Scanning the Horizon

The NBA playoffs are in full swing and I’m keeping one eye firmly on the postseason and another firmly on the summer. The Cavs can take a commanding 3-0 lead Thursday evening, which would set them up for a classic 2nd round matchup against the Boston Celtics, but I can’t keep my mind from drifting to thoughts of the offseason.

No matter how this season ends, the Cavs are going to be majors movers in the coming offseason. With Wally Szczerbiak ($13.275 million), Anderson Varejao ($5.784), Joe Smith ($4.795), and Damon Jones ($4.460) all entering the final year of their contracts, the Cavs are going to have roughly $28 million in expiring deals (that number gets pushed up to $33 mil. when you factor in Sasha Pavlovic’s $4.696 million deal, which is only partially guaranteed for 09/10). In case you forgot, expiring contracts are often key components in deals for star players.

Also, there’s this issue with Eric Snow:

The decision probably won’t be made for some time, Cavs General Manager Danny Ferry has other pressing matters on his plate at the moment, but what to do with Snow could have an impact on next year’s roster.

If the doctors agree, Snow and the Cavs could file for disability retirement and he could be released, which would clear his salary off the Cavs’ books. Snow would still get his money from the team but the Cavs wouldn’t be charged luxury tax on his contract, which could mean significant savings. Depending on how the insurance is set up on Snow’s deal, they could recover more funds that way. By admitting it’s over, Snow could be able to save the Cavs $10 million or more and in exchange get a chance to start his coaching career early.

But Snow’s contract, because it will be expiring next season, also has value in a potential trade. The Cavs might want to hold on to it and trade him to a team looking to clear salary-cap room. The Cavs have extreme flexibility next season with more than $25 million in the expiring contracts of Wally Szczerbiak, Joe Smith, Damon Jones and Anderson Varejao. Add in Snow’s and the Cavs have the ammo to acquire just about any two players in the NBA.

All things considered, when you add Eric Snow ($7.312), the Cavs will have close to $40 million in expiring contracts. With all that expiring money, plus whoever they draft with the 19th pick (early mock drafts have them taking Chase Budinger or Roy Hibert) the Cavs should be able be major players if any big names get put up on trading block.

The offseason is always in the back of my mind when I’m watching the rest of the playoffs. I’m definitely rooting for certain teams to lose, just on the off chance that it might spark a rebuilding phase. For instance, I really want Dallas to lose (and badly) so that they might blow things up.

Here’s a list of seven players (some not in the playoffs, some not in the playoffs for long) in situations that I think the Cavs should monitor closely over the coming months. This list tends to focus on big name players making a lot of money on bad or stagnating teams, but it is by no means exhaustive.


Player: Carmelo Anthony Age: 23 2008/09 Salary: $14.41 million Under Contract Until: 2012 (with an early termination option for 2011)

Why: A week ago, I wouldn’t have thought to put ‘Melo on this list, but I changed my mind after listening to a Bill Simmons podcast (the one with his buddy House where they predict the Cavs will lose to the Wizards). Simmons brought up the fact that ‘Melo’s recent DUI isn’t an isolated incident; he’s had a couple run-ins with pot, he was in that Stop Snitchin’ video and he was involved in that brawl with Knicks. When you add those off the court issues with the fact that Anthony has yet to make it out of the first round, it’s not inconceivable that Denver could be open to dealing the former 3rd overall pick.

While they’re only down 1-0 to the Lakers, it looks like Anthony and the rest of the Nuggets are headed for another first round playoff exit. It’s hard to see where Denver could go from here; most of their key players (Anthony, Iverson, Kenyon Martin, JR Smith, Marcus Camby, Linus Kleiza, Eduardo Najera and Anthony Carter) played in at least 70 games (Nene was their only regular to miss significant time, playing in only 16 games) and they don’t have a lot of wiggle room.

Besides Iverson entering the final year of his deal, the Nuggets roster will basically stay unchanged. Camby is owed $20 million over the next two years and they’ll pay Martin $36 million through 2011 and Nene $40 million through 2012. The team isn’t going anywhere and they have some bad contracts… the Cavs should definitely keep an eye on Denver.

