Thoughts on James Harden Part III: It’s Never Too Soon to be Thinking About June.

December 9th, 2012 by Nate Smith

Ah... Summer.

In my last installment of this series, I wrote about what the plan needs to be from here on out for the Cavs.

The Cavs have to start trying to contend in 2013-2014.
In 2013, Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson will be on the 3rd year of their rookie scale contracts, leaving two seasons for them to play before they’re eligible for extensions.  Additionally, the best dollar for dollar player in the NBA, Anderson Varejao will be on his ridiculously underpaying contract at less than $10 million a year for 2013-2015.  Further, the only salaries the Cavs have to pay next year are Andy, Dion, Irving, TT, Gee, and Zeller: the core.  This comes in at $27.6 million.  Given the cap holds for another top 5 pick, and a 15-30 pick , we can estimate a cap hold of around $5-6 million.  So, the Cavs will have a total salary of roughly $34 million.  Given a cap of $58 million, this gives the Cavs $24 million to play with.

Now that we’re in the dog days of December, and the worst part of the Cavs’ schedule, it’s nice to look ahead to a happier time when visions of all stars will be dancing in our heads.  The end of June will mark the start of NBA free agency, that lovely time when career scrubs who’ve had one good year get massively over-payed, and old vets get minimums to be player/coaches.

When I wrote the above, I did not count for the cap holds for the qualifying offers and non-guaranteed contracts of the other members of the team.  As can be seen on the link, the numbers for Casspi, Miles, Pargo, Samuels, Sloan, and Leuer add up to just over $10 million in cap room, all or any of which can be renounced.  Miles, most interestingly has a completely non-guaranteed 2013 salary which can be a nice trade chip for next year in a trade-and waive scenario.  This gives the Cavs anywhere from $14-24 million to play with depending on who they want to keep.  Remember, they MUST spend 90% of the cap, which means around $54 million total.  This means that the Cavs will need to spend a minimum of $10 million on free agents in 2013  just to get to the salary floor, and that’s if they keep all their draft picks and restricted free agents at around their qualifying offers.

I’ve written many times that the new CBA is going to change everything.  Teams over the luxury tax threshold are going to have to make hard choices about who they want to keep.  Only the mega-rich are going to be able to go well over the tax threshold for extended periods: New York, Brooklyn, L.A., and maybe Miami.  With that said, the Cavs plan should be to pluck free agents and restricted free agents from teams that are in danger of going over the luxury tax.  With that in mind, let’s start looking at the 2013 NBA free agent class.

The Max Guys:

In a word, these guys are “the balls”: the Ron Burgundys of their fields: the all stars.  They are getting max salary or close to it.  Most of these guys are going to be re-signed by their current teams, and if they’re not, the odds of them coming to Cleveland are about as high as the odds of the Browns running the table and winning the Super Bowl this year.  Players include Chris Paul, Monta Ellis, Manu Ginobili, Paul Pierce, and Dwight Howard.

There’s one player in this group who might be the longest of shots to sign with the Cavs:

Andre Iguodala: Long coveted by the Cavs, Iguodala has an early termination option that he will exercise unless he gets hurt.  He currently makes $16 million, and would be a fantastic player for the Cavs with his defense, finishing, leadership, and ability to play without the ball and run the floor.  Unfortunately it’s going to take $17 million plus per year to sign him and make Denver think twice.  Also, he’s currently sporting a 14.2 PPG/ 3.8 APG /5.2 RPG/ 1.2 Stl /13.64 PER line (the per game averages will follow this format throughout this post) which is below average efficiency.  He’s also 28 and has a game founded on athleticism and hustle.  He would be a big risk on the back end of a 4 or 5 year deal, but he would give the Cavs instant credibility, as he’s respected around the league.

The Just Below Max Guys:

Most of these could get a close to max contract if the situation worked out right for them.  These are the guys that are going to be using teams like the Cavs for leverage, and we can probably only afford one of them.

