Grading Cavs' Salary-Shedding, Pre-LeBron James Trade with Nets and Celtics

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Grading Cavs' Salary-Shedding, Pre-LeBron James Trade with Nets and Celtics
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After making a gutsy three-way trade with the Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets to clear the necessary cap space for a full max contract offer, the Cleveland Cavaliers have officially left the light on for LeBron James to make his way back home.

Here's Marc Stein at ESPN.com with the details of the trade:

The Cleveland Cavaliers will trade Jarrett Jack to the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday as part of a three-team deal with Boston to create more salary-cap space for the pursuit of LeBron James, according to sources close to the process.

Sources told ESPN.com that the Nets have agreed to take on the contracts of Jack and youngster Sergey Karasev from the Cavaliers in a swap that also will see the Celtics acquire Brooklyn's Marcus Thornton, Cleveland's Tyler Zeller and a protected 2016 first-round pick from the Cavaliers.

It's easy to read the tea leaves here and view this as a precursor to something much larger for Cleveland. LeBron James has been awfully quiet this offseason, and now his hometown team is completely selling off assets to clear the necessary space.

While you would think that Cleveland would only do something this drastic if it believed LeBron was signing with it in free agency, it might be dangerous to jump to that conclusion already. 

This trade could obviously be viewed in a very different light based on what Cleveland does with the cap space, but let's grade out the initial deal for all sides involved as it currently stands.

 

Brooklyn Nets

It took some time, but the Brooklyn Nets finally found a way to get a long sought-after target in Jarrett Jack. Perhaps backup point guard Shaun Livingston bolting in free agency to the Golden State Warriors was the only push the Nets needed.

Here's Anthony Puccio at NetsDaily.com on the deal:

The Nets probably assume the biggest risk in that Jack is owed nearly $13 million and if he doesn't return to his pre-Cleveland productivity, could be come a cap albatross.

[...]

The trade is a big slap in the face at Kidd. At the deadline, he wanted the Nets to trade Terry and Evans to Cleveland for Jack. The Nets brass advised him to be patient, that Thornton with his expiring deal would be a better asset in summer and they could make an offer for Jack then. As one Nets exec said, 'He was wrong. We were right.'

Jack fills a serious need for the Nets, both as a backup point guard to Deron Williams and his surgically repaired ankles and as a sixth man. Brooklyn simply couldn't expect to contend without some insurance off the bench behind Williams, and Jack's a well-traveled veteran who can slide in right away and play either guard spot. 

After the worst season of his career last year with the Cavs, though, there are concerns about how productive the 30-year-old point guard will be moving forward.

The good news is that Jack's salary of $6.3 million is only partially guaranteed for $500,000 in the final year (2016-17), so by the time Brooklyn can finally have actual space under the cap once the massive deals of Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez expire, Jack won't have to be on the roster.

Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Essentially, salaries in these next two years matter very little for Brooklyn, and Jack fills a much bigger need than Thornton did. Perhaps Thornton's expiring could have fetched a bigger piece, but that's hard to say.

In all likelihood, the best part of this trade for the Nets might be the acquisition of Sergey Karasev, as none of the players with draft rights dealt to Cleveland by Brooklyn are ever expected to play in the NBA.

Karasev, the 19th pick of the 2013 draft, has Russian ties with Andrei Kirilenko and owner Mikhail Prokhorov, and he shot the three very well (39.4 percent in the D-League last year). Finding young, viable prospects on rookie deals is paramount to Brooklyn's future, and it gets that here just by giving up Thornton's expiring deal.

Even if Jack doesn't bounce back to prime form, this was a logical asset upgrade from a team that hasn't made many of those lately.  

Grade: B

 

Boston Celtics

It's often said that the facilitator in a three-way trade often gets the best of it, and that could end up being the case here for the Boston Celtics. 

Just for simply getting involved and being willing to take on the expiring deal of Marcus Thornton (which could be an asset at the trade deadline, by the way), the Celtics get rewarded with a serviceable, cheap young center in Tyler Zeller and a first-round draft pick from a perennially awful team in the Cleveland Cavaliers.

If Cleveland doesn't land LeBron and the mediocrity continues, who is to say that pick won't remain unprotected until 2019? It might not be likely, but it's certainly within the realm of possibility. Cleveland also knows better than anyone that a pick with late lottery odds can strike gold. 

