My 2012 “Money-Ball” free agency plan

July 1st, 2012 by Kevin Hetrick

The NBA season never ends; free agency starts today.

I wrote the following post prior to the announcement that Cleveland extended qualifying offers to Semih Erden and Luke Harangody.  Why did this happen?  In their age 25 and 24 seasons, respectively, managing to see the court in less than half of the outings for a team that proved victorious in one-third of it’s games, while posting sub-replacement level PER; these two men apparently are non-expendable.

Anyways, I’m just bitter because after churning out the following yesterday, now I need to eliminate two players.   I was not planning on watching Erden or Harangody in a Cavs jersey again.  DJ White and Scott Machado…you never existed to me.  Man, I hope Kevin Jones rules.  I’m running this regardless…let me know your preferred 2012 free agency strategy and targets.

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Derrick Brown dunks against Detroit

The Cavaliers roster is rounding out nicely; a team relatively full of legitimate NBA players looks likely to take the court next year.

With the incoming rookies, and a recommended pick-up of Gibson’s option, Cleveland owns contracts with 9 players for $33 million.  Baron Davis’s amnestied $14.9M still counts towards the required team minimum salary, so almost any combination on six players allows the Cavs to meet their CBA needs.  The nine current players are:

  • PG = Kyrie Irving
  • SG = Dion Waiters, Daniel Gibson
  • SF = Omri Casspi, Luke Walton, Kelenna Azubuike
  • PF = Anderson Varejao, Tristan Thompson
  • C =  Tyler Zeller

To fill out a reasonable 2012 – 2013 roster, the following needs exist:

  • Back-up and third Point Guard
  • Fifth Wing, preferably including some size
  • Fourth and Fifth Bigs, preferably another shooter

Since last year, Anthony Parker retired and Antawn Jamison left.  The Cavs need to wrestle with other teams’ offers to Alonzo Gee.  Let’s tackle that first:

Alonzo Gee - I am of the opinion the team should match most foreseeable offers for Gee; 4 years & $16M sounds about right.  Keeping Gee provides continuity benefits – a lot of new faces don the wine & gold next season.

Familiar faces rest at the end of the bench; I say bring one of them back, as rostering eight new players next season seems excessive.  As part of summer-league & training camp, a battle ensues.  Hypothetically, I’ll say that Samardo Samuels survives as the “Fifth Big”.  Luke Harangody, Semih Erden, Manny Harris and Donald Sloan – our time together sadly ends (obviously written yesterday.  Erden and Harangody will be back.  Also Kevin Jones is onboard, so apparently no Samuels?).

So, I’m looking at four free agents and am not making big splashes.  That sounds like front office strategy for the off-season.  Chris Grant and company exhibited amazing patience over the last two years, and appear to prefer that for one more off-season.  With the 12 guys mentioned above, plus the Boom-Dizzle contract, the Cavs salary obligations approach $55 million.  I like the team that is being constructed and think it prudent to give the Irving, Waiters, TT, Zeller group a season to mesh while the franchise evaluates future needs.  I go back & forth on this, but again rest on the side of the fence of keeping Varejao.  He’s awesome and it will be interesting to watch how he fits with this team, both as a player and a mentor.

If Cleveland signs four free agents to short-term contracts with total 2012 – 2013 salary under $10 million, they enter 2013 – 2014 with $20 – $25 million in cap space.  Even  assuming the Cavs compete for a play-off berth next year, utilizing their bevy of future draft picks, the team picks twice in the mid-first round of each of the next three drafts.  Saving cap flexibility for another season or two, while accumulating young talent, then luring one high-quality free agent to Cleveland immediately before extending the team’s 22-year-old All-Star point guard…well, all that cap space, a competitive team, and the stud PG may be the only bet to lure the premium free agent.  That off-season is not this off-season.

With that as intro, here are some favorite “money-ball” free-agent options to make the team competitive next year for cheap.

Back-up Point Guard

Rumors occasionally pop-up about Jonny Flynn, the former sixth-pick with a career 11 PER.  To me, bringing aboard a project back-up point guard sounds ill-advised.   Despite already being amazing, Kyrie Irving is only twenty years old.  No need diverting any developmental coaching from Kyrie.  Instead, perhaps a steadying veteran influence proves beneficial.

