Please note that the following post is going to be rather dry. It is, in fact, a dry part of the year in terms of NBA news, weather, and overall body hydration so let’s assume any and all summer blog postings will remain a loose metaphor of this period in the NBA timeline.
If you are reading this, you likely picked this up on Twitter (thank you for reading and dealing with my incessant complaints over the years, I promise I am far more pleasant in real life), because you have been
refreshing your Twitter every 3-5 minutes like a lunatic loosely following the Love/Wiggins/Cleveland/Warriors trade story as it has been happening and are in painful need of some closure on the situation. I understand. So let’s take a 2009 Kevin Love-sized step back and take a look at some of the factors impacting this situation.
1. “Kevin Love will not re-sign with the Wolves next summer.”
-Sir Captain Obvious, 2014
I know, I know. This is an obvious statement, but bears mentioning. Whether we all want to believe this or not, the best case scenario basketball-wise for the 2014-2015 season alone is for Kevin Love to stay, for the Wolves to give it one final shot in the Western conference, make a heroic Western Finals run and re-sign Love until the end of time. But there is only one problem, and it had been generally under-discussed up until free agency: if you thought the West last year was a battlefield, next year it will be a nuclear war zone. Taking into account today’s (including Love on the Wolves) rosters, and looking down the list of teams in the Western Conference, the picture is pretty insane:
1. San Antonio – Not going anywhere
2. Oklahoma City – Not going anywhere
3. LA Clippers – Not going anywhere and made some upgrades
4. Houston – They will be worse, but should still make the playoffs
5. Portland – Not going anywhere.
6. Golden State – Not going anywhere
7. Memphis – Drop-off candidate, but roster is healthy. Added solid depth in draft
8. Dallas – Made significant upgrades this summer
9. Phoenix – Made upgrades this summer
10. Minnesota – One of just two teams (PHI) in the league that haven’t made a single move in free agency
11. Denver – 2 quality starters returning from full season injuries. Added Arron Afflalo
12. New Orleans – Added Asik, healthy roster, Brow.
13. LA Lakers – Kobe returns, an odd, but better roster overall than last season
14. Sacramento – Lottery and getting worse
15. Utah – Lottery and getting better
Yikes. Does much more need to be said? Of this list of 15 teams there are only two, maybe 3 teams where you can confidently say “they will not make the playoffs” and that is Utah, LAL and Sacramento. But what if the Kings suddenly get Rondo? What if Exum immediately morphs into a young Westbrook? What if Kobe returns entirely to form after a full year of rest?
So the implication is this: the roster the Wolves have today is clearly not good enough to contend beyond a 7th or 8th seed at its peak, with full health the entire season. They have yet to make any moves to address the myriad of problems that plagued the roster last season. Love can easily flee east next summer and enjoy a multi-year cake walk to multiple playoff berths and conference or even NBA titles. He is gone.
2. The Andrew Wiggins Contract
Reports began to surface over the weekend and into today that Andrew Wiggins was going to sign his rookie contract with the Cavaliers “hopefully by Thursday.” This caused a slight bit of panic. There are a couple of implications here. First, Wiggins signing his rookie deal would mean the Cavaliers would have to wait 30 days to trade him to Minnesota. For those of you who suddenly think this makes a trade unrealistic, take a step back and look at this situation for what it is in general: a highly unrealistic and first-time-in-NBA history type of opportunity for Minny to begin with. By my count, the first overall pick has only been traded once in the last 25-30 years, and that was in 1993 when Chris Webber was traded from the Magic to the Warriors in a package involving 3rd overall pick Penny Hardaway. Further research on this topic yields very little, and this is because there probably is little to find. 1st overall picks being traded is an extraordinarily rare event in NBA history. The last time it happened, George Bush Sr. was president and Andrew Wiggins wasn’t even alive. Whether Wiggins signs or not doesn’t make it any more or less likely out if you are looking at percentages.
Second, as many have discussed, the Cavaliers and their lack of non-Varejao-sized contracts make a trade difficult due to salaries without involving a 3rd team in a complicated transaction. If Wiggins were to remain unsigned, the Cavs would have to trade three players from its current roster in order to match Love’s current salary, many of which were recent top picks in drafts that have shown promise, and are held in higher regard by the Cleveland front office than us fans (Bennett, Thompson, Waiters, etc.). If anything, signing Wiggins makes a trade more palatable for Cleveland, as it can give up fewer players in the transaction and still retain at least one young piece to build around LeBron and (hopefully) Love. Long story short: this has little impact on the likelihood of a trade with Cleveland involving Andrew Wiggins. The odds have been stacked heavily against this happening from the start.