Why not: Carmelo is one of the faces of the NBA and the Nuggets are coming off a 50 win season. Those 50 wins mark the high point in Anthony’s career and you could argue that they’re improving and on the way up. Even if things don’t work out with this current group, it’s entirely possible that Denver blows up the team and simply rebuilds around Anthony (he turns 24 in later this month). However, it’s likely that they’ll at least fire George Karl before they make any major player personnel moves. If he does go on the block, it probably won’t be until at least the trade deadline, if not the following offseason.

My completely made up odds that he’ll be dealt (to anyone): 5%. While you can make the case that Denver needs to be blown up (and I think they do) I’ve yet to hear that they’ve grown sick of Anthony and his off-court issues. If they do decide to shop Carmelo, the Cavs should be in a good position; they’d probably have to take on one of Denver’s bad contracts (Camby, Martin or Nene) in order to land the former Syracuse star, but you take a bad contract (or two) if it means you can pair Anthony with LeBron James when both are the age of 25.

Fit with the Cavaliers/LeBron: A+. You could play ‘Bron at the 4 and ‘Melo at the 3 or the other way around. Carmelo does really well in the FIBA games as he’ll hit spot up jumpers and also go down low to the post (those skills totally wouldn’t mesh with James…) If the Cavs somehow landed Anthony, that would almost shut up all the ‘James to New York’ talk, as there’s no way that A) they wouldn’t win lots and lots of games and B) they’d break up that tandem.

Player: Dirk Nowitzki Age: 29 2008/09 Salary: $18.077 million Under Contract Until: 2011 (with an ETO for 2010)

Why: Dirk has been my dark horse candidate in the ‘star player that the Cavs trade their expirings for’ sweepstakes since before the playoffs began (I was actively rooting for Dallas to finish 9th for just this reason). The Mavericks are coming off two brutal postseason finishes (blowing the Finals two years ago and losing to the 8th seeded Warriors last year) and third bad loss could be the straw that breaks their backs. I thought the Jason Kidd trade was a panic move and from the looks of things so far, they can’t keep up with Chris Paul and the Hornets anyways. Another frustrating finish and owner Mark Cuban might seriously consider blowing this thing up.

Dirk is owed a lot of money over the next three seasons (roughly $20 million in both 09/10 and 10/11) and Dallas seems to be going in the wrong direction. Plus, there were rumors that Avery Johnson wanted the Mavs to trade the Big German this past deadline, citing concerns of leadership.

Why not: The Mavs just got Jason Kidd (and they gave up a ton for the pleasure) so they may not be ready to turn around and blow things up after one (short) postseason run. Money isn’t much of a factor for the Mavs’ billionaire owner Mark Cuban, so luxury tax issues and bad contracts don’t mean as much to him as they would to say… Clippers owner Donald Sterling.

My completely made up odds: 20%. The Mavericks do have a some expensive contracts (Eric Dampier, Jason Terry and Josh Howard will all be paid at least $10 million/per through 2011) and a bad loss to the Hornets (like sweep bad) could be the straw that broke the camel’s back. I’m not sure Cuban would want to blow it up just months after getting Kidd, but there may be no other choice. The Cavs should be in good position to pick up some of these Dallas pieces, as they have draft picks to trade and they could offer PF Anderson Varejao as part of the deal.

Fit with the Cavaliers/LeBron: A. The Cavs would lose some of their defensive presence at the 4, but Dirk would complement LeBron great on offense. He’d get a lot of open looks and he’ll take a lot of the scoring pressure off of James. Dirk is signed until 2011, so his acquisition could get LeBron to re-up with Cleveland.

Player: Tracy McGrady Age: 28 2008/09 Salary: $19.614 million Under Contract Until: 2010

Why: This is the fourth season that McGrady has been in Houston and they have famously not gotten to the second round. Both McGrady and center Yao Ming have had injury issues throughout the years and there is a feeling that Houston should be better than they actually are. Houston is down 0-2 going back to Utah and it doesn’t look like they’ll make it to Round 2 this year either. McGrady is due to make $40 million over the next two season and Houston may be ready to cut their ties with their hard luck superstar.

