INDEPENDENCE: While the rest of the NBA is fixated on Dwightmare 2.0 and another round of Dwight Howard speculation, the Cavaliers are quietly entering the summer free agent shopping period that begins today with more than $20 million in available cap space and an agenda of improving the roster.
It just might not happen right away.
Their approach this year is in stark contrast to the past couple of summers, when they were trying to facilitate deals and take bad contracts in exchange for draft picks. Now they’ve transitioned into improving their own roster.
“We’re going to be active in the trade market and free agency,” Cavs General Manager Chris Grant said. “I have to make sure my cellphone is working. We have some other areas that we’re going to try to address.”
The first pair of decisions came and went over the weekend, when Mo Speights’ camp informed the Cavs he would be opting out of the final year of his contract and the team elected not to extend Wayne Ellington a qualifying offer of about $3.1 million.
The Cavs are still interested in bringing Ellington back, but they have excelled at manipulating the salary cap in recent years and are trying to protect their cap space until they see how the market develops. High atop their priority list is protecting cap space for next summer, too, when the free agent class is expected to be much better. The Cavs need to keep a max contract slot open for next summer, which will limit how many guaranteed dollars they can spend now.
It wouldn’t be surprising if the Cavs stood back during the initial signing frenzy and waited for some of the bigger names to land, then swooped in and negotiated trades for current players those teams can no longer afford.
The Lakers, of course, are the perfect example. If Howard returns to Los Angeles, the Lakers will be almost forced to move Pau Gasol for pennies on the dollar or outright waive him under the amnesty provision. Gasol will make in excess of $19 million next season in the final year of his deal. The fact he has an expiring contract is crucial to the Cavs’ cap plans for the summer of 2014, yet he’s still a productive player who would fit nicely within the Cavs’ core of youth.
The team approached the Lakers about a Gasol trade previously and would likely explore it again if Howard returns, since tax penalties could prevent the Lakers from carrying both high-priced salaries. If Howard departs Los Angeles, however, there’s a strong possibility the Lakers would simply retain Gasol and let his contract come off the books following the season.
New Cavs coach Mike Brown had Gasol in Los Angeles, when the 32-year-old averaged 17.4 points and 10.4 rebounds during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season.
Brown is also familiar with Andrew Bynum, the former Lakers center who is a free agent after missing all of last season with knee problems. The Cavs briefly engaged in trade discussions for Bynum last summer, but couldn’t get anything done.
They are rumored to be interested in him again, but it’s hard to envision the Cavs offering anything beyond a one-year deal for big money next season and a team option for the following season. While he’s no longer expected to receive a max contract this month, Bynum should still get a multiyear deal with guaranteed dollars for more than one season from someone.
The Cavs’ needs at this point are evident. They need to address the backup point guard issue, they need another shooter and could use another big.
“We’ll look at our options. We have cap space, we still have draft picks. There’s still going to be movement in the marketplace,” Grant said. “There’s a lot of big names that might move around, which creates more opportunities. So this is somewhat of the beginning for us. We’ve taken a big step [with the draft], but we still have more work to do.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.