O.J. Mayo: Breakout year for him with a 20.9/3.5/3.9 19.25 PER.  The Mavericks fleeced the rest of the league signing him for a paltry $8 million over 2 years last summer.  Unfortunately for them, he will, barring injury, decline his player option for next year and hit free agency looking for a substantial increase on his $4 million dollar per year salary.  Given the future (hopefully) strength of the Cavs back-court, he would be a tough guy to commit $12 million+ per year to.  The Mavs have $44.4 in other salary commitments and they need to pay Darren Collison, so they may or not elect to keep Mayo.  Knowing Cuban, they will probably elect to re-sign mayo, but  if they bow out, there will be plenty of other suitors.

Josh Smith: A VERY intriguing player who would probably be in the max group if he was having a better year.  At 17/3.6/8.4/2 blocks 17.4 PER, he’s been coming on of late, but is shooting only 45% from the field, but a mind boggling 38% from three.  He’s a player who’s always thought he was a stretch 4, who couldn’t shoot like it, yet this year he just might be the player he’s always wanted to.  Also, 82games has him at a net of +9.3 points per 100 possesions.   Smith is 27, and probably has 1 good contract left in him, especially since he’s a player that relies on athleticism and will probably have 23,000+ minutes in his career by year’s end.  Unfortunately, he’s a bit of a head case and the longshot of longshots.  It would take the max and a major dissatisfaction with Atlanta for him to leave.  Additionally, since Atlanta has only $18 million in Salary commitments next year they’ll be able to match any offer.  They’ll be competing with the Cavs for free agents.  Danny Ferry has done an awesome job flipping the Joe Johnson albatross for flexibility.


That's right, I may make more $$ than any other player this offseason.


Al Jefferson: One of the last true centers left in the NBA, big Al has one of the most polished post games in the league.  At 17.4/2/10.7/1.2 BLK &  21 PER, he is having a very good year.  But big Al seems to have good years when his contract is up, and the worry at 27 is that this is his sign and retire deal, especially given his large size and somewhat sketchy injury history.  Given that he brings a very rare combination commodities in the NBA: size, rebounding, and a post game and already makes $15 million, he could command a very large salary of around $19 million per (the NBA max).  The Jazz have 26 Million in commitments, and a lot of holes to fill.  The choice for the Jazz will probably come down to him and…

This one's for Dani.

Paul Millsap: The #1 mentioned 2013 free agent at CtB.  At 14.6/2.6/8.2/1 BLK 18.9 per game, he has had to play a lot at the 3, given the Jazz’s crowded front court, and has stretched his game out past the 3 point line shooting 50% this year, on only 1 SPG, but 46% in general from the floor.  He’s 27 and has a game predicated on athleticism and strong shooting play and around the basket .  With decent durability, he can probably be a good get on a 4 year deal.  He would immediately move TT to the bench, and be a decent 2nd or 3rd option in the Cavs offense.  My guess is it will take about $13+ million a year to pry him away.  He or Jefferson may have to come by sign and trade.

Kevin Martin: The sharpshooter OKC acquired from Houston is currently making $12.5 million, and scoring 15.4/1.7/2.4/1.2 Stl 18PER, shooting .465/.478/.931.  He’s a lights out guy, and would not be a bad player on the Cavs, but at 29, and with the need to overpay him ($13-$14 million to get him), he’s probably not what we’re looking for, even though his offensive skills probably won’t decline too much with age.   He can play either wing position, but isn’t much of a distributor.

David West: A very solid player who at 32 (note the age, Andy trade proponents) sports a line of 17.3/2.7/8.6/1.1 BLK 20.5 PER for the Pacers.  He might be worth overpaying for 2 years to bring some professionalism to the team and work with Tristan Thompson for 2 years, especially given their similar body types.  West currently makes $10 million, and keeping this rate of pay up or even a modest raise for a couple years wouldn’t hurt the Cavs much.  I like him very much as a fall back plan for the above bigs, or even in addition through sign and trade.

Reuinted, would it feel so good?

