The Cleveland Cavaliers' latest quest to acquire Kevin Love from the Minnesota Timberwolves now reportedly involves canvassing the league for players on non-guaranteed contracts to act as wheel-greasers in a potential trade.
Cleveland's searching league for non-guaranteed contracts that potentially could be included in a bigger deal later, sources tell Yahoo.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) July 22, 2014
Such contracts have become more common around the league. They count for the purposes of matching salary in any deal, but the players on them can be released anytime for no charge once the trade is completed. This may or may not have value to the Timberwolves or anyone else involved in the transaction, but every asset, however valuable, matters when trying to acquire a superstar, especially while simultaneously trying to hold on to your most recent No. 1 pick.
The Cavaliers currently have one such player with at least a partial guarantee on his contract: Anderson Varejao, who has a base salary of $9.7 million but can be waived and only count for $4 million against the cap at any point. If only they had more ...
... like they did earlier in the summer.
When July 1 rolled around, Cleveland had two valuable non-guaranteed assets: Alonzo Gee at $3 million and Scotty Hopson at just over $900,000. Hopson was weirdly signed near the end of the season to a two-year, fully non-guaranteed minimum salary -- such deals are almost always made with a trade in mind.
Possible Love Deals
Possible Love Deals
And they were used in a trade. Both were ultimately involved in a complicated two-part transaction involving the Pelicans and Rockets. Gee and Hopson initially went to New Orleans, then to Houston, where they were then used to help match Omer Asik's salary as much as New Orleans needed. The deal allowed the Rockets to acquire Trevor Ariza and the first-round pick from New Orleans as compensation for dealing Asik in the same transaction. It also allowed New Orleans to fit Asik in under the cap. Houston will likely release both.
What did the Cavaliers get in exchange for all this? The No. 45 pick in the draft in Dwight Powell and Brendan Haywood's complicated deal, which is worth $2.2 million guaranteed this year and $10 million fully unguaranteed next year. (Cleveland won't actually pay Haywood all of that because he was released by Dallas via the amnesty clause, but it counts for that much on the cap sheet). The unguaranteed portion is great ... if the Cavaliers were trading for Kevin Love next year. It doesn't help much this season. As for Powell ... he better be good, because Cleveland traded two assets it could really use now to acquire him.
It was, of course, very difficult for the Cavaliers to anticipate a Love deal becoming a reality when they sacrificed Gee and Hopson, because they didn't have LeBron James yet. In that sense, it's hard to bash Cleveland much. Nevertheless, this is another example of even the smallest move having larger consequences.
UPDATE: A number of people have commented that the Gee/Hopson move was to create enough cap space to sign LeBron James. Delving into specific numbers is tricky here, but based on publicly-available data, the Cavaliers saved $1.7 million with this deal ($3.9 million out, Haywood's $2.2 million in, with Powell an unsigned draft pick). Just cutting Hopson and keeping Gee would have shaved $900,000 off their cap anyway, and Cleveland currently has $1.4 million in cap space left over, according to ESPN's Brian Windhorst. So they didn't really need to trade Gee in order to clear up the room. They had it by just cutting Hopson and saving the Gee chip.
Two caveats. One: the timing is tricky here. Cleveland had a lot of moves to execute -- officially signing James, executing a cap-clearing move with Boston, officially signing Andrew Wiggins and dealing with his cap hold, signing Mike Miller with the room exception and this deal. These are difficult to time properly, and it's possible the deals had to be done in a certain order for them to work, hence the loss of Gee. Two: the deal was agreed to in principle on draft night before the Celtics offered a spot to shed Tyler Zeller and Sergey Karasev. Had Cleveland known that Celtics deal would happen, perhaps it wouldn't have traded Gee, but that may not have been possible to know.
The other counterargument is that Haywood's 2015 deal is a better trade chip than Gee's 2014 deal. That's a different argument that I'd contest, but it's also a fair point.