2011/12 Payroll: $55.5 million
2011/12 (Projected) NBA Salary Cap: $54 million
Roughly: $1.5 million over cap
Highlights: After losing their greatest asset last summer, it was inevitable that the Cavaliers would be adding a high draft pick this season. Needing a lot more help than that, they decided to buy another lottery pick from the Clippers by way of taking on Baron Davis’s horrible contract. It was money well spent since that pick turned out to be the top pick in the entire draft.
Cleveland was able to add two young building blocks to begin their post-LeBron transition. Kyrie Irving immediately takes over as the team’s star point guard (sorry Davis and Ramon Sessions) and Tristan Thompson is a good prospect at forward out of Texas. However, you can’t help but wonder whether the Cavs could have gotten more talent out of picks #1 and #4. Irving is highly skilled, but is he really that much better of a prospect than Brandon Knight? Something tells me that they might regret not taking Derrick Williams first and snapping up Knight fourth, but that argument will be decided years from now. As it sits today, the Cavs added some much-needed talent that they know will be a part of their future.
Not long ago, Antawn Jamison was a huge waste of money. Now that he has just one season left on his contract, he is a highly valuable asset. Jamison is due to make $15 million next year, which is the kind of money championship-caliber superstars should be paid, not injury-prone former all-stars putting up so-so numbers for one of the league’s worst teams. Yes, Jamison is terribly overpaid and has had trouble staying on the court lately, but what makes him an asset besides the expiring contract is that he can still play a little. His numbers won’t wow you, but a lot of good teams could use an experienced forward who can score, hit threes, and contribute on the glass. Cleveland should be able to turn Jamison into some draft picks and/or a prospect sometime this season, assuming the new labor deal doesn’t make it impossible to trade a player with his contract.
To make way for the PF of the future in Tristan Thompson, the team dealt JJ Hickson to Sacramento for Omri Casspi and a future first round pick. Hickson was coming off his best season as a pro, averaging 13.8 points and 8.7 rebounds in just 28 minutes per game. Casspi is still on a base salary and under contract for the next 2 years with an option for a third year at roughly 1,2 and 3 million over the next three years.
Lowlights: In order to get what ended up being the #1 pick in the draft, the Cavs had to agree to take on Baron Davis, knowing full well how pricy his contract was and how far his game lagged behind it. Ironically, selecting Irving with that pick made Davis even more worthless to this team. Davis is owed $13.9 and $14.8 million the next two years and with his moody attitude and less-than-stellar play, he will be much more difficult to move than Jamison. Perhaps a buy-out is looming in his future.
Anderson Varejao isn’t a bad center to have on your team. With a bump in minutes this year, the Brazilian big man put up 9.1 points, 9.7 rebounds, and drew more charges than you could ever imagine (along with a few thousand flops). He doesn’t give you much on offense, but at least he knows his place, doesn’t take many shots, and shoots a high percentage when he does. However, Varejao has the longest contract on the team with four years and $35 million coming his way. That’s a lot of money for someone who probably isn’t going to be one of the top three players on your team, at least if you want to contend for a title. Varejao needs to stay healthy and average double-doubles if he wants to earn that kind of dough.
The Future: Cavs owner Dan Gilbert boldly proclaimed last summer that his team would win a championship before LeBron’s. That statement isn’t looking so good right now. Unless you can convince three elite players to come to your ball club, rebuilding normally takes years and a lot of right moves.
Cleveland’s financial future looks very good after next season. In fact, if they can find a way to get Baron Davis off of their books, the Cavs will be one of the biggest teams in free agency in 2012, if not the biggest. Convincing players to come to Cleveland may not be as easy as, say, Miami or New York, but money talks and the new labor deal could hamstring many teams if it includes a hard cap. This team will have the luxury of not worrying about it, as long as they maintain their fiscal discipline.
The Cavs also have a lot of tradable assets that they can use to build their collection of young talent, or trade for a more established star. Ramon Sessions probably doesn’t have a future with this team with Irving around, but he played decently well last season and has a cheap contract. Daniel Gibson is one of the league’s deadliest three point shooters and he also has a cap-friendly deal. With Jamison’s expiring contract, the Cavs have a lot of ammo they can use if they see something they like. This team isn’t anywhere near contending status yet, but it has all the tools necessary to turn things around within a few short years. If LeBron’s fourth quarter failures can continue a while longer, perhaps Dan Gilbert’s proclamation won’t be that crazy after all.