CLEVELAND, Ohio — There is much talk and speculation about the makeup of the Cleveland Cavaliers roster as they head into the new year:
1. The Cavs have what amounts to two “dead spots” on their roster. Chris Anderson and Mo Williams are both on the 15-man roster, both are out for the season with knee injuries.
2. J.R. Smith is out for about three months after having thumb surgery.
3. So the Cavs are down to 12 players. They include rookie Kay Felder and second-year man Jordan McRae. The coaching staff doesn’t think either is ready for meaningful minutes.
4. The easy answer is to cut Williams and/or Anderson and sign someone else. They can do that. Eventually, they might do that. But there are salary cap problems.
5. For example, if they cut Williams and sign a player for the minimum, he’d cost about $10 million because of the luxury tax situation. If they cut Anderson for a minimum player, it costs about $7 million.
6. The numbers are shocking to me, but I got them from an executive who knows how the cap works, and how it heavily penalizes big spending teams such as the Cavs.
7. The Cavs payroll is the most expensive in the NBA, about $130 million. I’ve heard estimates of them paying about $32 million more in luxury tax for this season. That’s how it stands right now. This gets very complicated because of luxury tax implications. The NBA put in these rules to try and hamper teams from loading up with stars — and also having a solid supporting cast.
7. Golden State had to part with some of its best bench players when signing Kevin Durant to a one-year deal. If they want to give Durant a maximum contract this summer, it will mean cutting more viable players who are substitutes.
ABOUT CAVS DRAFT PICKS
1. The Cavs have their own first-round pick in 2017.
2. The Cavs next first-round picks are in 2019 and 2020.
3. The Cavs can’t trade a first-round pick until 2020. It’s the Ted Stepien rule, the NBA stating you can’t trade first-round picks in consecutive seasons.
4. The Cavs can’t trade their 2017 pick because they don’t have a first-round pick in 2018.
5. They can’t trade their 2019 pick because they don’t have a pick in 2018.
6. So that takes them to 2020 … the first time they will have consecutive picks.
7. Second-round picks are more complicated, but it appears the Cavs don’t have a second-rounder to trade until 2022.
8. Here’s the point: The Cavs often used draft picks as part of deals to bring immediate help with veteran players. For example, the Cavs traded Anderson Varejao and a 2018 pick (1-10 protected) to Portland as part of a three-way trade that brought Channing Frye to the Cavs last February.
9. In 2015, they traded two first-round picks to Denver for Timofey Mozgov. One of those picks came from Oklahoma City in a deal for Dion Waiters.
10. The point of this list is to show the Cavs don’t have much to trade in terms of future draft picks to bring in immediate help.
THE BIG POINT
You can look at all this and say, “How did the Cavs get in this spot?”
Trading away future picks and adding big money veterans allowed the Cavs to immediately become the best team in the Eastern Conference once LeBron James came back in the summer of 2014.
I wrote in-depth about this process in my Cavs book, THE COMEBACK. General manager David Griffin was under pressure to assemble a roster to win right now. The arrival of James changed everything about how to build a team.
1. Griffin traded lots of draft picks. He made excellent midseason deals to acquire veterans such as J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Timofey Mozgov and Channing Frye to help in the playoffs.
2. He made a huge deal to bring in Kevin Love, trading Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and a 2015 first-round pick to Minnesota as part of a three-way deal for the star power forward.
3. He signed Kyrie Irving and Love to maximum contract extensions.
4. He signed Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith to lucrative contract extensions.
5. And the Cavs lost in the 2015 NBA Finals, then won the 2016 Finals.
6. The scramble to assemble a title-winning roster worked. The Cavs did it knowing it would make trades and other moves harder in the future.
7. The Cavs once again are in position to win a title. But they probably need to improve the roster.
A HIDDEN FIRST ROUNDER
The Cavs have the rights to Cedi Osman, an athletic 6-foot-8 forward who is playing in the Turkish League.
Turkey has become perhaps the top league in Europe. It’s where David Blatt is now coaching and is the highest-paid coach overseas.
Osman is averaging 8.9 points and shooting 45 percent from the field. What makes him attractive is his 41 percent shooting from 3-point range.
He only is 21 years old and already has a lot of experience at high international league levels. He plays for Anadolu Efes in Istanbol.
Blatt is coaching a team called Darussafaka Dogus in Istanbul. It’s a new franchise and had a 9-15 Euroleague record last season. Blatt has them at 8-6. That’s a good start for a team that is trying to establish itself in the Euroleague.
Blatt is coaching Ante Zizic, the Celtics first-round pick in 2016. His leading scorers are Americans Will Clyburn and Brad Wanamaker, both averaging 14 points.
The international game is 40 minutes, as opposed to 48 minutes in the NBA. So scoring averages are lower. The pressure to win is enormous with some franchises.
After winning the Euroleague title in 2014 with Maccabi Tel Aviv, the franchise has since fired two coaches. So the team is on its third coach in three years since Blatt left.
OTHER POSSIBLE MOVES
1. Mike Dunleavy could be attractive to another team in a deal. He is making $4.5 million this season and has a $5.1 million team option in 2017-2018.
2. The Cavs have a $9.4 million trade option. Suppose a team wants the rights to Osman. The Cavs could ask them to take the contracts of Williams and Anderson to save on the luxury tax. Then they could use the trade option to bring back a player in return.
3. Jordan McRae is on a non-guaranteed contract. Perhaps he can be part of deal. NBA contracts are guaranteed on January 10.
4. The Cavs have to be creative. They clearly need help in the backcourt. They also could use another big man. They don’t have a lot of options, but they do have some.
5. Kay Felder had a monster game at Canton, scoring 33 points with 7 assists and 7 rebounds. He probably thought he was back with Oakland in the Horizon League. He has talent, but can the 5-foot-9 rookie help the Cavs this season?
6. I’d like to see the coaches carve out more time for Felder. Kyrie Irving is playing too many minutes and he had a hamstring cramp. Odds are Felder isn’t ready, but the Cavs have time to find out.
7. A name I recently heard associated with the Cavs is Tyler Hansborough, but I was told he probably is not in the picture. At least, not right now.
8. Norris Cole has left his team in China. He had some type of injury. I know Memphis also is looking for a point guard.
9. Former Cavalier Jared Cunningham scored 74 points for Jiangsu Tong Xi in China. He was 22-of-38 shooting, 23-of-29 at the foul line. He had two assists, so he wasn’t there to pass.
10. Cunningham’s team lost, 148-128. The winners had another former Cavalier, as J.J. Hickson scored 34 points and had 10 rebounds.