Before we get into this yearʼs trade deadline debate letʼs take a trip back to January 22nd, roughly a month before Chris Grant usually does his damage.
When you can pull off a heist like this why wait?
So how exactly did this happen? Of course we all know Memphis was desperately trying to shed salary. But still, how could the Cavs turn Jon Leuer into Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington, and a favorably protected future first round pick?
What was Chris Grantʼs starting point in negotiations if this is what Memphis ended up looking at as a good deal?
Itʼs my guess that the reason for this is because there were no negotiations at all. Chris Grant—and the relative patience of Cavs fans everywhere—had the team in a position as one of only three teams in the NBA with the ability to take on the salary needed to complete the deal.
Another team with enough cap space was Houston who needs all the space they can muster to try to sign a big name this offseason before their own cap nightmare begins in 2014 when the “toxic” years of Jeremy Linʼs and Omer Asikʼs contracts kick in.
The third team was the Phoenix Suns. The Suns seem to be waffling in how theyʼre trying to move on from the Steve Nash years. Are they gutting it or trying to sign high price talent?
It seems plausible that Phoenix, at that stage in the game with the deadline still a month away, just simply wouldnʼt commit to taking on the extra salary. It seems even more plausible looking back on it that Grant basically said, “Yeah Iʼll take a 25-year-old big man and a 25-year-old shooting guard whose shooting 40% from 3 point range.
Iʼll give you a D-League prospect named Jon Leuer; google him heʼs from Wisconsin. Yeah he had a buzzcut. Well, yeah they all had buzzcuts. Also throw in a first round draft pick, and letʼs try to make sure itʼs a lottery pick.”
Would he have had this deal if there were ANY other suitors?
So fast forward back to present day.
The deal the Cavs pulled off was once about a great draft pick they attained for virtually nothing. Itʼs still about that, in the long-term, but in the here and now itʼs about a young big man who's seeing his first opportunity to shine in a while and the way heʼs seizing that opportunity.
While Ellington has played well too, contractually he falls more in line with the rest of the Cavs roster in that they control it. Speights, on the other hand, has a deal that contains words in it that Iʼd imagine makes Chris Grant shudder: “player option.”
In Speightsʼ 10 games, the Cavs are a .500 basketball team. Heʼs infused an energy into a bench unit who used to single-handedly lose games into one that has now helped win a few.
In 22 minutes per night heʼs averaging 13 points and 6.5 rebounds, which translates to just over 21 points and 10 rebounds per 36.
He plays with tenacity and a fire that has already made him a fan favorite, and is young enough to be considered a piece long-term.
In fact, as a young big man who's always been stuck behind high-priced bigs on the depth chart — like Elton Brand and Samuel Dalembert in Philly and then Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol in Memphis — heʼs averaged 17 & 10 per 36 minutes for his career.
Speights plays good defense, he can be a pick-and-pop player with Kyrie or Dion, and he plays with toughness. The thought of what he could become if given a true opportunity is pretty intriguing.
Naturally, the Cavs organization and its fans arenʼt going to be the only oneʼs thinking this way. The intersection of upside and that pesky player option have the Cavs in a dicey situation.
In a league where Andray Blatche and Drew Gooden make $8M and $6.5M respectively, how much will a productive 25-year-old PF fetch in the open market? Surely more than his $4.5M option.
So Grant could probably wash his hands of that and trade Speights at the deadline. Just like he has with valuable veterans in the past, and add a modest pick, maybe a mid-late 1st rounder and keep his cap flexibility.
Or, since they have so much cap space, they could just use some on Speights, right? Look how well heʼs played. We have to use all that space on someone.
Thereʼs an argument Iʼve seen made that you could deal him at the deadline but still try to sign him in free agency which I donʼt buy at all. Whatever pick you may get now would pale in comparison to getting a longer look at him in your jersey, playing alongside the young talent that youʼve assembled, before making that investment.
I think in the end, this is a situation where Grant has a week to decide whether he envisions Marreese Speights as a key part of a contending team in the foreseeable future.
Letʼs take a second and say, hypothetically, one of the Cavs plans is to make a run at bringing back a certain small forward—which is a possibility to consider.
Weʼll leave the emotions of whether or not they should for another day, or the next 18 months as the national media would have it. Comments recently about never having signed a max deal and his apparent angst about it caused fans from Cleveland to everywhere else to puke in there mouth a little bit since that was his choice not too.
But, I would guess in NBA GM circles, that was viewed as “well if we want that small forward weʼre probably going to have to clear $21M in space.” Actually between $20 and $21 million would be the amount of his starting salary in 2014 on a max deal.
If the Cavs want to make a run at any other max player the starting figure will only be higher. So thatʼs a LARGE salary. As it stands now, weʼre only committed to Kyrie, Tristan, Dion, and Zeller in 2014. They would make a total of $17.8M between them.
If the options on Andy and Alonzo Gee are picked up the cap figure is at $30.5M. So, if you add that small forward's 2014 salary, itʼs roughly (Iʼll never claim to be a salary cap expert) $51M.
The cap now is $58M and one could assume it will move up a little bit from there over the next few years.
But the Cavs will also have to sign a few more years worth of draft picks as well, fill out the roster, and will have Kyrie and Tristanʼs extensions looming in the next offseason.
So while the Cavs are in amazing shape right now cap-wise, you can see how quickly "amazing" becomes "incredibly tight" if all works out as planned and the Cavs bring in another All-Star caliber player—whether itʼs that small forward or not—in the next year or two.
But of course thatʼs the goal.
Teams concerned with the luxury tax line are the ones who's fans are still watching their teams in the summer, and Kyrie is talented enough that if paired with another star the Cavs are all of the sudden title contenders.
Especially if itʼs the best player on the planet.
So Chris Grant has the next week, in my opinion, to decide if he wants to dump Speights for more assets or if he wants to consider re-signing him in the offseason and make him the first long-term acquisition to improve the talent on this team towards contention.
All I know is that, up to this point, he has earned my trust to make that call and I hope he makes the right one. There really isnʼt as much wiggle room as people think.
If you ask me, Iʼd keep Speights. With a young big Iʼd forfeit the chance to add another pick just to get a longer look at him in a more prevalent role. Frankly, if he keeps playing as well as he has been and helps the team win I could see him being a piece in the future.
If not, itʼs a pick you flushed down the toilet. That would be a small price to pay, however, for a chance to find a young big man who can play. One that will need to be paid but should also have a degree of gratefulness for an organization that gave him his first look at consistent playing time during his contract year.
If he does keep this up and even improves it may become more simple. Itʼs him or Andy that wears wine and gold in 2014.