Why not: The Rockets won 22 games in a row this season and finished with a record of 55-27. Their contract situation is extremely manageable (only McGrady and Yao make over $6 million/per and they have no significant deals that go past 2011). Plus, they have Yao and McGrady in their primes and their head coach is still in his first season with the ballclub. They could give it one more year to try to make it work (give coach Rick Adelman the chance to have both Yao and Tracy for at least one playoff series).

My completely made up odds: 15%. The Rockets could be ready to blow the Yao-McGrady experiment up (once the Jazz finish them off) but I think they’ll give it one more shot. The team played extremely well during the season and losing to Utah (without Yao) isn’t a terrible way to go out.

Fit with the Cavaliers/LeBron: B. Pairing McGrady with LeBron could be amazing, but it could also be a lesser version of the James/Hughes experiment. McGrady has worked with other superstars before, so he should get along with James but its the basketball chemistry I’d be more worried about. A lot of McGrady’s strengths come from having the ball in his hand. I’d be worried how effective he’s forced to take up more of a spot shooting role.

Player: Joe Johnson Age: 26 2008/09 Salary: $14.232 million Under Contract Until: 2010

Why: The Hawks stink. They always stink. They’re paying Johnson major money ($30 million over the next two years) and by now he’s proven that he’s not a franchise player (though still a very nice talent). This is Johnson’s third season in Atlanta and their 37 victories marks a high point in his Atlanta tenure. The Hawks are going to have to make some contract decisions relatively soon in regards to some a few of their young players like Josh Childress, Josh Smith and Marvin Williams (all of which who play a similar position to Johnson). If they decide to go another direction, Johnson could be used as trade bait. Plus, Atlanta’s weird ownership situation could make them a team looking to dump salary.

Why not: Well, this year’s 37 wins marks a 7 win improvement over last season, the Hawks could say they’re on the way up. Plus, they added point guard Mike Bibby at the trade deadline (though a record of just 14-17) so they would probably want to give this group a full training camp together before they begin anew.

My completely made up odds: 15%. Like both the Mavs and the Rockets, I think the Hawks and Johnson have one more go-round before they decide to part ways. The odds would be much higher if they didn’t make that move for Bibby (which really shores up their PG spot). But who knows, if ownership decides to cut salary (for a team that only won 37 games), anything could happen.

Fit with the Cavaliers/LeBron: A+. Johnson and James would be a great pair. Both are young and athletic (so they’d be a pain at the defensive end) and Johnson can really shoot the ball. The offense would definitely improve (with Johnson at the 2) and his addition should allow LeBron to get a few more minutes of rest.

Player: Michael Redd Age: 28 2008/09 Salary: $15.780 million Under Contract Until: 2011 (with an ETO for 2010)

Why: The Bucks are a team that was expected to make the next step this season, instead they somehow got worse (28 wins down to 26). At least in 06/07 injuries could be used as an excuse for those 28 wins (Redd, Mo Williams, Andrew Bogut and Charlie Villanueva missed 102 games combined, nevermind that Bobby Simmons was out for the entire 82 game season). However, those 26 wins in 07/08 were achieved with a pretty healthy roster. Redd, Bogut, Villanueva and Simmons all played in at least 70 games and Mo Williams was around for 66 of ’em. Getting healthy and getting worse is not a good sign.

Milwaukee is a prime team to blow up; they have a lot of expensive, long term contracts and they aren’t going anywhere. There’s no excuse for only netting 26 wins; if they were going to win with this core of players, it would’ve happened by now. By now, Redd has proven that even though he’s paid like the alpha dog ($15+ million/per), he doesn’t have the ability to be the main guy on a good team. The Bucks will probably turn the team over to Bogut, Williams and Yi and build around them.

If the Cavs would snag Redd, they’d probably have to take on at least one of the Bucks’ bad deals. Bobby Simmons is owed $20 million over the next two seasons, Dan Gadzuric will net roughly $21 million through 2011 and Mo Williams is due roughly $36 million by 2012 (though I wouldn’t mind taking Villanueva off their hands either).

Why not: Really, I have no reason. I’d be surprised if Redd opened the season in Milwaukee and I’d be shocked if he was still there come next March. The Bucks recently hired Scott Skiles, so there’s a chance that they may just try a coaching change… but I doubt it. It makes too much sense to move Redd.

