Cavs commit to Varejao

It looks like Anderson Varejao is staying in Cleveland.

Varejao’s contract is worth $42.5 million over the six years, and the final year is only partially guaranteed. Incentives could push the total amount to $50 million.

Varejao’s agent, Dan Fegan, says that the Cavs turned down a few sign-and-trade offers.

“I’m excited about it,” Fegan said. “I will tell you several teams made sign-and trade proposals where Anderson could have made $10 million or $11 million a year. Some very good players would have been involved.

“He wanted to stay in Cleveland. There were also a number of teams with cap space, like Oklahoma City and Portland, who were interested.”

I estimated Varejao’s value to be somewhere in the $5.5-$6.5 million per year range, so without the incentives, this contract came in a little bit above that. The thing I worry about from the Cavs’ perspective is the fact that it’s going to be tough to play Varejao and Shaquille O’Neal together because neither guy has the ability to hit an open 15-foot jumper. This will allow the defense to sag into the lane which will help to close off LeBron’s drives.

In addition, the Cavs have a verbal agreement with Anthony Parker (formerly of the Raptors) and have their sights set on Channing Frye.

The Cavs have also agreed to terms with Toronto free agent Anthony Parker. The final figures of the deal are not set, but he will receive a portion of the $5.8 mid-level exception for either two or three years.

The Cavs hope to sign Channing Frye with the remainder of their mid-level exception.

Shaq is clearly a short-term fix, but with the Varejao, Parker and possible Frye signings, and assuming the salary cap falls to somewhere in the $50 million to $53 million range, the Cavs aren’t going to have the cap space necessary next summer to woo a big-name free agent like Chris Bosh or Amare Stoudemire. They may still be able to work out a sign-and-trade, but with roughly $30 million already spoken for heading into 2010, the Cavs won’t have the cap space to make two maximum contract offers.

Cleveland is clearly treating this as a “must-win” season, but what happens if they flame out in the playoffs again?

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2009 NBA Free Agency Preview: The top unrestricted free agents

Once the draft is over, the next step of the NBA offseason is the free agency period. Negotiations start July 1, but players have to wait until July 8 to actually sign on the dotted line. Due to the economy, this promises to be an interesting summer, as more franchises seem to be trying to cut payroll than add talent. There are eight teams with significant cap space this summer, and there’s no guarantee that they’ll be willing to use it. Teams that are over the cap can add good players in two ways: 1) they can sign a player to the Mid-Level Exception (MLE), which will be around $5.8 million per season (and can be split up between two or more players), or 2) they can work out a sign-and-trade with the player’s old team.

Below is a list of the top unrestricted free agents this summer. These are players who can sign with whomever they like. They’re ranked in order of total value, which is based on overall talent, age, injury history and cost.

For each player, I’ll provide his position, age, Player Efficiency Rating (PER) and an estimate of what kind of contract he’s likely to sign.

1. Carlos Boozer, PF (27 years-old)
PER: 17.28
At press time, Boozer hasn’t officially opted out, but he is expected to. He can play another year for $12.3 million, but he thinks he’s due for a raise, and I don’t think he’s going to get the kind of raise he’s expecting. Boozer is one of the top 20 players in the league when healthy, but it’s that whole “when healthy” part that’s the problem. Over the past five seasons, he has missed a third of his team’s games. At 27, he’s in his prime, and assuming he has the right supporting cast, I think he can be one of a twosome or threesome on a championship-caliber team. Boozer may not get a raise this summer, but he could get long-term security. The Pistons, Raptors, Kings and Thunder all have the space to make a run at him, but Sacramento and OKC might consider themselves too far away from contending to add a big piece like Boozer. The Pistons seem like the best fit, but they are rumored to have more interest in Ben Gordon. There’s always the possibility that another team works out a sign-and-trade with Utah, but I don’t think anyone is going to give him a max deal, not in this economy.
Value: $12.0 – $13.0 million per year

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Cavs’ front line in flux

Ben Wallace is considering retirement, Anderson Varejao is likely to opt out of the final year of his contract, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas will play out the final year of his.

