first round picks.

Their pick of Burks, Smith or Hill for Knight and an unprotected 2019 first is perfect. I would be tempted to ask for extra in the case of Burks or Hill since they have been better than Smith and have a smaller guarantee, maybe a heavily protected first or a second or two. They probably would not be inclined to do it, but given the tightrope they walk with talent vs. tax, given them bodies and bird-rights salaries like Hill or Burks should come at a premium when also saving them money. Sending Hill to Houston would also require an additional small salary back to Cleveland along with Knight, but that should be easily doable with the number of minimum contracts the Rockets have on their books.

Norman Powell ($9.4 million) - Toronto Raptors

The Raptors will be in an interesting spot next year. Kyle Lowry, Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green will all be free agents, and their cap number is sure to spike if they resign them. Moving Powell, who is injured and has a long term guarantee will help on multiple fronts.

A trade of Burks for Powell gives the Raptors a slight talent upgrade, a player who is currently available (although Burks is also notoriously injury prone), and some extra room to work next year. Toronto owes a 2019 first to San Antonio, in this deal you would want a 2021 first or multiple seconds.

A darkhorse for them would be Jonas Valanciunas, who plays about 20 minutes a night and has a $17.5 million player option for next season. He plays an important role, but you wonder if they would be tempted to open up even more space.

Danilo Gallinari ($22.6 Million), Avery Bradley ($13 Million) - Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers are surprisingly good, and Gallinari is a huge part of that. I won’t list trades for him because I think he would be fairly easy to move in the summer, but he is a name to watch if they falter. The Clippers expect to be players in the free agency market, and will either need Gallo to be a pillar of their new identity, or be gone to bring in multiple big names.

Bradley, however, has been pretty awful. He is shooting 33 percent from the field and 19 percent from three. He is owed about $13 million next season with only $2 million guaranteed.

A deal of Bradley for Burks is a talent upgrade and cuts off a few million of their overhead next summer. It could give the Cavs the opportunity to get another high 2019 second (the most favorable of their own, Portland’s, Orlando’s, and Houston’s is owed to the Clippers), maybe two depending on how Steve Ballmer is feeling about his pocketbook.

Tim Hardaway Jr. ($17.3 million) - New York Knicks

The Knicks could and perhaps should be a player in the free agent market this year, and they will need to dump Hardaway Jr. and/or Courtney Lee to do it. Lee should have some value to contenders or whatever team they build in the offseason, so I will ignore him. They also have a ton of young players, so you wonder how many more they can move forward with. They’re hard to read.

Hardaway’s contract is... frankly it is terrible. He has a 15% trade kicker, and term “kicker” is apt for this deal. The kicker is on the total value of guaranteed years remaining. He has a player option for 2020-2021. which he is certain to pick up, but it isn’t counted in the kicker. What this means is the Cavs have to take in about 20 million this season, because the kicker is evenly applied across each year. The Knicks aren’t a tax team, so it doesn’t make the math that much harder on their end.

A deal of Burks and Sam Dekker for Hardaway and a top-five protected 2019 first is where I would start. As the protection goes up, I’m asking for more. The deal is truly onerous, and if they want to add Kevin Durant AND _____, they need it gone. If they want it protected for the full lottery this season, I’m asking for another first. Lower than that? Maybe a few seconds.

Markelle Fultz ($8.3 Million) - Philadelphia 76ers

The Cavs and Sixers have previously engaged on Fultz in a package centered around Kyle Korver, but they instead went with the package for Burks. this according to Keith Pompey of the Philly Inquirer, which included some other notes about the deal:

In other words, potential 76ers trade partners don’t want Fultz saying that his right shoulder and wrist are bothering him if he actually has a mental block that’s hindering his shooting, the source said. That was the word coming out of Cleveland, as the Cavaliers were interested in taking a chance on the 2017 first overall pick before trading Kyle Korver to the Utah Jazz on Wednesday, sources said. The Phoenix Suns are among the teams with some level of interest, a source said. However, Fultz comes with some red flags and questions. Who’s running the show? Is his family a major distraction? And what’s the next step after this week’s visit to shoulder specialists in New York?

Would the Cavs revisit the well on that? It’s tough to say and it sounds like they have moved on. There are certainly better deals for them, but as it gets closer to the deadline, it may merit getting back to. Burks does the Cavs no good staying on the roster.

A deal of Fultz and Furkan Korkmaz for Burks fits the salary requirements and would benefit both teams. The Sixers have already declined Korkmaz’ option, seemingly ready to move on. The Cavs’ Cedi Osman and Korkmaz have been friends and teammates on both the Turkish national team and Anadalou Efes prior to and during their NBA careers. It would be a good move to get one of their young building blocks someone he’s familiar with while they see if the 6’7” swing man has NBA game. It would probably be the deal I take last out of any of these, other than maybe the Bradley deal, but it would be a good flier for that and a former top pick.

There are going to be other options as well, being able to take in that much salary for someone opens up a lot of doors, but these are the ones that make the most since. I left out teams like the Celtics and Warriors, because I don’t think they have any real trades that work for Burks, since they would be most motivated to make their moves in the offseason. Whatever the case, the Cavs have opened up a lot more options than they had before with Korver’s contract. It will be interesting to see how they navigate it.

All salary information via Basketball-Reference; all future pick information via Real GM.