With less than a year until LeBron James makes his next free agency decision, the time is right to evaluate the cap situation of the Cleveland Cavaliers to see what they can do in 2014.
At the outset, I must note that we do not know exactly where the salary cap will be for the 14-15 season though we do have predictions.
It stands to reason that the Miami Heat would not facilitate any deal unless it appears inevitable that it will occur and could without their involvement, as happened with Andre Iguodala this summer and LeBron himself in 2010. An early cap projection of $62.1 million stands as the best guess of the hard line Cleveland will have to fall under. We also know that LeBron’s maximum salary if he opts out in 2014 is $20,020,875, which is 105% of his 13-14 salary with Miami. With both relevant numbers in place, Cleveland’s combination of player salaries and holds cannot be higher than $42,079,125 in order to have the space to sign James outright.
The place to start is with the contracts the Cavaliers are committed to paying for 14-15 unless those players are traded between now and then.
These are: Kyrie Irving, Jarrett Jack, Anthony Bennett, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, Tyler Zeller, Sergey Karasev, Carrick Felix, and $4 million of Anderson Varejao’s contract.
Using the contract information I have available, this adds up to about $36.2 million. Without accounting for cap holds, minimum roster holds, or potential draft picks, this only leaves about $6 million in space.
For reference, with only eight players under contract, Cleveland would need four minimum holds (since LeBron would replace one of them to hit the 13 man roster minimum), totaling a little over $2 million.
Options beyond the guaranteed minimums
A series of players currently on Cleveland’s roster have options or partially guaranteed deals that could add to their salary for 14-15 if the Cavs choose to pick them up.
Andrew Bynum- $12,540,000 (not guaranteed if waived before July 10, 2014)
Anderson Varejao- $9,704,595 (with $4 million guaranteed, as discussed above)
Earl Clark- $4,250,000 (not guaranteed if waived before July 7, 2014)
Alonzo Gee- $3,000,000 (no guarantee)
Matthew Dellavadova- $816,482 (no guarantee)
Counting only Varejao’s non-guaranteed portion, that marks another $26.3 million for the front office to think about.
How this all fits together
While these numbers may look daunting for Cleveland, all of their commitments for 14-15 should be considered tradable assets that likely would yield a return if moved. As we saw this summer with the Houston Rockets, management can handle last-second maneuvering if the players involved generate interest from other teams. While Cleveland’s players are a little different than guys like Thomas Robinson and Royce White, the team could give themselves a little fudge space if they feel the incentives are there and they can make the necessary deals should a top-level talent commit.
Even with all that, it would be intensely difficult for the Cavs to pick up Andrew Bynum’s option and have enough space to sign LeBron without making a significant move. Since a cap hold would cut away at the cap room just like picking up the season (more in fact in this case since he would be Non-Bird), Cleveland’s call with Bynum should be incredibly difficult.
Beyond Bynum, the Cavs could probably keep one of their non-guaranteed players unless they get a top-tier draft pick next year. Each additional player from that list would necessitate a corresponding move with guaranteed salary if the organization desires max space.
The most interesting component of all of this has to be timing since most of the choices on options and guarantees need to be made before the moratorium ends and the top free agents can sign. While that timing may cause some problems, it also forces the team to make firmer decisions on players like Bynum and Clark with the long game in mind.
This season should provide Cleveland with plenty of opportunities to analyze the talent they have on roster, which will be necessary since they will need to make some tough calls if they want to preserve enough space to sign LeBron James outright.