Wallace is guaranteed the money and has every right to come back and accept the checks under terms of the deal. More likely if he couldn’t play, the Cavs would look to perhaps get insurance to cover some of the salary and look to trade him. He’d be a valuable commodity because of the expiring contract and teams looking to dump salaries covet them.

There is also a possibility that Wallace could negotiate a buyout of his deal and take a percentage of what he’s owed. But even in that case it would potentially make him a huge trade asset. A team could trade for him at the value of his contract ($14 million) and then save money by buying him out.

I’m not quite an NBA salary cap expert, but I have a pretty good understanding of the rules. Even so, I’m not sure what the financial impact would be of what Wallace is considering. Without Wallace and Varejao, but with Ilgauskas, the Cavs are on the hook for about $53 million, possibly a bit less since there are a few contracts included that aren’t 100% guaranteed. If Wallace were to come completely off the books, that would put the Cavs about $5 million under the cap, which really doesn’t help them all that much since they can already sign a player at the mid-level for about $5.8 million. Where a team really gains an advantage is when they have substantially more than the mid-level in cap space.

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Which NBA teams will have cap space this summer?

The NBA free agency period starts July 1st, and as that date approaches I’ll preview this year’s free agent class in more detail. But for now, I’d like to take a look at which teams have the cap flexibility to be major players in free agency this summer. (Mind you, just because a team has cap space, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll use it. Just sayin’.)

Not familiar with the NBA salary cap? Here’s a quick primer…

1. The cap for the 2008-09 season was $58.7 million. The general consensus is that the cap will stay flat or decrease slightly. We’ll assume it sticks at $58.7 million.

2. If a team is over the cap, the only free agents they can sign are their own, unless they elect to sign a player to the mid-level exception (~$5.8 million per season), the bi-annual exception (~$2.0) or to a minimum contract. (The bi-annual exception may not be used in two consecutive years.)

3. If a team is under the cap, they can sign any free agent they want as long as they do not exceed the cap. They can also take on salary via trade up to the cap, so a team like the Grizzlies (with almost $20 million in cap space) could conceivably trade their first round pick to the Suns for Amare Stoudemire or to the Raptors for Chris Bosh.

Here’s a list of the bigger names in the free agent pool this summer:

Unrestricted: Carlos Boozer, Ben Gordon, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Andre Miller, Shawn Marion, Jason Kidd, Hedo Turkoglu, Allen Iverson, Mehmet Okur, Rasheed Wallace, Mike Bibby, Anderson Varejao, Grant Hill, Kyle Korver, Trevor Ariza, Brandon Bass, Chris Andersen, Zaza Pachulia, Chris Wilcox and Drew Gooden

Restricted: David Lee, Paul Millsap, Ray Felton, Josh Childress*, Marvin Williams, Glen Davis, Ramon Sessions, Charlie Villanueva, Nate Robinson, Leon Powe, Hakim Warrick, Linas Kleiza, Jarrett Jack and Shannon Brown

* It appears that if Childress does return to the NBA, the Hawks still hold his rights, so he would be a restricted free agent.

There are eight teams that project to have more than $5.8 million (the value of the mid-level exception) in cap space this summer:

Memphis Grizzlies
Projected Cap Space: $19.7 million
Memphis has been reluctant to spend for several years now and is probably one of the franchises that’s struggling the most in the current economy. I lived in Memphis for three years, and given its small size and overall lack of wealth, I always thought that it would struggle to support a professional sports team. With a core of Rudy Gay, O.J. Mayo and Marc Gasol, the Grizzlies have to feel pretty good about what they have at off guard, small forward and center. The big decision this summer is what to do with restricted free agent Hakim Warrick. When dealing with bad teams, numbers can be deceptive, because no matter what, somebody has to score and rebound, right? Warrick’s PER (16.91) is #24 amongst power forwards, so ideally he’d be coming off the bench for a playoff team. The Grizzlies projected cap space assumes they make the qualifying offer to Warrick ($3.0 million). Memphis is one of those teams that could really use the services of a Carlos Boozer, David Lee or Paul Millsap, but in this economy, are the Grizzlies willing to make that kind of a commitment? They could try to make a run at Chris Bosh or Amare Stoudemire next summer, but the odds are long that either guy would want to play for the Grizzlies.

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