The Cavaliers and Sasha Pavlovic have reached an agreement on a new contract, his agent Marc Cornstein just informed me.
In talking to some league sources, I am told it is a three-year contract worth between $4-$5 million per season. It got done over the last two days as the Cavs pressed to make it happen before the start of the season.
Cornstein told me that the process was more of a product of the restricted free agency system as opposed to any hostility on either side. There is no doubt there is some truth in that. Also, Pavlovic's willingness to holdout got him an improved deal than what was on the table on Oct. 1, when he could've just taken a one-year deal worth $2.8 million. However, I also believe that whatever was worked out over the last two days could probably have been handled weeks ago and prevented the distraction over the last month.
While the two sides were still pretty far apart before the weekend, apparently both gave a little bit to get the deal done. Sasha is still going to have to pass a physical and actually sign the deal, so he wouldn't probably be available until at least Friday when the New York Knicks come to town. He is on his way in from Serbia and will have to deal with medical tests and visa and other issues when he gets to the country.
This represents an important moment for the Cavs as they were able to resolve one of the issues hanging over their head. It will be interesting to see how this affects the Anderson Varejao talks.
Just heard from some sources that Juwan Howard is going to sign with the Mavericks. He listened to the Cavs offer and was interested, but apparently the fact that his family lives in the Houston area played a factor in the decision.
Howard, who averaged 9.7 points and 5.9 rebounds with the Rockets last season, was bought out by the Timberwolves on Monday. He was not thrilled the Wolves were rebuilding and wanted to play for a contender. There's no doubt the Mavericks are a contender. They've also got some big men with injury issues and Howard's played there in the past.
Because the Mavericks had to set their roster yesterday, Howard will not play against the Cavs tomorrow night in Cleveland.
Despite their rising success over the last several years, the Cavs have yet to attract a free agent that has been bought out despite making several tries. These types of players can often play major roles in contending teams efforts. Chris Webber's efforts last season in Detroit is just one recent example.
One player the Cavs may now look at is point guard Beno Udirh, who was traded from the Spurs to the Timberwolves and then waived Monday. A former first round pick, Udrih never delivered on his promise in San Antonio and was constantly in and out of Gregg Popovich's doghouse. However, Danny Ferry has been a Beno fan in the past and may take a look at him. The issue is that he's currently out with a broken finger.
The Cavs may indeed have gotten a free player in Demetris Nichols, a young player I personally am high on after seeing him in summer league. The media spoke with him at practice today. More on him in tomorrow's paper.
I've gotten a steady stream of e-mails from fans in various degrees of anger over the last week at the state of the Cavs. It is understandable, especially after they way the team performed in Toronto and in Boston this week. I've been around the block quite a few times now as this is my fifth season covering the team. As I wrote in the paper, preseason may not count but it does matter. Right now, the team is playing lousy in every phase. So the 1-6 record might be worth discussing, but the execution and focus level have been extremely lax and there's no refuting that.
From day one almost a month ago it was clear that the Cavs had lost their swagger because of the Anderson Varejao and Sasha Pavlovic holdouts were collectively weighing on the team's minds. They have been asked about it virtually every day since and right now they are playing like their minds are elsewhere. The players have now accepted that neither will be there on opening night and so far they are not accepting the challenge.
There's also a lot of venom for Danny Ferry coming to my inbox as well. Fans are upset over the inactivity over the summer, which many seem be believe made the Cavs worse even though I do not agree with that logic. But added to the inability to get the contracts done I can understand why there is a furor.
However, as they build their case to me for their anger, many are mistaken as just how this current roster was put together. So let me go over it for you from the past two regimes with just a tad bit of perspective.
Jim Paxson: --Drafted LeBron James. He is the only Paxson draft pick left on the roster. --Signed Ira Newble to a five-year, $15 million contract. --Traded for Anderson Varejao and signed him to a three-year contract. --Traded for Drew Gooden. --Traded for Eric Snow and paid his 15 percent trade kicker as he was at the start of a four-year, $25.6 million extension that he'd signed with the Philadelphia the year before. He certainly knew the contract but did not sign him. --Traded for Sasha Pavlovic. --Traded first round pick in 2007 away. The 2005 first round pick was dealt for Wesley Person by Wayne Embry.
(EDIT: This is not a complete list of Jim Paxson's moves, of course. This is not meant to be a breakdown of the Jim Paxson era. This is simply how the CURRENT roster was put together.)