My completely made up odds: 80%. In my opinion, Redd is as good as gone. They badly need to start over and Redd just doesn’t fit there. I think that the Cavs are a prime landing spot for the former Buckeye; they need a shooting guard, they have expiring contracts and he almost signed here anyways.

Fit with the Cavaliers/LeBron: A. Redd would be the ideal shooting guard next to James; he can shoot lights out, he can get his own shot when needed and he’ll be able to spot up. Redd is signed through 2011, so his addition could keep James here past 2010.

Player: Vince Carter Age: 31 2008/09 Salary: $14.724 million Under Contract Until: 2011 (with $18.921 million in 2012 not guaranteed)

Why: The Nets stink, Carter is owed a lot of money over the next few years (at least $47 million til 2011) and the Nets stink. The contract is terrible (recently signed!) and there is already talk of them shopping Air Canada (hell, I thought he was heading here at the deadline). The Nets haven’t gone anywhere with Carter and it wouldn’t be surprising if they parted ways.

Why not: New Jersey may want to see how things work with Carter, Devin Harris and Richard Jefferson playing a full season together. But honestly, like Redd, I’ll be very surprised if Carter is still suiting up in New Jersey next fall.

My completely made up odds: 60%. The Nets are a prime team to rebuild; they have a veteran team that hasn’t won more than 50 games since 2001, they’re overpaying their two leading scorers and they just netted a ton of draft picks in the Jason Kidd deal. If I’m the Cavaliers, I’m not sure I give the Nets (and Jay-z) any help in getting under the cap for their move to Brooklyn. However, other teams probably won’t feel the same way.

Fit with the Cavaliers/LeBron: B. Like McGrady, Carter’s game would be a concern. He needs the ball in his hands a lot, so I’d be a bit worried about that. However, he’s always had to be the number 1 scoring option, so being paired with James could lighten his burden and allow him to pick his spots to be aggressive. Carter hasn’t taken well to contact over the years, but in Cleveland, that’d be LeBron’s department.

Player: Elton Brand Age: 29 2008/09 Salary: $16.440 million Under Contract Until: 2009 (though he has an ETO after this season- he could be a fee agent this summer)

Why: The Clippers stink, Chris Kaman is coming into his own and Brand may want a change of scenery (that second round playoff run was two seasons ago and they haven’t cracked .500 since) but he’s mostly on this list because his name keeps popping up on I could definitely see the Clippers attempting to move Brand, but the Cavs probably wouldn’t be suitors, as Brand is already expiring, so all the Cavs contracts would be moot.

Why not: Since Brand was out this year, I don’t see him turning down $16 million guaranteed money. If he re-ups, the Cavs have virtually no shot (due to their assets) and if he leaves, the Cavs have virtually no shot (due to the lack of cap room). If Brand wants to sign here for the Mid-Level Exception, by all means do it (but it isn’t likely).

My completely made up odds: 5%. If Brand wasn’t coming off an injury season, I could see him opting out, but as is… no. If he wanted to go to the Cavs, he could opt out and try to work out a sign-and-trade (the Clippers would probably get Varejao, among other things), but that is a slim chance. He could get moved at the deadline, but I’d be surprised if he changes zip codes before then.

Fit with the Cavaliers/LeBron: A. Are you kidding? Brand would be amazing. He’d give the Cavs a legitimate low post option (with power!) and you could just plug in his 20-10’s at the 4 for the next 5 years. By all accounts Brand is a good guy, so I don’t think he’d have a big problem meshing with James (especially after his years in Chicago and LA).

Other players to watch: Gilbert Arenas, Ron Artest and Baron Davis (similar situations to Brand), Kirk Hinrich (through 11/12), and Jermaine O’Neal (owed $40 million til 09/10) are other options for the Cavs monitor, but all of those guys come with significant baggage.


Finally, all of my odds and analysis goes out the window if any of these guys demands/expresses interest in/requests a trade. The teams themselves may not be ready to move on, but the player might. If that happens, the Cavs should be set up nicely.

They’ll have whoever they draft at 19, they’ll have all their future picks (finally!) and they’ll have a boatload of expiring deals. Plus, with LeBron on the roster, I don’t foresee these guys vetoing a trade to the Cavaliers.

The Cavs have played their best basketball of the season during these playoffs. They should be even better next year.

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