3. Cleveland’s 2015 Cap Situation
In perusing Cleveland message boards and conversing on Twitter, I have learned a couple of things. First, Dion Waiters is the next Kobe Bryant, Anthony Bennett is the next Kevin Garnett and Tristan Thompson is the next Bill Russell. Second, Cleveland fans think their team is fairly well positioned salary-wise next summer to be able to add a maximum level free agent without trading Wiggins today. While current cap figures have yet to hit the internet, let’s assume for now the cap rises to ~$65 million at the start of 2015 free agency.
Now, Cleveland’s current cap figure is a bit difficult to project because Sham has yet to update salaries with Kyrie’s extension and other ancillary signings, but we can arrive at a ballpark now for the sake of discussion (nitpickers, please skip to next paragraph). Assuming LeBron is at $21.5 million, Kyrie at about $15 and Wiggins at about $5.5, we hit $42 million with 3 players and $23 million to spare. Throw in a $5 million buffer and that jumps to $47 million. By not picking up any rookie-scale options for Bennett or Waiters this Fall, and renouncing bird rights to Varejao/Thompson and making a salary dump trade involving an extra pick, Cleveland can indeed free up maximum contract room with fairly minimal effort if they plan ahead prior to this season.
Before you get worried, the problem with this approach is that it comes at a pretty significant cost for Cleveland. The Cavs would have to give up a lot of inexpensive depth, several draft picks (they have extras next summer and would need to trade them to preserve cap room), and even its projected starting Center in Anderson Varejao unless they were able to get him back using the room exception (CLE would not have the MLE being below the cap to start free agency). It would be the Heat all over again, with a big 3 and little else aside from the usual aging ring-chasing vet or perhaps a late first round pick or two. While certainly a title contender, this is hardly a better situation than preserving a good chunk of those aforementioned assets, and arguably flexibility, by trading for Love today. The secondary factor here is derived from the projected increase in cap and player money due to the TV deal set to occur in the summer of 2016. By acquiring Love and allowing him to opt in next summer, Love would be well-positioned to accrue a boat load of money in the summer of 2016. It is in his best interest to be a free agent at that point, and this could only occur if the Cavaliers (or any team) trade for him at least before 2015 free agency, or he opts in with the Wolves next summer. Long story short: Love’s agents want the trade to happen this summer and there is massive financial incentive from their end for it to occur.
4. Media Reports
Lastly, media reports on whether Wiggins is truly available are widely mixed. A quick summary: national says yes, Cleveland media is divided, and Minnesota media says “no….for now.” A difficult situation to analyze. Did the tspence saga drive a lot of the “Wiggins is available” steam nationally and locally? It wouldn’t surprise me. But the local angle is what is most interesting. The general consensus is that the Wolves have reason to believe that Wiggins will be offered….eventually. Who is the source here? Minnesota brass? There is probably more to it from an agent standpoint, but if a Wolves staffer told a local media member his projection of trade talks, there is reason to be skeptical.
A late update to this post: A Portland radio station is reporting a deal is done and Woj has indicated the Cavs are indeed searching for a 3rd team to flip a non-guaranteed contract in the trade. Take with a spoonful of salt, but things could be picking up steam.
The overall point is this and I hope this is where things are headed: Flip has an extremely rare and improbable set of circumstances that may allow him to come out of this whole thing a relatively huge winner. This is, of course, ignoring the massive set of failures from the Wolves that led us here, but that is in the past and we’re here now. From my perspective, Flip has played this very well from the start, not panicking and trading Love without getting a solid prize in return, and hopefully we will all see this pay off shortly and can get excited about the next era of Wolves basketball. But think of the opportunity and significant “what if?” here. The best NBA player in the world signs with a small market team that just happened to win the lottery, and then drafted a very promising swing man prospect with outstanding 2-way potential. Flip just happens to have a top 5-10 NBA player who wants to be traded. This is his chance. What an opportunity. Let’s hope for the best.