Danny Ferry: --Signed Larry Hughes to a five-year, $60 million deal with incentives that could earn him $12 more. He's hit about $5 million of those so far. The Wizards had offered Hughes six years and $54 million when Ferry made the offer. --Signed Donyell Marshall to a four-year, $22 million deal. New Jersey and Washington were both offering Marshall three-year contracts. --Signed Damon Jones for a four-year, $16 million deal. Miami was offering a contract of fewer years. --Signed Zydrunas Ilgauskas to a five-year, $53 million deal. Was able to get him to take nearly a $6 million pay cut from the season before to help free up salary room. Perhaps in exchange, he went to five years instead of the four the may've team wanted at first. --Drafted Shannon Brown. --Drafted Daniel Gibson. --Signed LeBron James to a three-year, $43 million contract. --Signed Drew Gooden to a three-year, $20 million deal. --Signed Dwayne Jones. --Traded for Cedric Simmons --Signed Devin Brown to a one-year, $1.1 million deal.
Now, when you rant you will be better informed. As for the current situation, the Cavs certainly need to do something to help the roster and the morale of the team. Even if it is a minor move, it may help the overall outlook. In my many conversations with Cavs coaches and front office members I am always told reasons why the Cavs don't want certain players. They put a high value on character. They want players who value defense. They want versatile players that are tall and long, which make them better defenders. All of this makes sense and following a long-term plan is the Spurs, and now the Cavs, way.
However, there are also players who do certain things well and become available from time to time. Maybe not the perfect recipe for what the Cavs want, but that doesn't mean they can't help. Any sort of talent injection at this point would be a help. Still most signs are pointing to them sticking to their philosophy and riding out what sure looks like a coming storm.
The Cavs got beat again early this morning by the Magic, 100-84, in Macao, China. Or is it Macau? Whatever, the casino town on the South China Sea and are now on their way back home. Here are some thoughts on the game.
--Again, don't pay attention to the final score, the Magic padded it with a huge fourth quarter. The Cavs starters played OK. LeBron didn't shoot much but he passed well and, most interestingly, Mike Brown ran a bunch of post up plays for him and he worked down there well. He may very well have the best season of his career if he keeps this up. Brown is keeping his minutes way down in the preseason, which is good common sense.
--Zydrunas Ilgauskas also played well, he had 12 points and 11 rebounds in just 25 or so minutes. He has also looked like he's in midseason form already. Z spent two months in Europe over the summer and not working on his game much. But with him and his feet, it seems any sort of rest, even if it is a couple days here and there, really does him well. He looks rested and ready.
--Larry Hughes did some good things and was aggressive in getting to the basket. But he was 4-of-12 and missed a bunch of jumpers after he made a couple early. Despite his hard work, if he keeps trying to live on those jumpers it will simply not help.
--The Cavs offense has been so mixed this preseason. Sometimes they have great ball movement and their so-called "drive-and-kick" game looks OK. But it seems like a lot of times they are forcing it because Brown is really pushing them to do it. As a result, they end up getting into bad spots on the floor and turning the ball over in bunches. In addition, LeBron continues to stop the ball on the outside and dribble and everything stops. This is a serious concern for the team, they are less talented offensively right now and if LeBron bucks the system and stops the ball they are again going to have trouble scoring in the halfcourt. This goes above and beyond personnel changes, but it goes to how much confidence LeBron has in his teammates and the system. We'll see how it develops.
--Shannon Brown again looked athletic and played hard. He's going to get minutes and I respect how hard he's working. I just can't quite figure out how he fits in with his skillset yet.
--The Cavs' second team is a total mess offensively. I feel they are going to have to make a move to add some scoring there if Sasha Pavlovic and Anderson Varejao stay unsigned. They have open roster spots. In addition, Devin Brown did not play on Saturday for reasons I am still trying to determine as the Cavs take their 15-hour flight home. Daniel Gibson, who had hurt his hamstring, did play.
Watched this morning's Cavs-Magic exhibition game in China with interest. Overall, I felt like it was the best the Cavs have played so far in the preseason, even though they are like 7,000 miles away from home. If you missed it, which I am sure many of you did, the Magic beat the Cavs, 90-86. The front line outplayed the Magic and Orlando came back when Dwayne Jones, Donyell Marshall and Anthony Tolliver were trying to guard Dwight Howard in the end. Sort of like how the Cavs beat the Pistons last week.
Here's some of what's going on...
--First off, Daniel Gibson missed the game with a right hamstring issue. I am told by the Cavs people there that it happened at shootaround on Wednesday morning (Tuesday night for those of us in the U.S.). I am also told it is not serious and that he is expected to play Saturday (12:30 a.m.) in the second game over there. He was on the bench in uniform.
--Just to get it out of the way, LeBron James again played pretty well, scoring 17 points on 5-of-8 shooting. He's acting like a superstar, no doubt. I must say, though, that LeBron's defense continues to be suspect at times. He's had his moments, as he did with Team USA over the summer, but he still gets beat often. No big deal in the grand scheme, but I think it deserves to be pointed out.
