Today was media day for the Cleveland Cavaliers, and understandably everyone was crowding around LeBron James.
They asked him the patently obvious questions. What’s it like to be back where it all started? How much do you know about new coach David Blatt? Can the Cavaliers win the NBA championship and finally end Cleveland’s 50-year sports title drought?
Here’s a question they might have wanted to ask: Hey, LeBron, which fourth star would you like to add to the roster next summer? Because David Griffin just made that a possibility.
On Thursday, the Cavaliers and Boston Celtics made a trade involving five players and four draft picks. Among the players, only one has a contract with guaranteed money for the upcoming season. Among the picks, two had so much protection (top 55) it is unlikely they will ever change hands.
But this is what trades are like nowadays. Players? We don’t need no stinking players. We need assets!
The Cavs acquired guard Keith Bogans, who has one of the most intriguing contracts in the NBA. Last summer, Bogans received one of the best “golden envelopes” ever doled out, a three-year, $16 million deal to make the salary cap math work in the huge trade between the Celtics and Brooklyn Nets involving Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.
Only the first year was guaranteed. That was last season, during which Bogans played just 55 minutes and none after Jan. 7. A week later, GM Danny Ainge asked him to leave the team, which was rebuilding and had no way to meet his request for playing time.
But Ainge held onto Bogans this summer, specifically to use him as a trade chip. On Thursday, Ainge dealt that chip to the Cavaliers, who are now positioned to add a fourth star to their already intimidating three-headed monster of James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.
In addition to Bogans, the Cavaliers also have Brendan Haywood, who has a non-guaranteed salary of $10.52 million for the 2015-16 season. Together, they give Cavs GM David Griffin nearly $16 million in “invisible money.”
Next summer, Griffin could package draft picks with both players to a team looking to get out from under a massive contract and start fresh. They could take flighty JaVale McGee off the hands of the Denver Nuggets, who have three guys making eight figures and Kenneth Faried due for an extension.
Or they could go after Brook Lopez of the Brooklyn Nets, who have a $94 million payroll and Mason Plumlee waiting in the wings.
Or they could recognize their need for rim protection and go after Roy Hibbert of the Indiana Pacers, who figure to take a step back without Paul George and could be looking to hit the reset button.
Or they could liberate Eric Gordon from the New Orleans Pelicans, who also have three eight-figure guys and have to max out Anthony Davis.
In a bit trickier scenario, they could also make sign-and-trade offers to teams who fear their unrestricted free agent may leave.
Three things to keep in mind here:
The first is that the Cavs have to guarantee Bogans for this season in order to retain his unguaranteed number for next season. With just 16 players on the training camp roster, that shouldn’t be a problem.
The second is that the Cavs cannot use this strategy at the trading deadline and get the full $16 million in value because Haywood makes $2.2 million this season. His contract jumps to eight figures next season because it works off the final year of the deal he signed with Dallas, who released him under the amnesty clause in 2012 with three years remaining.
The third is that the Cavs cannot waive Bogans and Haywood next summer and sign a free agent with the space. Including those two, they are on the hook for $84 million including all options. Even if James and Love opt out of their combined $38 million, their cap holds would neutralize any flexibility.
Chris Bernucca is the managing editor and a regular columnist for SheridanHoops.com. Follow him on Twitter.