LOS ANGELES: So now what?
Now that Anderson Varejao is home recovering from yet another surgery, the Cavs’ trade-deadline options appear limited. They have made a deal at the deadline each of the last three years and four of the last five, but that streak is in jeopardy now that Varejao could miss two months while recovering from a split quadriceps muscle.
He was easily the most appealing trade chip on the roster and the one who could net the most in a deal (forget Kyrie Irving, who is essentially untouchable). Varejao sparked debates within the organization in recent months over whether to deal him or hold onto him in hopes of a future return to contention.
This latest injury answered that question for them. It will be incredibly difficult to deal him now since he most likely will be sidelined when the Feb. 21 trade deadline passes. He certainly doesn’t possess the same value he had only a few weeks ago and this makes three consecutive seasons he has endured significant surgeries and missed substantial time prior to the trade deadline.
With Varejao now removed from the equation, various front office executives around the league polled this week believe the Cavs’ plan will remain unchanged. They have tried unsuccessfully for three years to rent their cap space to another team willing to give up a first-round pick in an effort to shed an unwanted contract, and that will continue to be the plan for the next month. They have Luke Walton’s $6 million expiring contract and about $10 million in cap space to shop as a few teams around the league begin scrambling to avoid the league’s stiffer cap penalties. The Cavs’ parameters, however, are a little more complex than they were the last couple of years. With the summer of 2014 quickly approaching, the length of a contract the Cavs will absorb is now limited.
Executives and agents around the league are convinced the Cavaliers won’t do anything to jeopardize their ability to sign a free agent to a max contract during the summer of 2014, when LeBron James can again become a free agent. As fans in Northeast Ohio continue to howl and remain divided about the possibility of his return, more and more people around the league believe there is a strong possibility James will indeed return to Cleveland after next season.
The Cavs are well aware of this, too, and won’t take on a bad contract if it compromises their cap space in two years. That means any bad contract they would obtain in a potential trade would have to expire after next season. It doesn’t make a deal impossible, but it dramatically reduces the field — and it decreases the price the Cavs can command since their future obligations would be brief.
The Cavs previously tried this method using the $14.5 million trade exception originally obtained in the deal that sent James to Miami, but ultimately let it expire because they couldn’t find a deal to their liking.
The amnesty clause has also hindered their chances of making a deal. While teams still have to pay players waived under the amnesty clause, it has removed a heavy cap burden from teams while allowing them to preserve draft picks.
All of this means for the first time since 2009, the Cavs will likely let the trade deadline pass quietly. They obtained Antawn Jamison at the deadline three years ago when they were the best team in the East, flipped Mo Williams in the deal that ultimately brought Irving to Cleveland two years ago and last year traded Ramon Sessions to the Lakers on deadline day. Five years ago, they pulled off a blockbuster three-team, 11-player deal one minute prior to the deadline that dramatically reshaped their roster. Don’t expect anything like that this year.
Critics have argued the Cavs should’ve dealt Varejao a few weeks ago when he was enjoying a streak of 10 consecutive double-doubles, leading the NBA in rebounding and emerging as one of the league’s best post players.
The Cavs certainly could’ve dealt him a month ago, but believe teams only get really serious with their trade offers twice a year: at the draft and at the trade deadline. There was a strong possibility the Cavs would’ve held onto Varejao through the trade deadline even without this latest injury, but felt they at least needed to keep him until the deadline to maximize the offers.
One rival front office executive said this week he believes the Cavs will play .500 over February, March and April and eventually land somewhere around eighth in the draft. They’ll add two more first-round picks this summer and take a peek at free agency, then sit back and hope the two new rookies will blend with the growing nucleus of Irving, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller to make the Cavs a playoff contender next season.
It may not be splashy or sexy, but it’s the path this front office committed to in the weeks after James left and they aren’t changing course now — even if it means the phones inside the Cleveland Clinic Courts will be a little quieter in the coming weeks.
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.