AJ Price played three seasons for the Indiana Pacers, never fully embraced as their back-up point guard, but accumulating 2200 minutes and a 12 PER.  Not an efficient scorer, he creates shots off the pick & roll, while giving solid effort on defense.  There’s not much exciting about him, as he turns 26 next season.  What he is though, is a tolerable back-up NBA point guard, who spent the last two years on playoff teams.  Over the next two seasons, the Cavs likely win 35 – 45 games per year.  For two years and $2.5 million total, AJ Price represents a proven, suitable second-string floor general.

3rd point guard

Scott Machado of Iona and Jordan Taylor of Wisconsin recently completed their senior years and went undrafted.  I say, try them both out this summer, and give a two year, $1.3 million contract to the more impressive player.  Only the first year at $600K is guaranteed.

Tall Wing

Derrick Brown is a restricted free agent that turns twenty-five next season.  Defending big shooting guards and small forwards poses issues for Cleveland, as Alonzo Gee’s height matches up poorly with say…Joe Johnson.  With career NBA average of 13 points per 36 minutes, on exceedingly-acceptable 55.4% true shooting, Brown serves as a great value pick-up to add size & athleticism. Nearly 6’ – 9” with a huge wingspan; last year he held opponents to a 12.1 PER, while playing over half his minutes at small forward.  In addition to coming from Dayton, I like this fit with the current team and would overpay in the short-term (easy for me to say).  For two years, what amount makes Brown decide to come home to Ohio, and forces Charlotte to not match?   I’ll say 2 years at $3 million per season.  For a player that always made league-minimum and is currently wearing that “worst-team-ever-stink”; hopefully that gets signatures on paper.

If unsuccessful there, how about Tracy McGrady for one year and $2.5 milllion?  An elite passing wing, over the last two seasons, he averaged 12, 6 & 5 per 36 minutes, while making 37% from deep.  With my stated goal of “adding NBA players of value while not committing long-term money”; McGrady fits the bill.  His last two contracts, he signed one-year minimum-salary deals.  With a doubling of his recent salary, maybe he signs with Cleveland for a year.

Fourth Big-Man

Cleveland signed Kevin Jones of West Virginia to a partially guaranteed contract.  He lead the Big East in scoring and rebounding last year, and for the sake of this post, he knocks off Samardo Samuels as fifth big.  For the record, I like this singing.

As my money-ball veteran free agent big man, I propose to chase DJ White, also recently of Charlotte.  Surely you say “why pilfer multiple players from the worst team in NBA history”?  Well, of Charlotte’s total 3.4 win shares last year; Brown and White accumulated over 90%.  Last year, White made 43% of his long twos, in-line with his career average.  A very respectable mark for a power forward – per minute, he shoots and converts these shots at a frequency equal to Lamarcus Aldridge.  Obviously that is the only place they are similar, but White rarely turns the ball over and has a career PER of 15.  For 2 years at $1.5 million each, he appears as a good fit for Cleveland, playing fifteen minutes per game at the four when Andy switches to Center.

Summary

For under $6 million a year, and with no contracts beyond 2013 – 2014; I added a suitable back-up point guard, a big & athletic wing, and a floor-stretching power forward.  Nearly pristine salary cap flexibilty remains, and a highly adaptable rotation can be formed for any opponent.  In this “punting on 2012 free agency, money-ball scenario”, the season-opening roster is:

PG:  Kyrie Irving, AJ Price, Scott Machado

Wings: Dion Waiters, Alonzo Gee, Derrick Brown, Omri Casspi, Daniel Gibson, Kelenna Azubuike

Front Court: Anderson Varejao, Tyler Zeller, Tristan Thompson, DJ White, Kevin Jones, Luke Walton

I count the reigning rookie-of-the-year, Anderson Varejao, two highly-regarded first-round picks, plus seven other 26-and-under players that have proven themselves legitimate NBA players in the last two years.  It’s not a contender, but is an honest-to-goodness real-NBA team, with no bad-contracts and lots of reason for optimism…for Cleveland Cavaliers fans, that’s a beautiful thing.