The Cavaliers have gotten a lot done by doing virtually nothing in free agency.
When Memphis agreed to a contract with unrestricted free agent power forward Darko Milicic on Wednesday, the Cavs immediately gained the upper hand in negotiations with their own power forward, Anderson Varejao, a restricted free agent who had been courted by the Grizzlies.
With Memphis using its salary cap room to sign Milicic and Charlotte using its money to retain small forward Gerald Wallace, the only team left in the league with significant cap room is the Milwaukee Bucks, and they don’t need a power forward.
That means the most Varejao will be offered by another team is the $5.356 million mid-level exception. Factor in maximum 8 percent raises for a five-year deal and the most another team can offer the 6-foot-10, 240-pounder is a deal that totals $30.8 million, which the Cavs will surely match.
Knowing that, many teams may decide they don’t want to waste time pursuing Varejao, which gives always patient Cleveland general manager Danny Ferry even more leverage when it comes to dealing with agent Dan Fegan.
There’s always the chance Varejao could accept the Cavs’ initial one-year qualifying offer of $1.3 million and become an unrestricted free agent following the 2007-08 season, but there would be a lot of risks — an injury, a sub-par season, an even tighter market next summer — involved with that.
Given that, Fegan will now go from trying to break the bank to simply trying to get Varejao a mid-level offer from another team for the full five years with the full 8 percent raises. In the end, he’ll probably do that — and the Cavs will match the offer.
If he’s unable to land that offer, however, Ferry will likely let negotiations go on most of the summer in an attempt to sign Varejao to a deal that starts in the $4 million to $5 million range.
In any event, the Cavs are in much better shape than they appeared to be 10 days ago, when it looked like Memphis was going to give Varejao, a backup in Cleveland, an offer that started at $7 million, which would have been more than the $6.6 million starter Drew Gooden will make next season.
Their salary structure no longer in danger of getting thrown more out of line — you can’t say it’s in line when a guy like Eric Snow will make $6.7 million next season and Larry Hughes will earn $12 million, while Daniel Gibson will bring in less than $700,000 — the Cavs will now turn their attention to finalizing deals with restricted free agents Varejao and Sasha Pavlovic while attempting to go as little into the luxury tax as possible.
Cleveland’s payroll is currently at $64.36 million. The luxury tax threshold, which requires teams to pay $1 for every dollar they go over it, is set at $67.865 million.
Varejao and Pavlovic will likely make between $8 million and $10 million combined for the 2007-08 season when all is said and done, so owner Dan Gilbert will probably have to fork over about $5 million to $7 million in luxury tax money.
That figure will grow higher if the Cavs use all or a big chunk of their own mid-level exception to sign another player, but Ferry is not going to spend Gilbert’s money just to spend it.
Add it all up and it means the Cavs won’t do anything earth shattering in free agency. Instead, they’ll wait patiently as their own players seek offers while also keeping an eye out in the event another player they like becomes available at a discounted price later this summer.
It doesn’t make for thrilling talk radio or newspaper columns, but being patient has worked out OK so far.
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.