--Also, I'm sure it will please may of you that LeBron is now wearing an Indians cap everywhere in China. Here's the thing, LeBron is a shallow sports fan. His favorite teams were the best teams when he was growing up in the 1990s -- Yankees, Cowboys, Bulls, and Florida State football. Last year, he started cheering for Ohio State basketball all of a sudden. So don't get all wrapped up in it. He does care about Akron and his family and friends who are Akronites. Even if he leaves later in his career, that will always be true and that comes from knowing him for eight years. But when it comes to being shallow, he's got plenty of peers in Northeast Ohio considering the way the fans came down on him after capgate. Seriously, people.
--Shannon Brown played, in my opinion, his best game of the preseason. You may do whatever you want, but I caution you not to get obsessed with his stats. In the summer league he had seemingly good numbers and some people did some stories about how good he looked, but I thought he played out of his comfort zone and not all that well. Just as the other night, when he had 17 points, I thought he played out of control and somewhat selfishly because he kept driving into crowds and got a bunch of free throws in junk time. However, his athleticism is so impressive and he's showing more signs of learning how to use it at the NBA level. He really picked his spots well today and found driving lanes when they were there and passed when his path was blocked. He even made a jump shot or two, which is not yet his forte at all. He's got a lot of potential but also a lot to prove and, to his advantage, is now getting a lot of minutes. I am not sure you can count on him just yet, but without Sasha Pavlovic, he's getting the opportunity.
--Larry Hughes also played his best game of the preseason, both hitting open jumpers and getting to the basket. We'll have to see if it continues. All the coaches and players have been raving about his play in practice but it has yet to show on the court in games. So we'll see.
--Yesterday, Peter Vecsey wrote what I thought was an excellent viewpoint of the Pavlovic and Anderson Varejao contract issues. If you follow the Cavs, you will have read most of this already. But his perspective, in this case, I think is right on the money. Just how LeBron handles this if/when the Cavs get off to a slow start will be interesting. But while LeBron wants the team together, I find it hard to believe he could honestly look Anderson Varejao in the face and agree he's worth $10 million per season. One of the reasons Kevin Garnett got fed up in Minnesota was because the Wolves kept signing average players to contracts for more than they were worth. Even though that may be difficult to see when you are so embedded in trying to win right now.
Sorry I have not been more active here over the last week, I am coming off a nasty illness that really zapped me. I will not give details for all of your sake.
I will be back over the weekend later following tonight's game with the Sonics, but let me just go over a few things from the first two preseason games. You can also read about the Pistons game.
--I am withholding most commentary about the new offense -- Mike Brown doesn't call it a new offense but, really, it is -- because it is too early to make conclusions. Mike got a lot of it from Ettore Messina, the CSKA Moscow coach that I wrote about for ESPN this week. I will go into more detail later, but for now, know that he is trying to get the players to drive the ball and move more. In short, he is trying to avoid "the stand around and watch LeBron" offense. That includes the Larry Hughes "wait for an open jumper" on the wing option, too. Understand, this relies on LeBron's willingness to drive and kick himself, and part of the reason the ball always stopped before is because LeBron stopped it. So we'll see and I'll write more about it.
--One more thing, if you thought last year's offense eliminated Zydrunas Ilgauskas, just wait. Since Z isn't a driver and isn't a kicker, I don't see where he fits unless it's the old fashioned side pick-and-roll or the occasional iso play in the post. Again, it is still in infant stages, so I reserve judgment.
--As I also wrote about for ESPN, LeBron is in great shape and working harder than ever. I am not sure his jumper has improved technically but he's worked on it and it seems to be better. The difference between this training camp and last, when I am convinced he was tired, is dramatic and I am expecting a fast start.
--Daniel Gibson's jumper is working nicely and he's showing more willingness in going to the basket. However, his ball handling still needs work. He is the starting point guard for now, Larry Hughes is playing the 2. The Cavs players and coaches all like to say they don't have a point guard, that the 1, 2, and 3 are interchangeable. That's fine, but it is sort of like having a two-quarterback system, you do it because you don't have one.
--Devin Brown is a junk player, he doesn't do anything all that well but he'll surprise you every now and then. He'll sneak up on you and get to the hoop and hit an open jumper. Plus he is versatile on the defense. Overall, he's looking like a nice pickup, but don't expect anything great. He's also not in great shape, Mike Brown is hoping he'll be better when drops a few pounds.
--Drew Gooden's jumper was working nicely in the playoffs last year. He's going to it way too much in the preseason, which is why he's 3-for-17. He is at his best scoring with his back to the basket and off offensive rebounds.
--I am hearing nothing about the Sasha Pavlovic and Anderson Varejao holdouts. This is a very key time for the franchise, how this plays out will very likely affect the roster management over the next two seasons. There is a lot at stake, not just from a basketball perspective but also from a perception perspective. I wrote about this earlier this week. There are a lot of factors in play here, which is why this is so complicated.
