In a city built on sports heartbreak and despair, in a town with a river named Chagrin, it’s difficult to process days (and summers) like this.
The Cavaliers can’t stop scratching winning lottery tickets. One magical essay and one well-timed trade have turned Cleveland into an NBA mega power again.
Kevin Love is a member of the Cavaliers, assuring them of beginning this season with more talent than any of LeBron James’ first seven years here. But there’s something else involved, something that has been overlooked amid the euphoria of the moment.
This is only the beginning. Cleveland has a rare opportunity to build an NBA empire.
Before proceeding, it’s important to shed the Cleveland mindset of always looking toward next year and the future. The Cavaliers have the talent to win an NBA title right now, but they’ve also positioned themselves to continue adding key pieces in the coming years to keep the engine purring.
Remember the unique Brendan Haywood nonguaranteed contract, worth $10.5 million for the 2015-16 season, that the Cavs acquired on draft night? At the time, it was viewed as a shrewd maneuver aimed at adding a high-priced veteran next summer. Now with three stars already in place, it becomes a lavish luxury.
The Cavs still badly need a rim protector, so how would Roy Hibbert or Larry Sanders look playing alongside James and Love in 2015?
Hibbert crumbled last year with the Indiana Pacers, who are now without star Paul George for this season. Hibbert holds a $15.5 million player option for 2015-16, but he’s playing for a historically tight-fisted franchise that has never entered the luxury tax and has no intention of starting now.
The Cavs could take the Haywood contract, cobble together smaller nonguaranteed deals and easily make the money portion match in a deal for a 7-foot former All-Star.
Sanders, meanwhile, is beginning a four-year, $44 million extension with the Bucks that he signed last summer. He celebrated by getting into a bar fight, tearing a ligament in his thumb and appearing in just 23 games during a miserable season.
Sanders ranked third in the league in blocks two years ago (behind Hibbert and Serge Ibaka) and if he returns to form this year. there shouldn’t be an issue. But if he struggles to live up to the contract, how will a new ownership group in Milwaukee — which wasn’t around when the deal was agreed upon — feel about paying him that much money on a rebuilding team?
So much can change in a year that it’s foolish to dream too far ahead. Yet it’s worth noting that despite a payroll that has rocketed past the cap line and will shatter the luxury tax bracket in the summer of 2015 (when Kyrie Irving’s max contract begins), the Cavs will still have the financial flexibility and draft assets to keep improving since the pen in Dan Gilbert’s checkbook never runs out of ink.
Despite all the transactions this summer, the Cavs have only given away one of their own first-round draft picks — to the Boston Celtics in 2016. (The deal to acquire Love involved the pick acquired from the Miami Heat).
Whereas the Heat surrendered a handful of first-round picks when they acquired both James and Chris Bosh in sign-and-trades four years ago, the Cavs are still fully stocked with future selections, including an intriguing pick from the Memphis Grizzlies that could ultimately be another lottery pick.
Love can enter free agency next summer, making his contract similar in structure to James. But Love can also waive his Early Termination Option and commit to a second season in Cleveland, then sign on long term when James is expected to do the same in 2016.
It was reported a few weeks ago that Love has already agreed to a five-year extension in Cleveland, but that type of contract isn’t possible under the current collective bargaining agreement and it’s difficult to envision Love committing to Cleveland for more years than James is officially on the books.
The two stars will likely continue to structure future deals in identical length. Since James has indicated he wants to finish his career here, the Cavs are hopeful Love is comfortable spending his prime years in snowy Cleveland, where heartbreak is consumed as a food group and sports scars are proudly displayed like tattoos.
It only took 50 years, but Cleveland appears poised to finally emerge from its own Great Depression. Love is in the air (he lands this week for a Tuesday news conference) and out of these ashes of despair an empire is rising.
By Jason Lloyd - Akron Beacon Journal (MCT)
©2014 the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)
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