During college, I'm not ashamed to say that my second-favorite team in the NBA was the Sacramento Kings. I didn't own any Kings gear, I didn't adopt them as "my team," I just wanted to have someone to root for in the playoffs, and the team I chose was the Kings. The reason was Mike Bibby. He was just so fun to watch--he could break down the defense with ease, hit perimeter jump shots, finish at the rim when necessary, but always looked to set up his teammates.
So when I heard that the Cavs were interested in him at the trade deadline, I was pretty fired up. Bibby is the first guy I trade for every time I play an NBA Live season with the Cavs. I was, conversely, extremely disappointed when we couldn't swing a trade.
At the time, the Kings reportedly wanted Drew Gooden, a point guard, and expiring contracts. Since we could only offer them one of those things, the deal fell through. Then, we went to the NBA Finals, and displayed to the world how much we need a guy like Bibby.
Which makes me even more concerned about this offseason. With everyone (including the Cleveland Plain Dealer) talking about how much the Cavs need Bibby, you have to figure that the Kings know they're now in a phenomenal bargaining position. And the Cavs still don't have enough to get Bibby. Our only expiring contract is Scot Pollard's. Eric Snow, Damon Jones, and Donyell Marshall are on the books for about 17 million/year over the next two years, and Hughes and Ilgauskas have big contracts for at least three years. (Click here for a good summary of the Cavs' cap situation for the next few years.)
Bottom line, the Cavs simply don't have enough to get Bibby unless we can involve a third team in the deal. Even if we get Bibby, we're going to be in luxury tax territory. So what can the Cavs do?
One option is to swing a big three-team deal for Bibby. There's a significant chance that Bibby would put us over the cap regardless, but it would only be for one season--though Bibby would be on the books for upwards of 12-million-per, we could move Snow, Marshall, and Jones as expiring contracts next July and get some cap relief that way (or, we could package them for another player, preferably someone in the frontcourt). The year after, Ilgauskas and Hughes are expiring contracts, which opens up lots of cap room and would let the Cavs have a second chance at adding a big superstar before LeBron is up for a new contract.) The downsides of this option is that the Cavs spend the next few years in and out of the luxury tax.
The second option is to stand largely pat this offseason. We already have to do what we can to re-sign Pavlovic and Varejao, which will definitely put us over the cap. To re-sign them and then take the hit of Bibby's contract would put us in huge luxury tax territory (though maybe Gilbert would go for it). And I think they're worth re-signing--with Ilgauskas, Hughes, Jones, Marshall, and Snow all expiring within three years, we need young players to replace them. You can't really put a price on Varejao's ability to bring energy and passion to the game (though you can put a price on his current offensive skills, which I'd estimate as less than the 50 cents I spent on a Coke a few minutes ago). And Pavlovic may be a season or two away from being an outstanding second option (or at worst, good complementary player). Maybe we can sneak in a Kapono-type player at the mid-level exception? He's the one player I really want in free agency this year.
As much as it pains me to say, I think we may have to go with the second option and look at next year as a necessary hurdle before the following season. We won't win a championship next year, but maybe the nucleus can improve enough to give James and his younger companions (Gibson, Varejao, Pavlovic, maybe Shannon Brown) some more playoff seasoning. Next July, we'll have 17 million dollars worth of next-year expiring contracts to move for a more established player (though, some of that will be taken up by re-signing Daniel Gibson), and the year after, we'll have upwards of 20 million to move around to target someone else to be LeBron's running mate.
The only move I could see us making this offseason might be to trade Drew Gooden. Some teams are showing serious interest in him, and with the amount of money I expect us to pay Varejao, we probably shouldn't keep Gooden as well. Perhaps we can use his salary to get some sort of Earl Boykins/Jason Kapono player? He's young and has shown some improvement over the past few years.
UPDATE: According to this site, the '08 Free Agent Class includes Al Jefferson (great, athletic frontcourt player in Boston), Beno Udrih (Ferry reportedly wants him this offseason), Brevin Knight (a traditional point, for what that's worth), Dwight Howard (will probably re-sign), Elton Brand (what might he have left), Emeka Okafor, Gilbert Arenas (probably a bad idea), Jason Kidd (for a year or two?), Jermaine O Neal, Jose Calderon, Luol Deng, Monta Ellis, Richard Hamilton, Robert Swift, Shaun Livingston, Shawn Marion, Tim Duncan (will definitely resign), and Viktor Khryapa.
The 2009 Free Agent class (this is the year Snow, Jones, and Marshall come off the books, so we could conceivably make a run at one of these guys) includes Andre Miller, Andrew Bynum (maybe he'll have developed by then?), Carlos Boozer (seriously, can you imagine him back in Cleveland?), Chris Paul (though he'll probably re-sign), Deron Williams (same), Kevin Garnett (may be too old at that point), Kobe Bryant (let's be serious, that would be a horrible idea), and Lamar Odom.
The 2010 Free Agent class includes Amare Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani, Brandon Roy, Manu Ginobili, LaMarcus Aldridge, Ray Allen (probably too old by that point), Steve Nash (same), Tracy McGrady (maybe the same?), Tyrus Thomas (maybe he'll develop by then?)
With $17 million in expiring contracts in '09, we may be able to sign-and-trade for one of the '08 free agents next summer, though we'll also have to pony up to re-sign Daniel Gibson. Or, we can re-sign Gibson next year, stand pat during the season, and then use our newfound cap room (plus our two huge expiring contracts in Ilgauskas and Hughes) to get someone in the 2009 offseason. I'd lean towards doing something big next summer because you don't want to let LeBron get into a Kobe situation (two years of the team not showing considerable improvement or roster turnover might piss hom off). But, that said, the Cavs probably have enough to still contend in the East this upcoming year, and if we can swing a big deal for one of the '08 or '09 players the next offseason, that might be enough to put us over the top (especially if we add them to a nucleus of LeBron, Gibson, Pavlovic, and Varejao).
Not a lot of happiness for the "win a title next year" crowd, but in terms of positioning Cleveland to make a run at a title over the next four years (which is a more realistic timetable, given that LeBron's contract runs out then), we are in better position than I thought.