With the NBA’s trade deadline only four days away, the Cavaliers are still aggressively pursuing another first-round pick in next summer’s draft. They have two paths to get there; one is easy, and the other is a bit more complicated.
They could deal Ramon Sessions outright for a pick to a team like the Los Angeles Lakers, or they could dangle Antawn Jamison’s expiring contract and their $7 million in cap space to take on future salary in exchange for a pick, but that is becoming more difficult because of the amnesty clause.
The Lakers are desperate for a guard who can penetrate and break down a defense. Sessions is terrific at doing that, but he’s at best a marginal starting point guard in the NBA. The Lakers have yet to convince themselves it’s worth giving up one of their two first-round picks for a marginal starter, according to multiple league sources, although they could grow desperate enough in the next 96 hours to do it — particularly if/when they fail to land Dwight Howard.
With so much available cap space this summer and no desire to spend big in free agency, the Cavs could essentially rent their cap space to a team looking for a place to stash salary. Jamison’s $15 million expiring contract could provide cap relief, for example, if a team was willing to give up a pick.
But how hefty of a contract is too much in the eyes of the Cavaliers? And how many teams would rather just waive a bad contract next summer under the amnesty provision rather than sacrifice a first-round pick to unload salary?
Only seven teams — the Cavs, Orlando Magic, New York Knicks, Golden State Warriors, Indiana Pacers, New Jersey Nets and Portland Trail Blazers — exercised their one-time amnesty provision in December. The amnesty clause allows a team to release a player and not have the salary count against a team’s cap, although that team is still responsible for paying the balance of the contract.
Teams must use the provision on one contract that was already on the books when the new collective bargaining agreement was ratified in December.
With 23 teams still capable of using their amnesty provision this summer, it hampers the Cavs’ ability to find a team desperate enough to shed salary that they would also include a draft pick.
Payroll is a constant concern for the New Orleans Hornets, who are owned by the league while a buyer is sought. The Cavs called the Hornets earlier this season offering to swallow Emeka Okafor’s massive contract that pays him $28 million the next two seasons, but only if the Hornets would include one of their two first-round picks. They declined.
Then word trickled out on Friday that the Hornets are shopping Okafor. His contract is strikingly similar to Baron Davis’ deal when the Cavs dealt for him last season. The difference is Okafor is younger (29) and still a productive big man, whereas Davis was a disgruntled veteran with a lengthy injury history and the reputation as a locker-room cancer. He was radioactive when the Cavs took him on, although by all accounts, he was a model citizen during his brief time in Cleveland.
Okafor doesn’t have great trade value and he has missed the past 12 games with a knee injury, but he is 6-foot-10 and productive enough (9.9 points, 7.9 rebounds) when healthy that the Hornets should be able to get some sort of value for him.
Ricky Rubio’s season-ending knee injury also complicates matters. The Hornets’ selection is almost guaranteed to be in the top five, and they also have the Minnesota Timberwolves’ unprotected pick this year. They might have been willing to part with it when the Timberwolves looked like a playoff team, but without Rubio, the Timberwolves will find it difficult to keep up in the ultra competitive Western Conference.
That will likely make their draft choice an unprotected lottery pick, and teams are hesitant to trade those after what the Cavs did with the Los Angeles Clippers’ pick last year.
Stephen Jackson of the Milwaukee Bucks and Andray Blatche of the Washington Wizards are more in line with where Davis was last season. They each have that “bad egg” reputation that scares away buyers.
Jackson is due $10 million next season in the final year of his deal and is an ideal candidate to be waived under the amnesty clause. Blatche is owed $23 million for the next three years.
The Wizards are so desperate to unload Blatche, the Washington Post reported Friday that they’re making it known anyone on their roster outside of John Wall could be available to a team willing to absorb him. The Cavs would likely be more interested in the Wizards’ upcoming draft pick, which should fall somewhere in the top five.
The Cavs believe they have the right kind of veteran leadership in guys like Anthony Parker and Jamison, coupled with a strong-willed coach in Byron Scott that they could take on a problem player if the compensation was right.
Blatche, incidentally, makes $6.4 million this season and would fit within the Cavs’ available cap space without giving up a player.
But the Wizards still own their amnesty and have two great candidates — Rashard Lewis and Blatche. Both Lewis and Blatche are owed about the same amount of money, but Lewis will make $23 million next season and Blatche’s money is spread out over three years.
Since Lewis isn’t the locker room problem that Blatche can be, it would make sense for the Wizards to keep Lewis and pay him and simply waive Blatche next summer under the amnesty clause.
Draft picks remain Cavs General Manager Chris Grant’s primary focus, but the Cavs are also shopping for young pieces that fit their long-term model. They made an aggressive offer last month for Hornets shooting guard Eric Gordon, who was the centerpiece to the deal that sent Chris Paul to the Clippers after NBA Commissioner David Stern squashed the original deal that would’ve sent Paul to the Lakers.
Gordon has been hurt much of this season and can be a restricted free agent at the end of the year, but he’s only 23 and represents the type of young core player the Cavs seek.
The Hornets again told the Cavs they were keeping Gordon, which is understandable given the scrutiny of the deal that initially sent him to New Orleans. Since Stern intervened, the Hornets almost certainly must hold on to Gordon and match whatever offer he receives this summer in free agency.
All of this leaves the Cavs in a difficult position between now and Thursday’s 3 p.m. deadline. All hope is not lost, however. The Cavs were growing pessimistic they could get something done last year, then the Clippers called the night before the trade deadline and finally conceded to the Cavs’ demand of an unprotected pick to take on Davis.
The Cavs came out of that deal with Kyrie Irving. They’ll spend the next four days searching for the trade that could ultimately bring his running mate to Cleveland.
Around the league
• Along with Jackson, the Bucks are shopping injury-prone center Andrew Bogut. The former No. 1 overall pick might not play again this season after fracturing his ankle on Jan. 25, but he’s 7 feet tall and still only 27 years old. He is owed $27 million for the next two years, but has played in at least 70 games only twice in seven seasons.
• Pau Gasol endured a wild Friday when word started spreading on Twitter he was about to be traded. A few national outlets immediately disputed the report, but Gasol remains in limbo while the Lakers shop the four-time All-Star.
“I said to myself, ‘If anything serious was about to happen, I would get a call from a significant person,’ and I didn’t get that,” Gasol told Los Angeles reporters. “Anybody can start out rumors. They start out small and then they come out big. With me, it’s been like that several times this season.”
• The Grizzlies aren’t shopping anyone, including guard O.J. Mayo, according to multiple reports out of Memphis.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at http://cavs.ohio.com. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.