After two years of virtually nothing but good news coming out of Cavsland, this summer and early fall have been a bit of a shock to the system. Some of it is understandable and some of it isn't, but it surely seems like I've written more negative-toned stories about the franchise over the last 10 days than the previous year.
The latest being about Shannon Brown getting in a fight at a bar. The video that has been on TV shows Shannon getting the worst of it and there appears to be good reason for him to be upset. The Cavs have done some homework, too, and have dug up a bunch of other details behind the scenes that support Shannon's side. However, I've read the police reports and Shannon is accused of breaking the club rules and hitting a bouncer in the face. Who knows if the police will bring charges, but it wasn't a good incident from either side based on my viewpoint.
Add the contract stalemates, Damon Jones' trade demands and Eric Snow's knee surgery and this has not been a great start to the season. In my opinion, there are more headaches to come. The trip to China in two weeks will be a great team-building exercise and a nice diversion for this group. But take it from someone who has spent a period of time in the Far East, it will take a week for them to get right when they come home. Because they are going in the middle of the preseason instead of now -- when a bunch of teams are in Europe and Hawaii -- it will have a lag until nearly the start of the regular season I suspect. Trust me, it will show up. Then there's that start of the season, a brutal schedule that immediately sends them to the West Coast for their toughest road trip of the season. Last year the Bulls went 1-6 on a West Coast trip in November and it took them a month of great play to recover.
But my job along with reporting this news to you is also to add perspective and so here it comes. All the problems the Cavs currently are dealing with are fixable and they have plenty of time to deal with all of it. Some adversity now pay actually pay off in the long run, the Cavs have been a team over the last few years that reacts well when challenged and they are certainly being challenged right now.
Here are the positives right now and they are significant. LeBron James is in great shape and is looking good in camp. The rest of the Cavs' front line is healthy. There is a lot of optimism about Daniel Gibson and Shannon Brown from the coaching staff. There is also a lot of talk about more new offensive components being installed by Mike Brown. I am from Missouri on that one, I'll be watching closely in the preseason and reporting to you. But so far the players are positive about it.
For the last two years the Cavaliers have mostly enjoyed harmony and good chemistry. It has been part of the reason they've become one of the best teams in the league even though from top to bottom they do not have the best talent. While other teams have had players fight, demand trades, boycott their coach and the like, the Cavs have gotten along for the most part. Those intangibles and under valued attributes like defense and rebounding made the Cavs an elite team. But, as Paul Silas liked to say, "Ain't nothing in the NBA going to be a bed of roses." So, at long last, here come some thorns.
Despite having three months to reach deals, the Cavs will open training camp without Sasha Pavlovic and Anderson Varejao. Neither of them signed deals my midnight Sunday and they are now, effectively, holding out.
I have written a great deal about Sasha and Andy over the last few months. There is no way to predict how things will go now. Their decision to not take qualifying offers is unprecedented in recent NBA history. It is a radical attempt to summon up some leverage, which they do not have now. There is some belief among people in the league that Varejao and Pavlovic are actually working together behind the scenes are are trying to put pressure on the Cavs by staying at home. There will certainly be pressure on the front office from the Cavs players and coaches, who surely want their full team on the floor, and from the fans, most of whom don't understand why the Cavs aren't signing key players.
Here is the nitty gritty: Money is so tight in the NBA right now that agents are getting radical. Only two free agents got more than the mid-level exception this summer while changing teams, Rashard Lewis and Darko Milicic. Guess how many free agents got the full mid-level exception for max years this summer? Try zero. Three years ago, there were around a dozen, last year there were just four. They were Joel Pryzbilla (Blazers), Nazr Mohammed (Pistons), Vladimir Radmanovic (Lakers) and Jared Jeffries (Knicks). Think any of those teams are happy with those deals at this point? Well, it's showing in the marketplace.
Last season, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban correctly predicted this summer would be a "nuclear winter" for free agents. For the most part, he was right. Guess what, a peek at next summer looks like it will even be worse because there is less money and better free agents. After heavy spending from 2004-2006 (including a big salary-cap jump in '05), many teams are very close to the luxury tax these days and spending likely isn't going back up until the summer of 2009.
Sasha and Andy are caught in the tightening and the Cavs are staring at a market without opposing bidders and where flexibility with contracts is more valuable than salary-cap space. So Danny Ferry is making what he considers is the proper decision for the long-term health of the roster and franchise, even if it is unpopular. Meanwhile, Pavlovic and Varejao are coming off career years and trying to get paid like their brethern have for the last three summers. They can't be blamed for that.
I can explain all day why there is an impasse, but I can't tell you how or when it is going to get resolved.