State of the Cap: Cleveland Cavaliers

Thu, 07/10/2008 - 6:44am

By Josh Redetzke


2008/09 Cleveland Cavaliers Payroll: $79.6 million
2008/09 Estimated Salary Cap: $58 million
Roughly $21.6 million over cap

The Good:
[img_assist|nid=1440|title=LeBron James|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=452]It’s hard to believe that LeBron James could get much better, but he did. King James did his best Oscar Robertson impersonation by averaging 7.9 rebounds and 7.2 assists to go along with his league-leading 30 points per game. He even added more defense this year, as evidenced by his career high 1.1 blocks. James can do it all and he is one of the few players in the league that could be considered a bargain at $14.4 and $15.7 million the next two years. After that, he has a $17.1 million player-option in 2010. Cleveland has two seasons to impress LeBron with their roster, otherwise he might be taking a trip to the New York/New Jersey area.

The contract for Zydrunas Ilgauskas was looking very sour after a disappointing season the previous year. However, he seemed to be invigorated after last year’s championship run and has responded quite nicely, posting a career-best 9.3 rebounds per game and getting his scoring average back up to 14.1. Most importantly, Big Z has remained reasonably healthy as he ages (now 33). He should be able to earn the two years and $22.3 million left on his deal (the final year is a player-option) providing he continues to be inspired.

Joe Smith was merely a footnote to the Cavalier’s huge mid-season trade, but he was actually one of the best pieces they picked up. His averages of 8.1 points and 5 rebounds were not that remarkable for a reserve. However, the long-time veteran shot a very efficient 51% from the field and he is an excellent pick-n-pop forward that plays good defense and is very experienced. At just $4.8 million for next season, the Cavs get a nice deal on Smith’s services.

The Bad:
Cleveland now has one of the highest payrolls in the league, mostly thanks to two of their newest acquisitions, Ben Wallace and Wally Szczerbiak. The underperforming duo will combine to make $27.5 million next season, a far cry from what they have produced. Wallace used to be a rebounding specialist that played great defense. But, with averages of 7.4 rebounds and 1.7 blocks, the specialist isn’t providing enough bang for the $14 million bucks he is owed next year. At one time, Szczerbiak was one of the sweetest shooters in the league. He must have forgotten to pack his shooting touch when he left Seattle because Wally shot a disastrous 36% from the field and could only manage 8.2 points per game. These two players must return to their old ways for the Cavs to see any kind of return on their hefty investment.

The team was able to re-sign Sasha Pavlovic and Anderson Varejao, keeping two important pieces from their NBA Finals squad. It hasn’t been a very good deal so far. Pavlovic managed to play in just 51 games and his shooting percentages plummeted to an awful 36.2% from the field and 29.8% from downtown. His contract isn’t ridiculously expensive, earning him $4.5 and $4.95 million the next two years, but Pavlovic certainly needs to find his shot again and stay on the court. After heated negotiations, Varejao finally signed on and responded with a career-high 8.3 rebounds per game. However, he only played in 48 games and provided very little offense and shot blocking. At $5.7 million for next season (and a $6.2 million player option after that), Varejao should add a little more to his game. With the league cracking down on flopping, he’ll have to learn to play real defense this fall. The returns on Cleveland’s investment from last summer have not been spectacular.

Eric Snow will be given $7.3 million for the upcoming NBA season, even though he could only manage 22 appearances this season and he played absolutely awful when he did get in the game. Thankfully, that will be the final year of Snow’s contract.

The Future:
During the season, the Cleveland Cavaliers needed to make a big change in order to increase their chances against the dominate Boston and Detroit teams. With very few tradable assets, the Cavs could only improve slightly, trading old bad contracts for new bad contracts. They almost managed to upset the Celtics in the playoffs, but ultimately, this wasn’t the right group of guys to get the job done.

Management is determined to find a proper supporting cast for LeBron James, and now, because of the trade, they are in a much better position to do it. Cleveland has roughly $30 million in expiring contracts to work with, as well as tradable youngsters Varejao, Daniel Gibson, and Delonte West (the last two are restricted free agents).

Gibson shot very well from beyond the arc and West played okay, but both are expendable if they can help add the high quality backcourt player that the Cavs desperately need. With Wallace, Smith, Varejao and Big Z, their front line is pretty much set for the near future. Give LeBron some help on the wings and they should be back in the Finals very soon. If you are going to pay $80 million in salaries, you had better be a contender.

Free Throw:
Amazingly, 23 different players logged minutes for the Cavaliers this season. Can you guess who played in the most games? It wasn’t LeBron or Ilgauskas. Backup guard Devin Brown saw action in 78 contests, the highest number on the team. Ironically, Brown probably won’t be back next year.

Grade: C-

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