We are less than a month away from the official start of the NBA draft, free agency and the official start of the 2019 offseason. While the Cleveland Cavaliers won’t be a player this summer in free agency, their collection of assets could help assist other teams in achieving their offseason goals for a fee.
The most talked about asset for the Cavs has been the partially-guaranteed contract of J.R. Smith. While only $3.8 million of his contract is guaranteed, it still counts as the full $15.68 million when salary matching in a trade.
According to Shams Charinia of The Athletic, a possible suitor for the Smith contract has emerged in the Miami Heat:
A team that has expressed an interest in a salary-designed trade of J.R. Smith: the Miami Heat, sources said. The Heat also have contracts they could look to move in the offseason in a deal such as this, and would have to absorb Smith’s deal.
This was a match that I had discussed earlier this summer as a possible trade up target for the Cavs. It’s unclear at this time whether the Heat would be willing to move from No. 13 to No. 26 in exchange for cap relief, or if they would only offer future picks as compensation.
One scenario that would make a lot of sense if the Heat felt it was worth the pick swap would be the Cavs taking on the salary of James Johnson. This swap would save the Heat $11.55 million this season and get their team payroll down to the projected cap number of $118 million. It also saves them over $16 million the following season assuming Johnson opts in to the final year of his contract.
Obviously this doesn’t account for the fact that Miami would still need to sign their rookies and fill out their roster, but it would be a giant leap towards flexibility for them. In exchange, the Cavs would be able to select in the late lottery and receive a good locker room presence in Johnson. Johnson also would provide the team with insurance in the event of David Nwaba leaving in free agency. Johnson could also be traded again once the season starts.
It’s unclear how much value Miami assigns to the flexibility Smith’s contract would provide them with. But with their history of player development, they could see more value in the no. 26 pick than the average team and have a willingness to trade back. But at the very least it makes sense for these two teams to be discussing a Smith trade given the position both franchises are in.