While the NBA world was buzzing on Wednesday with reports that the Los Angeles Lakers are “racing” to acquire Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard by Friday in order to successfully recruit Lebron James to Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, in that same report by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Ramona Shelburne and Brian Windhorst, it states that the Cleveland Cavaliers are trying to shed some salary in hopes to pursue Thunder forward Paul George and Rockets point guard Chris Paul who are both soon to be free agents.
The Cavaliers have been working on several trade and salary-cap-clearing possibilities to be aggressive in free agency, but they have been stymied in attempts to meet or discuss scenarios with James, league sources said. James had been clear that he wouldn’t engage with the Cavaliers throughout the pre-draft and pre-free-agent process, and he has stayed consistent with that posture.
Now, the longer the Cavaliers go without clear communication with James, the less chance they can find ways to upgrade the roster to James’ satisfaction. Cleveland would love to get involved with George’s or Chris Paul‘s free agencies in concert with re-signing James, but because the Cavs are likely to be deep into the luxury tax, they will be barred from receiving players in sign-and-trade deals, which makes getting involved in the free agency of stars nearly impossible.
Cleveland has inquired about Leonard, sources said, but the Cavaliers probably don’t have the assets to top the rest of the market.
The Cleveland Cavaliers currently have $139 million in team salary which includes Lebron James’ $35.6 million cap hold.
The team cannot make sign and trades to acquire Paul George or Chris Paul currently because they’re over the Luxury Tax Apron of $129 million.
In order for the Cavaliers to be able to facilitate a sign and trade, they’ll need to shed some salary to get at or below the luxury tax apron.
The easiest pieces to move right now would be
- George Hill ($19 million for 2018-19, $1 million guaranteed for 2019-20)
- J.R. Smith ($14.7 million for 2018-19, $3.87 million guaranteed for 2019-20)
- Kyle Korver ($7.56 million for 2018-19, $3.44 million guaranteed for 2019-20)
Now teams would likely ask for the Cavaliers to attach a future draft pick in order to take on those salaries and with the future still uncertain surround Lebron James, I don’t see the team trading future draft picks despite a chance to land a Chris Paul or Paul George.
If they were to somehow shed salary and then pull off a sign and trade for either Paul or George, Cleveland would need long term assurances from either player but also from Lebron James that it wouldn’t be for just one year or two but for at least four to five years because the Cavaliers would have to trade some of the young pieces they’re accumulating.
It’s quite clear Lebron would like the opportunity to be able to play alongside those guys.
He recruited George to come to Cleveland last summer and a deal was in place until the Pacers turned around and shipped him to Oklahoma City instead.
The rumors have swirled for the last month that James and George could likely team up on the Lakers but those rumors have died down with reports that George is leaning towards staying in Oklahoma City.
As for Paul, he and Lebron have been close friends for a long time and James has stated he would like the opportunity to play with his friends Paul, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony on the same team at the same time at some point in his career.
Chris Paul is seeking the super max contract (5 years, $205 million) and there has been reports that Houston may be unwilling to offer that to him. With Dan Gilbert’s willingness to spend, Cleveland could force Houston’s hand by offering Chris Paul a max contract.
As for Kawhi Leonard, it’s been known that Cleveland made a call for Kawhi Leonard for the last couple of weeks but as of now, the Cavaliers do not have the assets that would intrigue San Antonio Spurs to trade the former NBA Finals MVP to Cleveland with teams like the Lakers, 76ers and Celtics having more attractive assets to help the Spurs out now and for the future.
Cleveland knows they have to upgrade the roster in order to convince Lebron James to stay not only for the 2018-2019 season but for the rest of his NBA career so the next few days should be very interesting for the future of Cavaliers basketball.