The Cleveland Cavaliers already owe Danny Ainge a thank you for helping them create the cap space to sign LeBron James earlier this summer. Back in July, the Celtics used their $10.3 million trade exception to facilitate a three-team trade that cleared Jarrett Jack’s hefty contract from the team’s books, paving the way for James to return to his hometown.
The Celtics made out fairly well in that deal, adding Tyler Zeller and a 2015 first round pick for absorbing Marcus Thornton’s sizable deal, but they were also doing Cleveland a favor by making the process of signing LeBron that much easier.
Two months later, the Cavs are probably preparing to send Ainge a nice fruit basket after Thursday night’s trade. The team owes Ainge plenty of gratitude for increasing their chances of becoming an even stronger dynasty in the Eastern Conference via an unlikely source: Keith Bogans.
The addition of Bogans for four players and multiple second round draft picks does not appear to help Cleveland’s cause much on the surface. How exactly is a journeyman going to help the Cavs’ title chances? He’s 34-years-old, overpaid, and he hasn’t played in a NBA game since last December.
The truth is, Bogans won’t help the Cavs much, if at all, on the basketball court. He may not even get a chance to play behind the likes of Mike Miller, James Jones and Dion Waiters on Cleveland’s depth chart. Where he will help Cavs general manager David Griffin though is with some trade maneuvering.
You see, Bogans’ $5.3 million salary for this season is fully unguaranteed, as is his $5.5 million salary for next year. That means that up until about mid-January (at which point all NBA contracts become fully guaranteed), the Cavs can waive him at any time, which would take his sizable salary cap hit off the books for this season.
The Celtics structured Bogans’ contract in this manner last summer to make him an attractive trade chip down the road. By dealing Bogans to Cleveland, they are giving the Cavs more expansive trade possibilities that the Celtics passed on themselves this summer.
So how will Bogans’ deal help the Cavs specifically? Let’s run through a couple scenarios.
First, say the Cavs have an injury somewhere on the roster and need some bench help in the middle of this year. Instead of trading away any of their on-court assets, Cleveland could find a team looking for some salary relief and trade them Bogans (and a pick). Said team can then waive Bogans immediately and pocket the millions of dollars in savings. It’s an easy solution that the Cavs wouldn’t have the option of doing without an unguaranteed deal.
Bigger possibilities lie for the Cavs next summer though if they end up holding onto Bogans for the entire 2014-15 campaign. In addition to Bogans’ $5.5 million deal for the 2015-16 season, the Cavs had Brandon Haywood’s $10.5 million salary on the books for next year, which is also unguaranteed.
Cleveland won’t have any cap room in free agency next summer, but they will be able to create some sizable sign-and-trade possibilities with the help of those large unguaranteed contracts.
Say a player like Marc Gasol (a free agent next summer) decides he wants to leave Memphis. The Grizzlies can risk losing him for nothing, or they can take an offer of Bogans, Haywood, and some draft picks in a sign-and-trade if Gasol decides he wants to go to Cleveland. Scenarios like that are not inconceivable. In fact, the potential for Cleveland to add another high caliber player to their loaded roster is very high, especially with the lure of playing with LeBron in place.
Back in 2004, Ainge helped to create a perennial contender by facilitating a trade of Rasheed Wallace to the Detroit Pistons. Ten years later, he might be doing the same thing in Cleveland.