Destination: 2013, Scenario 1

December 27th, 2011 by Kevin Hetrick

Obviously no one is talking about the Cleveland Cavaliers as contenders this year. Just as obvious though, Cavs fans want this to end soon. Once a month in this “Destination: 2013” series, a strategy to turn the Cavs into a young, 50 win team by 2013 – 2014 will be explored. These posts will be an optimistic diversion over the course of another rebuilding season.

In this first installment, an idea for building with existing draft picks and cap space will be addressed. Since the season has just started, this scenario assumes that the Cavs aren’t horrible this year; the draft picks should be viewed as 8th in 2012 and 10th in 2013. (Editor’s note: I wrote this before last night’s game. Losing to Toronto at home doesn’t make it look like an 8th pick is coming. If the season goes south fast; in scenario 2, the Cavs will win the draft lottery again. Also, trades will surely be a part of future columns.)

In this first scenario, items of note regarding existing Cavs include:

• Irving, Thompson, Varejao, Gibson and Casspi are the only current players on the 2013 – 2014 team.

• Antawn Jamison – his contract is allowed to expire. The Cavs choose not to take on another team’s “bad” contract to obtain draft picks. There are two high-lottery rookies on the roster and seven first-round picks in the next four years; there are enough draft picks.

2012 – 2013 Cavs
Estimated salary cap for this season is $60 million. The Cavs have eight players under contract for $30.8 million. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist of Kentucky is selected with the Cavs’ first round pick (previously covered here) and William Buford of Ohio State in the second round. Two free agent acquisitions are made:

• Omer Asik – 4 years, $24 million. Did you know the Bulls were 9.9 points per 100 possessions better defensively when Asik played? Asik will be 26 years old and is a legitimate 7 footer who is a quality team defender and a good shot blocker / rebounder. Of 57 centers that played 40 games last year, he ranked 12th in rebounding rate and 12th in defensive plays per minute (blocks + steals + charges drawn). Offensive contributions will be sparse, but the Cavs need another big body in the frontcourt and I’m willing to splurge on a quality defensive center. Asik is a restricted free agent, but the Bulls probably won’t match. The contract would be frontloaded; $9 million in 2012 – 2013 with $5 million for the other three seasons. Generally speaking, Cleveland will be overpaying in these posts.

• Ryan Anderson – 4 years, $29 million. The team needs a big man with some shooting range; Anderson is a career 38% three point shooter and puts the ball in the basket at a decent rate (18 points per 36 minutes). Also a restricted free agent, he’ll be only 24 years old and while just an average defender, he is big (6’10”, 240 lbs) and rebounds well. During his two years in Orlando, advanced evaluation stats like him; he’s a winning player according to PER, Win Shares, Adjusted +/-, and Wins Produced. He will also be signed to a front loaded contract; $11 million in year one with $6 million per year after that.

Regardless of the players that are pursued, this seems like a decent re-building concept: draft well in the lottery, sign two good role players to front loaded contracts in 2012, then sign a max player in 2013. If the Cavs are a high lottery team and draft Anthony Davis or Andre Drummond, the free agent targets would be adjusted. The 2012 – 2013 roster outlined above is filled out with one year contracts and the total payroll is $59 – 60 million.

2013 – 2014 Cavs
With the Cavs’ first round pick, P.J. Hairston of North Carolina is selected and with their second rounder, Aaron Craft of Ohio State. With the Heat and Magic picks, the Cavs choose another wing and a 5th big man. Casspi is re-signed for 4 years, $16 million and Daniel Gibson is re-signed for 3 years, $7.5 million.

The big, final free agent piece is James Harden. Harden is a restricted free agent and the Cavs can offer him a max contract of 4 years and approximately $66 million. As some background, OKC’s payroll for 6 players in 2013 – 2014 is $38.3 million. This doesn’t sound bad, except none of those players is Russell Westbrook, James Harden, or Serge Ibaka. Given that the Cavs have offered Harden $15+ million per year and Westbrook and Ibaka could cost $30 million a year; that leaves OKC looking at $84 million for 9 players. The luxury tax limit will be approximately $74 million. Are they willing to go $15 – $20 million into the luxury tax given the new CBA’s strict provisions? OKC can do a lot to juggle their roster between now and then; but for the purposes of this extremely hypothetical scenario, an assumption will be made that they won’t spend 70% of the luxury tax threshold on three backcourt players. So the Cavs convince Harden that a max contract and his ability to be a focal point of the offense make Cleveland his best destination.

The final 2013 – 2014 roster (with November 2013 ages in parentheses) is:

• PG – Kyrie Irving (21), Daniel Gibson (27), Aaron Craft (22). Irving is a big part of the future of the franchise and will need to be a key member of any near-future 50 win team. This will be his third season and the hope is that he is establishing himself as a top flight point guard.

• SG / SF – James Harden (24), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (20), Omri Casspi (25), P. J Hairston (20), William Buford (23), 2013 Miami 1st rounder. This is a young group, but it has a lot of good pieces. Other than Harden; this group isn’t “ready” in 2013 – 2014. But within a couple of seasons, this group will be experienced and well rounded. Harden, Kidd-Gilchrist, and Hairston should be capable scorers. All players give good effort and Kidd-Gilchrist is a beast of a defender. Harden and Casspi provide quality shooting and Hairston (or whoever is the 2013 first round pick) is drafted based on his long-range marksmanship.

• PF / C – Anderson Varejao (31), Tristan Thompson (22), Ryan Anderson (25), Omer Asik (27), 2013 Orlando 2nd round pick. That’s a very good defensive front line and Ryan Anderson adds some offensive firepower.

The combined 2013 – 2014 salary of these 14 players is $60 – 61 million, which should be under the salary cap. Nine of these players are signed through 2015 – 2016: Irving, Harden, Kidd-Gilchrist, Hairston, Casspi, Thompson, Asik, Ryan Anderson, and the Miami first rounder. The Cavs have 2 first round picks each in 2014 & 2015 (assuming Kings pick); so there will be opportunities to add “cheap” talent to supplement the bench. Varejao and Gibson can be re-signed to short-term contracts, and voila! The fifteen players on the 2016 NBA Champion Cleveland Cavaliers! The team would be similar to the 2004 Pistons championship team; no star, lots of quality players and great defense. Can this team score 100 points per game, while allowing 90? Because if so; that’s a championship level team. I’m going to answer yes; the defense will be great and 20 points per game can come from Harden, 18 from Irving, 15 from Kidd-Gilchrist, 12 from Anderson, 8 from Hairston, 6 from Casspi, 18 from the rest of the front-court (Varejao, Thompson, Asik) and 3 from Gibson. Who knew that building a champion was so easy?