What a Successful Free-Agency Period Will Look Like for Cleveland Cavaliers

Kelly ScalettaFeatured ColumnistJune 30, 2017

What a Successful Free-Agency Period Will Look Like for Cleveland Cavaliers

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    The Cleveland Cavaliers may be Eastern Conference champions, but after the NBA Finals, it’s clear they need to do something to get past the Golden State Warriors.

    However, they are heavily limited by what they can do because of the salary cap. According to Spotrac, they have $127,998,668 in committed salaries, which puts them $8,998,668 over the luxury-tax threshold.

    That means they can only use the taxpayer mid-level exception for $5,192,000, which isn’t going to go far when most teams are below the cap. According to cap guru Albert Nahmad at HeatHoops.com, there are only five other teams which can’t generate cap space if they wanted to.

    The Cavaliers have also ended their relationship with David Griffin, the general manager who helped build the champs in 2016. That bothered LeBron James, which has raised speculation that the King could be on his way out of Cleveland in the summer of 2018.

    That also makes it more difficult to recruit stars.

    When we talk about a "successful" free-agency period for the Cavaliers, we have a low bar.

Keep Kyle Korver

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    The Cavaliers offense relies on three-point shooting set up by LeBron James' magnificent court vision, and Kyle Korver is one of the best three-point shooters in the history of the league. He and Ray Allen are the only players in NBA history with at least 2,000 made deep balls at a 40 percent rate.

    He was sharp when James fed him the ball, knocking down 50.6 percent of his treys, according to NBA.com. Korver was never a great defender, though, and now he’s 36. He won’t be “worth” what the Cavaliers will need to pay him.

    But here’s the rub: They have his Bird rights, and Korver is a far better option than anyone they could get to replace him. They aren’t going to find knockdown shooters for the league minimum, and apart from their mid-level exception, they don’t have any other options.

    That could get pricey for owner Dan Gilbert, though, according to Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com

    "For every dollar Gilbert spends above the $128 million he's already committed to for next season, he's going to pay roughly $3.88 in taxes—until the payroll hits $139 million. Every dollar above $139 million will cost Gilbert $4.75 in taxes (which increases by 50 cents every $5 million)."

    Korver is the best player the Cavs can get without using their MLE. Therefore, they should keep him.

Trade Channing Frye

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    Channing Frye had his moments with the Cavaliers, but none of them came in the Finals. He played just 11 minutes against Golden State and scored only two points.

    On the season, he was solid, averaging 17.4 points per 36 minutes with a 61.2 true shooting percentage. His contract is reasonable as well, at $7.4 million. They could bring back 125 percent of that salary  ($9,276,140) in a trade.

    The problem is he is a porous defender, and the Cavs have too many of those; they were 22nd in defensive rating last year.

    Outside of James, almost everyone is either an offensive specialist (Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Frye, Korver) or a defensive one (Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert). That’s why a player such as J.R. Smith had so much impact despite not being especially great on either end. Just being competent offensively and defensively made him valuable.

Watch the Buyout Market

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    Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony aren't in their primes, but they still have value. All three have potential to be bought out, too.

    K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune reported the Bulls are considering whether they want to keep both Rondo and Wade. Ian Begley of ESPN stated Anthony would like a buyout from the Knicks:

    "Securing a buyout from the Knicks would allow Anthony to sign with LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers upon clearing waivers. ESPN reported Sunday that the Cavaliers would be the leading contenders to land Anthony in such circumstances, but sources say Knicks officials have thus far rejected the idea of coming to a settlement and waiving Anthony with two years and nearly $55 million left on his contract."

    Rondo could solve a lot of problems by running the second unit and giving the Cavs a facilitator off the bench. Both Wade and Anthony slow the pace down, but the Cavaliers are a slow-paced team anyway.

    It's a little harder 

    Sure, it’s not perfect. Wade is getting old. Anthony can be a bit of a black hole. But both guys can still create points for themselves, and they don’t need to be All-NBA to help. They’re a far sight better than anyone else the Cavs will get for the minimum.

    That’s possible here. Both guys might take significantly less money if A) they’re already getting paid by someone else via buyouts and B) they get a little banana boat (sans Chris Paul) thing going. The existing friendships should also preclude any potential ego conflicts.

    Splitting the MLE between Wade and Anthony would give the Cavaliers a bit of firepower when James rests.

Use Trade Exceptions Wisely

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    Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

    The Cavaliers have two notable trade exceptions. First, they have the exception from when they traded Mike Dunleavy to the Atlanta Hawks worth $4,837,500. And Mo Williams has one for $2,194,500.

    The Cavs should monitor other teams who are looking to offload a little salary to create space.

    For example, the Miami Heat are recruiting Gordon Hayward, according to Manny Navaro of the Miami Herald. To add him and keep James Johnson and Dion Waiters might mean needing to create a couple of million in cap space. 

    To facilitate that, the Heat could look to trade someone like Josh Richardson for an asset—say the draft right to Cedi Osman—to carve out a little extra 

    There's another benefit in that there’s a distinction between a trade exception and a player obtained through a trade exception.

    Trade exceptions are binding. They can’t be combined with anything, and you can’t go a penny over them. However, players obtained through them have no such restrictions. They can be combined with one another, and the Cavaliers could get 125 percent of their value back.

    If they used both full trade exceptions, they could get a player back with a contract up to $8,790,000 for the players they got. Or, if they added them to Frye’s contract, it could bring back a player making $18,066,140.

    Teams trying to create cap space will be looking to offload salaries. The Cavs should do that now to capitalize later when bad teams are looking to sell off larger contracts.

Trade Kevin Love

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    The Cavaliers’ biggest hope for a major move is to trade Kevin Love. Not having a GM makes that harder, but the Cavs are not going to get significantly better without a shake-up.

    There are numerous reports of the Cavs trying to work a three-team deal to bring back Paul George (Bleacher Report’s Thomas Duffy does a great job compiling them all), but that seems to be going nowhere.

    I'd love to give you other potential rumors involving Love, but as of now, they don't exist. The Cavs need to press here, though, and think creatively.

    Perhaps a package involving two two-way players instead of just one star? Something along the lines of Love for Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley (along with a little contract ballast to make things work). Throwing in Terry Rozier gets it through the ESPN Trade Machine, for what that's worth.

    While the top two teams in the East working out a trade would be unusual, it's not impossible. As John Tomase of WEEI points out in discussing Brian Scalabrine's Cavs/Celtics trade scenario:

    "There's no question Celtics boss Danny Ainge has had his eye on Love for a while, dating back to a "chance" encounter between Love and then-Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo at a Red Sox game in 2014 when trade rumors first swirled. There was also briefly noise of a Love-Carmelo Anthony three-way deal that would've brought the former UCLA standout to Boston as part of another three-way deal two years ago."

    The crucial thing is that they find one or more two-way players who can contribute. They’re not going to beat the Warriors with two minus-defenders on the court if the Warriors are healthy. Sure, they won in 2015, but Stephen Curry was playing injured and they didn't have Kevin Durant

    Things are different now, so the Cavs need to adjust.