The Cleveland Cavaliers entered Thursday night hoping to trade JR Smith, but turned down a few offers that would have returned a first-round pick, league sources tell cleveland.com.
While the odds of a deal have reduced, there’s still time. The Cavs have until Sunday, to be exact. And they remain the leader in the clubhouse to help a team create cap space heading into what is expected to be a frenzied summer.
After Sunday, Smith’s contract becomes fully guaranteed at $15.6 million. As of now, the Cavs are still trying to make a deal, according to sources familiar with those conversations, but it’s complicated and it has to be the right move, as general manager Koby Altman laid out when recapping the NBA Draft late Thursday night.
“We’re definitely going to investigate what we can do there,” Altman said. “There’s a pain threshold of doing it, going into the tax, which we would have to do in terms of taking back money and the rest of the NBA knowing that we’re in the tax and my job would be getting us out of the tax. Is there enough value there to do that, to put ourselves out there like that? I think that’s something we are weighing these last few days. There’s opportunity to do it. It’s just how deep do we want to go into the tax to bring back an asset? Also, what does it take us out of into the year? We’re still looking to add assets throughout the year so using JR now might take us out of that.”
It all comes down to value. The primary reason Smith is coveted: His contract. At this point, it’s certainly not about the player who has been one of the league’s worst over the last two years.
Smith signed his deal before the new Collective Bargaining Agreement was grandfathered in. He has a partial guarantee of $3.8 million. That would allow some team to trade for him before Sunday, unloading a bad, lengthier contract onto the Cavs, and then cutting him prior to the date, getting about $11 million in salary relief heading into free agency.
The Milwaukee Bucks and Detroit Pistons made a similar salary-dump move involving Tony Snell, Jon Leuer and a first-round pick ahead of the draft. By giving up a first-rounder, the Bucks saved about $4 million this year. But Snell’s contract extends longer than Leuer’s as well, allowing Milwaukee to take Snell’s $12 million contract off their books for the 2020-21 season. In all, that move saved Milwaukee about $16 million over two seasons. The Bucks also picked up Leuer, who may be able to slide into Ersan Ilyasova’s role or be used as a trade chip during the season because of his expiring contract.
The Cavs, theoretically, could have done that kind of trade. They could have sent Smith to Milwaukee for Snell and the 30th pick. But would taking Snell’s bad contract, and going into the luxury tax, have been worth it for the last pick in Round One? Did the Bucks value Leuer more because, well, he can actually still play and add value as a trade asset rather than Smith who would just be cut?
Again, it’s all about value. It didn’t line up. So the Cavs accomplished their goal of acquiring a third first-round pick -- that same No. 30 -- a different way, parting with up to four future second-round picks (one is protected and may not materialize) and $5 million. That particular $5 million isn’t a big deal. Each year, teams get about that much money to include in trades. The Cavs had the full allotment heading into draft night and had they not used it, the cash would have expired anyway. The Cavs felt that deal, using assets accumulated recently, made more sense than going into the luxury tax.