The NBA’s silly season has begun, and the Woj Bombs have been dropping at a furious pace.
The Cavs, in Year 3 of the post-LeBron James rebuild, were involved in one of the major transactions, though the move will be a footnote in a blockbuster deal involving Jrue Holiday.
Holiday, a 30-year-old point guard, is being dealt to the Milwaukee Bucks for a package of players and draft picks. To make the deal work, the Cavs, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks, are lifting the protections on a pick they’re owed from Milwaukee for a December 2018 trade involving George Hill, Matthew Dellavedova and John Henson.
That deal resulted in the Cavs getting a first-round pick from Milwaukee that was protected from picks 1-10 in 2022, 1-10 and 25-30 in ’23 and 1-8 in ’24. If the Cavs didn’t receive a first-rounder at that point, they instead would have received 2024 and ’25 second-round picks from the Bucks.
The pick was intriguing because Giannis Antetokounmpo, the reigning MVP, can become an unrestricted free agent after the 2020-21 season. Should Antetokounmpo leave Milwaukee, the Bucks would be one of the worst teams in the league and the Cavs could have been in line for a lottery pick in 2022, ’23 or ’24.
The pick protections, though, made it just as likely that if Antetokounmpo exited, the Cavs would have only gotten a pair of second-round picks from the 2018 trade, since the Bucks might be drafting in the top 10 for at least a few years.
To acquire Holiday, though, the Bucks are sending the New Orleans Pelicans a late first-round pick in 2020, plus unprotected first-round selections in 2025 and ’27. And because of the Stepien Rule — which prevents teams from making a deal that would leave them without first-round picks in consecutive years (one put in place because of Ted Stepien’s incompetent run as the Cavs’ owner) — the Bucks needed the Cavs to lift the protections on the pick they’re owed.
Now, the Cavs have an unprotected first-round pick from Milwaukee in 2022. For their troubles, the Cavs also are getting an additional second-rounder from the Bucks, according to Marks.
That’s a smart move by Cavs general manager Koby Altman for multiple reasons.
The obvious one is there was no guarantee the Cavs were going to get a first-round pick from Milwaukee. The previous version of the deal protected the Bucks if Antetokounmpo left as a free agent.
The amended version of the trade would mean the Cavs would benefit from a big-time star leaving a smaller-market team for the likes of Miami. And if Antetokounmpo stays, as some believe he will, the Cavs are getting what they would have anyway — a late first-round pick in 2022, plus an extra second-round pick.
The Milwaukee pick is the most promising of the non-Cleveland draft picks that the Cavs own. The future collection is otherwise made up entirely of second-round picks — the Bucks selection, plus second-rounders from the Rockets (2022), Spurs (2022), Wizards (2022) and Warriors (2023).
Entering Wednesday night’s draft, the Cavs don’t own a second-round pick, and they’ve also dealt away their second-rounders in 2021 and ’22. That pretty much negates the benefit of the second-round picks coming their way.
What happened in the Holiday deal is interesting from the Cavs’ perspective, but Cleveland’s real hopes for a rebound still mostly depend on how the Cavs fare in the draft, plus how they develop their current crop of young talent.
The NBA salary cap will stay at $109.1 million this season.
The Cavs have nine players — Kevin Love, Andre Drummond, Larry Nance Jr., Dante Exum, Cedi Osman, Darius Garland, Collin Sexton, Dylan Windler and Kevin Porter Jr. — due a combined $105.5 million. Factor in the draft pick to be named later and some roster fill-ins, and Cleveland — not that it would be anyway — isn’t a contender for a top free agent.
The Cavs are on track to have much more flexibility in 2021-22. Drummond, who is exercising his $28.75 million player option for this season, can come off the books. The same goes for Exum, who has a 2020-21 salary of $9.1 million.
Love, Nance, Osman, Garland, Sexton, Porter and Windler are scheduled to make a combined $67.8 million in 2021-22. Throw in $1.46 million in dead cap allocations for J.R. Smith, and the Cavs are at about $69.3 million for seven players. (It’s fair to wonder, however, about Porter’s future with the organization. The 20-year old has been accused of punching a woman, and is facing charges from a traffic stop on Nov. 15 in Mahoning County.)
The 2021-22 cap is expected to be set in the $112 million range, which gives Altman some flexibility to be a big player in trades, or attempt to land a premium free agent.
David Griffin, a former colleague of Altman’s in the Cavs’ front office, is getting praised once again for the haul New Orleans is receiving in a big trade.
In the Holiday deal, the Pelicans took on a bad contract in that of Eric Bledsoe, who is guaranteed $39 million the next two years, and are bringing in an expiring contract in George Hill (due $9.6 million this season, plus a $1.3 million guarantee for 2021-22). They also traded a really good player.
But Holiday is entering the final year of his contract and will be seeking a raise from the $25.4 million he’s set to receive this season. And Griffin, who became the Pelicans’ GM in April 2019, just added the 24th pick this year, plus unprotected Bucks picks in 2025 and ’27.
The former Cavs GM also received a huge haul when he dealt Anthony Davis to the Lakers prior to last season. As part of that trade, the Pelicans received the No. 4 overall pick in 2019 (which they dealt for players and another future pick), plus a combination of Lakers first-rounders and pick swaps.
Between Wednesday night and 2027, the Pelicans could have as many as five extra first-round picks, plus pick swaps with the Bucks and Lakers (both of whom, in theory, could be due to pick in the lottery at the time in which New Orleans could switch draft positions).
LeBron left — twice.
But Griffin’s exit after his contract expired in 2017 seemed much more preventable, and the GM’s work since has only made it look worse for the Cavs.