Cleveland Cavaliers Have Cap Space to Be Aggressive in Free Agency
As NBA free agency begins, the Cleveland Cavaliers are coming off a questioned showing on draft night. One positive, though: the franchise has the luxury of ample cap space to be aggressive and acquire quality players looking for a new team.
Thanks to the new collective bargaining agreement, last year's No. 1 pick Kyrie Irving only makes a little over $5.5 million. This year's top picks Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller both won't crush the cap this year, either.
Here is a breakdown of the salaries the Cavs owe its players for the 2012-13 season:
Players under contract:
Anderson Varejao ($8.4M)
Luke Walton ($6.1M)
Kyrie Irving ($5.5M)
Daniel Gibson ($4.8M*)
Tristan Thompson ($4.0M)
Omri Casspi ($2.2M)
Will the Cavs make the 2013 NBA Playoffs with the current roster?
Total cap space used: $31.7M
Salaries for 2012 NBA Draft picks:
Dion Waiters ($3.1M)
Tyler Zeller: ($1.3M)
Cap space used: $4.4M
Qualifying Offers have been extended to swingman Alonzo Gee ($2.7 million), center Semhi Erden and Luke Harangody. They are all restricted free agents.
The salary situations for Samardo Samuels, Manny Harris, Donald Sloan and D.J. Kennedy are also still to be settled, and they'll go through the Cavs' summer league to see if they can hold a roster spot.
So entering free agency, the Cavs have $36.1 million dollars dedicated to current roster players and the two first-round picks. The soft cap is set at approximately $60 million.
With roughly $24 million dollars to play with excluding Gee's potential deal, the Cavs have plenty of leeway.
Picking Waiters at No. 4 overall on draft night was considered a stretch by some, but the Zeller pick was truly head-scratching.
What is Zeller? Does he even start the first game? He might fill the frontcourt scoring need the Cavs have.
The Cavs traded away a potentially better player at No. 24, as well as the 33rd and 34th overall picks in a very deep draft class to get Zeller, who was selected by the Dallas Mavericks at No. 17.
One positive is that wing player Kelenna Azubuike was included in the Zeller trade, and he provides perimeter shooting help.
Losing out on other draft assets that could have served as valuable building pieces, the Cavs must acquire at least one high-profile player in free agency.
The problem is, it isn't easy to market Cleveland to big-name free agents, which is why to an outsider it may have been wise to gather quality players through the draft.
If there were ever a time to swing for the fences in Cleveland, that time is now.
There should frankly be one option: the Portland Trail Blazers' former versatile wing player Nicolas Batum.
Aside from outside shooting help that Batum also provides, the other glaring weakness the Cavs didn't fill was perimeter defense. Batum would easily be the best on the roster if he were signed.
As stagnant as the Cavs offense was last season (93 ppg, 23rd in the NBA) the defense may have been worse (100.2 ppg, 26th in the NBA).
Since the likes of O.J. Mayo and his $7.4 million Qualifying Offer won't be attracted to a franchise such as the Cavs without a max deal or something outrageous, Batum is the logical option.
Batum shot 39 percent from three-point range last season, but most importantly can defend any perimeter position with his exceptional length.
He would be the perfect glue guy in the Cavs' starting lineup, and would help shore up a very shaky defensive unit.
The qualifying offer for Batum is set at $3.1 million. There is absolutely no excuse for the Cavs not to go over the top of it with so much cap room since Batum satisfies vital needs and is only 23 years old.
Otherwise, who is at the 3 for Cleveland? Gee, Casspi, Walton or Azubuike? Not terribly attractive options, especially defensively.
For the Cavs, free agency should come down to a simple slogan:
Batum or bust.
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