Andrew Bynum: Who would’ve been solidly in the top tier just 5 months ago, is currently hemorrhaging future money with his knee issues and meh attitude towards basketball.  He’s currently paid $16.7 million and will probably have to sign a make good contract this off season.  If anyone gives him long term big money, he’ll sign it.  This is Gilbert Arenas in 2008 all over again.  The Cavs should RUN from giving a long term deal to a guy with Bynum’s attitude and and knee issues.  If they could take a flyer on him on a 1 year deal with a team option, he might not be a bad gamble.  It will be interesting to see how dumb teams are when it comes to Bynum.

Does it ever get old?

The Intriguing RFAs:

The restricted free agents’ current teams all have the ability to match any offer that the Cavs would give, as long as they extend the player a qualifying offer.  Large RFA offers usually really irritate the teams that own the players rights.

This is my "happy to be in Sacramento" face.

Tyreke Evans: 15.5/3.7/4.9/1.3 STL 17.85 PER is the line this year for the mercurial player from Sacramento.  2010’s rookie of the year has been trapped on the league’s most dysfunctional franchise for the last four years, and had his role shifted in the offense multiple times.  The results have been sketchy to say the least, and he’s currently battling a mysterious knee ailment.  However, he can attack the basket, play three positions, and seems desperately in need of a leader to follow.  He has a $6.9 million dollar qualifying offer that the Kings will probably extend.  Given his remarkable similarity to Iggy’s numbers, but his increased efficiency, wouldn’t he be the perfect high risk/high reward player to bring in on a front loaded contract that the Kings might think twice about matching?  Say $13 million for 2 years, dropping down to $10 million in the 3rd and a 4th year team option?  This also keeps with my plan of pissing off all the other teams by tying up their cap money in restricted free agents.

Brandon Jennings, Darren Collison, & Jeff Teague: Good players, but we don’t need another alpha point guard.  However, the fact that they’ll be taking up other teams’ time and money will be good for us.

Gerald Henderson: 13.3/1/2.7/1.3 Stl / 19.31 PER, Henderson has a $4.3 million dollar qualifying offer, and is currently a very efficient scorer, though not much else, and a lot of that is coming off an otherworldly 63.6% from 3.  He will undoubtedly regress to the mean.  But could be a high value wing.  It will probably take a $10.5  million+/per year offer for his Airness not to match, which is probably a little rich for Gerald Henderson.  Alonzo Gee is a homeless man’s Gerald Henderson at a third of that price.

Tell me he and Andy wouldn't scare you a little.

Tiago Splitter: 6’11” 240 pound 27 year old super sub for the Spurs.  9.2/1.2/4.7 21.5 PER.  A teammate of Varejao’s on the Brazilian national team.  I’m sure Andy would love to play with him, and he’s probably due for a big pay raise.  With a $5.9 million QO, he will probably get most of the money captain Jack is making this year, stretching his salary to $9 million+.  We could probably overpay to get him at $11 million, which would make for a strange dynamic with Andy, and I’m wondering how much of his numbers are the magic of Popovic.  Still, he might be the most intriguing of the restricted free agents.

Conclusions:

Ideally, we could get one of these guys, and then one of the guys who’ll be featured at the top of Thursday’s article, ToJH (might be time to drop that since none of it is even about James Harden) Part IV: the Mid Tier Free Agents.  As for the guys on this list, my vote is to make a run at Tyreke Evans and/or Tiago Splitter.  Evans is the only quality affordable wing on this list, and a Splitter/Andy lineup would be a thing of beauty.  Tie up those teams cap money if they match, and then if that doesn’t work out, go after David West.  I like Josh Smith and I like Al Jefferson, but I think they’re simply going to cost too much money, and the odds of us getting them are too low.  Being smarter with Dan Gilbert’s money will help the Cavs trade for guys like that or pick them at pirates’ terms when they need to be traded.  As for Paul Millsap?  I think he’s fine, but the guy at the top of  Thursday’s installment in this series is an even better value.