This might not have been the plan at the start of free agency, but with a number of other options beginning to fade, the Cavaliers are suddenly facing another boom or bust scenario with LeBron James.
When James departed the Cavs four years ago, they were left in a position of weakness. A number of other free agents were already off the board and there wasn’t enough time to sign anyone of substance.
Now it could be happening all over again.
If James indeed decides to return to the Cavs, all is forgotten and the timing doesn’t matter. But if he returns to the Miami Heat or chooses another team, the Cavs might again be forced to move into scramble mode.
For those keeping score, they’ve already lost two of their own free agents in C.J. Miles and Spencer Hawes. Neither is a star, but both were serviceable players who filled a need. Luol Deng will probably be the next to go.
Who’s replacing them? That’s yet to be determined.
The drafting of Andrew Wiggins already makes this a successful summer, but the Cavs entered July with high hopes of a bigger payoff. Gordon Hayward made the trip to Cleveland last week expecting to leave town with an offer sheet, but it never came because of the uncertainty surrounding James.
Hayward, however, is a restricted free agent and the Utah Jazz continue to insist it’ll match any offer he receives. If James doesn’t choose the Cavs, they can move quickly to sign Hayward to a hefty contract and hope the Jazz don’t match it.
The same is true of Chandler Parsons, another restricted free agent unlikely to leave the Houston Rockets.
Marcin Gortat, whom the Cavs had at least mild interest in, is already off the market after agreeing to remain with the Washington Wizards. Channing Frye’s four-year agreement this week with the Orlando Magic was the surprise.
The Cavs had legitimate interest in Frye “he’s a favorite of general manager David Griffin’s from their time together in Phoenix” and at least a few people around the league thought Frye would be a nice fallback if the Cavs missed on James.
If they miss on Hayward, the Cavs could be left chasing players like Trevor Ariza, who could command at least $8 million a year in free agency.
Whether he’s worth it is highly debatable, but if the Cavs want to continue in this quest for the postseason, they might be left with little choice.
They could certainly use another big man following Hawes’ departure, but Frye’s elimination leaves little behind. Greg Monroe is appealing, but he’s another restricted free agent and the Detroit Pistons won’t let him leave without a fight.
The remaining list of free-agent big men is fairly terrifying: Chris Andersen, Jermaine O’Neal, Emeka Okafor and Gustavo Ayon, among others. Andray Blatche has talent, but has a long reputation as a knucklehead and is expected to meet with the Toronto Raptors today.
If the Cavs indeed persuade James to return, clearing the cap space shouldn’t be a concern. They have discussed a deal involving Jarrett Jack for Marcus Thornton since last February’s trade deadline, when Thornton still played for the Sacramento Kings. Jack has two guaranteed years left on his contract, while Thornton has just one.
The Cavs would then have to dump Thornton on a team with cap space and no interest in winning right now.
The Philadelphia 76ers fit that description perfectly, but the Cavs would likely have to give up a draft pick to any team willing to eat about $8 million in salary.
None of that is expected to happen, however, unless the Cavs are sure James is coming back.
He flew to Las Vegas this week for his Nike camp and had dinner Monday night with Heat teammate Dwyane Wade — the public relations executive at the trendy Vegas spot where they dined was reportedly sending press releases detailing their menu selections.
James and Heat President Pat Riley are expected to meet today in Las Vegas, according to Yahoo Sports.
The good news is the silliness should soon be ending.
Players can start signing their new contracts Thursday, and at least a few people around the league believe James will make his decision known by then.
Similarly, James’ decision to leave the Cavs four years ago was made on July 8, the first day free agents could sign with their new teams.