Even if that doesn't happen, a first-round pick has plenty of value, particularly when it comes to trades for teams dealing superstars. Boston already has a loaded cupboard, but it'll be able to sweeten the pot when chasing Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love or other big players down the line. 

Zeller will be viewed as an asset as well, as he's already a rotation-quality big man if Boston chooses not to stick with him.

Rocky Widner/Getty Images

Again, the Celtics are giving up nothing but a trade exception and some cap room they were unlikely to use in free agency anyhow.

Landing an expiring contract in Thornton (a potential asset), a first-round pick and a rookie-scale big man just for picking up the phone is one of the best moves Danny Ainge has ever managed to pull off. Steady asset acquisitions like this are how stars eventually get acquired.

Grade: A

 

Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavaliers are trading, basically, for hope.

It's hard to view this deal as anything but a serious play for LeBron, and here's Marc Stein at ESPN.com with some of the follow-up moves the Cavs may be ready to make with their new flexibility:

Meanwhile, ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard reports that the Cavaliers, in addition to James, are also now trying to strike a deal with free agent guard Ray Allen as a means of enticing James even more about a return to Cleveland. 

After briefly considering retirement following the Heat's loss to the Spurs in the NBA Finals, Allen is leaning toward returning for a 19th season, sources said.

According to ESPN's Tom Penn, the trade of Jack sheds $9.5 million in salary (Jack, $6.3 million; Zeller, $1.7 million; Karasev, $1.5 million), giving the Cavaliers $21.7 million in cap space.

Before we give Cleveland too much credit for cracking the door open, let's remember how it got here. It was just last offseason that the Cavs spent $18.5 million in cap space to sign Andrew Bynum and Jarrett Jack. LeBron's max this year? $20.7 million.

Essentially, just to get that cap space back, the Cavs had to trade two former first-round picks (Zeller and Karasev) and two future first-round picks (the Sacramento Kings pick in the Luol Deng deal and the top-10 protected choice in this deal). The bungled draft picks sting, but this is the real sign of blatant mismanagement. 

Let's put it this way: If LeBron wasn't from Cleveland and hadn't played in Cleveland, there's no way he'd be considering the Cavs given how they've operated the last few years and the actions of their owner.

We still don't really know if LeBron is actually considering a return, as he's been quiet in the media all offseason. 

Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press (via Cleveland.com) had a brief exchange with James between meetings on Tuesday:

Asked by The Associated Press how free agency was going when his afternoon meeting agenda was apparently complete, the four-time MVP said 'no complaints.' He offered a quick greeting, and provided no hints of anything—including when his next 'Decision' will be known—before leaving with a wave.

Regardless, maintaining max cap space is exactly what Cleveland should have done this whole time. It's a shame that so many assets had to be unnecessarily squandered, but having max cap room in a free-agency period that features LeBron is the right thing to do. Basically, Cleveland arrived at its destination, even with multiple accidents along the way.

Will there be enough left to lure LeBron back home? Kyrie Irving has loads of potential to be a star, and the same could be said for Andrew Wiggins. This is an enticing young roster, and the presence of at least one old teammate and friend in Anderson Varejao should help the recruitment process. David Blatt is one of the most respected basketball minds out there, so it's not like Cleveland is barren or anything. 

Make no mistake, though: This trade is a failure unless James or another major star is acquired this offseason.

Getting Jack off the books has value, of course, but it's less impressive when you're the team that just signed him. David Griffin is cleaning up some messes left by the previous administration, but if Cleveland has to make panic overpays in free agency for guys like Trevor Ariza if LeBron doesn't come back, how much better off will it really be going forward?

If the Cavs don't get LeBron, who wins this trade?

Submit Vote vote to see results

Cleveland's future is still up in the air, and the trading of draft picks doesn't ease any concerns with that being the case.

James can unquestionably make the Cavs a title favorite just by signing his name on the dotted line, but it cost quite a bit just to get back to this point. It would be worth it, obviously, and you can't beat up new management too much, but this wouldn't be the first time we've seen the Cavs make an ambitious move only to fall flat on their face. 

Ultimately, it's all about whether James wants to come home. Even if it's still unlikely, at least now he actually can. With the rest of the teams and free agents this offseason stuck in a stalemate, you have to give Cleveland credit for being proactive, if nothing else.

The potential reward greatly outweighs the risk, but there are no guarantees this trade is going to result in anything but an unnecessary sale of critical assets. 

Grade: C+

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