While the Cleveland Cavaliers look to possibly be figuring things out from a team chemistry perspective, even General Manager David Griffin would tell you this current roster has room for improvement. To that end, Cleveland management is without a doubt looking for ways to upgrade their current roster via a trade or two. However, the Cavaliers’ decision to trade Keith Bogans to the Philadelphia 76ers on the eve of training camp, a harmless move at first glance, is a decision that is currently hindering their ability to get LeBron James and company the meaningful kind of help that could actually improve the quality of the team’s play.
Bogans, of course, hasn’t played any meaningful minutes for an NBA title contender since he was the starting shooting guard for the Chicago Bulls back in 2010/11. However, Bogans’s most recent contract was attractive in that it could be used as a sort of transactional grease to make otherwise unworkable trades work. In the summer of 2013, Bogans signed a three year, $15.6 million deal with the Brooklyn Nets as part of a sign-and-trade deal that sent him to Boston purely to help fulfill the salary matching requirements in the trade that sent Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry to Brooklyn. Bogans’s new deal was a massive overpay, but it was a contract the Celtics were willing to take on because of the way it was structured – while Bogans was due $5.05 million in the first season of the deal, his $5.28 million salary in 2014-15 and his $5.51 million salary in 2015-16 were both non-guaranteed, meaning in the latter two years of Bogans’s deal a team could waive him and have no future obligation to pay him.
Those two non-guaranteed years made Bogans’s contract immensely tradable, as a team looking for cap relief could unload upwards of $5 million in salary just by trading for Bogans and then waiving him. This is why the Celtics did not waive Bogans during the 2013-14 season even though he only played in six games and was excused from the team indefinitely in January of 2014 for “personal reasons”. The Celtics’s brass was perhaps hoping Bogans’s contract could be used as part of a mega-deal that would bring Kevin Love or some other superstar to Boston, or, at the very least, using him in a smaller deal to get some sort of long term basketball asset back.
The Celtics had been unable this past offseason to work Bogans into any deals, so as the summer lazily stumbled to a close, the Celtics made the decision that it was no longer worth it to carry Bogans on their roster in the hope of orchestrating a mega trade. The Celtics thus cashed in Bogans’ contract for a smaller return, by trading him along with two future top-55 protected second-round picks to the Cavs in exchange for John Lucas III, Erik Murphy, Malcolm Thomas, Dwight Powell, and two unprotected future second round picks.
Cleveland made the deal to acquire Bogans because, through their numerous maneuverings this past offseason, they had acquired several non-guaranteed contracts for possible use as trade chips (albeit in far from optimum fashion). Three of those non-guaranteed contracts belonged to John Lucas III ($1.6 million non-guaranteed salary in 2014-15), Erik Murphy ($816,482), and Malcolm Thomas ($948,163), who collectively represented $3.36 million in non-guaranteed salary for the 2014-15 season for the Cavs. Like the Bogans contract, any significant amount of non-guaranteed salary is a nice trade chip to hold on to as it can be useful for prying assets away from teams looking for cap relief.
The issue for Cleveland was that they had $3.36 million in non-guaranteed salary spread across three roster spots. With their significant offseason moves made and with the allowable roster size shrinking at the start of the regular season – teams are allowed to carry 20 players in the offseason but only 15 during the regular season – Cleveland was faced with the possibility of losing those non-guaranteed salary assets because they were unlikely to burn three full roster spots for the sole purpose of carrying all three of them into the season. Therefore, the Cavs were able to turn three roster spots totaling $3.36 million in non-guaranteed money into one roster spot totaling $5.28 million in non-guaranteed money (Bogans) by essentially trading away a rookie second round pick not likely to get a minute (Powell) and two picks they project to only be in the 50’s. That is solid logic.
Cleveland, however, immediately undid all of that logic because instead of carrying Bogans onto their regular season roster, the Cavaliers executed a non-simultaneous trade that sent Bogans and yet another future second-round pick to Philadelphia in exchange for a protected second-round pick from Philadelphia. As a result of the trade with Philly, the Cavs ended up with a $5.28 million trade exception that expires on September 26th, 2015.
The problem with the Bogans trade to Philly is that a $5.28 million trade exception is not nearly as valuable as a $5.28 million unguaranteed contract. The reason for this is that trade exceptions usually cannot be combined with other assets when making a trade. When teams are making trades, they can combine the salaries of players they are trading away into an overall total, and then receive back an amount equal to or perhaps even larger than that. But when using Traded Player Exceptions, this is not possible. And so by trading Bogans and creating a TPE, the Cavaliers robbed themselves of the best use of this asset.
Had the Cavaliers kept Bogans on their regular season roster, they would now be in a position to package him with other players on their roster to acquire a player from another team that could, say, help sure up their interior defense, or solve their shooting guard dilemma. Purely by way of example, the Cavs could have offered Tristan Thompson, a minimum salary player and Bogans to the Milwaukee Bucks for Larry Sanders ($11 million salary this season) or to the Nuggets for Javale McGee ($11.25 million salary this season). Now, though, with the Bogans trade exception in hand instead of the Bogans contract, if the Cavs want to pull off a trade for a player with a salary in the $10 million and upwards range, they cannot use the Bogans exception, as it cannot be aggregated with other salary for salary matching purposes. They will have to offer either a combination of both Dion Waiters ($4.06 million salary this season) and Tristan Thompson ($5.14 million salary this season) or a player with a larger salary number this season like Anderson Varejao ($9.7 million salary this season) or Kyrie Irving ($7.07 million this season). There are simply not enough other salaries to trade.
Having just signed Irving and Varejao to big extensions, they are obviously off the table. This now means that the polarising and deeply flawed Waiters almost certainly has to be a part of any substantial deal this season, if one is to be made, regardless of what the recipient team thinks of him. Additionally, had they kept Bogans, Cleveland could have used him and Waiters if needs be, should a deal get that big. Again purely by way of example, this could have meant the addition of O.J. Mayo to a Sanders deal, so as to sweeten the pot for Milwaukee with extra salary relief. But this is only possible if that $5.28 million could be aggregated. And it cannot.
The latest rumors have the Cavaliers thinking of using the TPE to acquire Corey Brewer from Minnesota. But Corey Brewer does not move the needle with regards to the product Cleveland is putting on the floor. There are a number of young players across the league that the Cavaliers could try to acquire with the Bogans trade exception, but teams usually do not give up on young inexpensive assets solely in exchange for salary cap relief. Maybe they could throw in a few draft picks to pry a youngster with upside away from another team, but the Cavs have already dealt away several future picks in 2014 and they would be wise to hold on to the remaining future picks they still have. Thus the Cavs are likely limited to using the Bogans trade exception to acquire a veteran currently making no more than $5.38 million ($100,000 more than the value of the Bogans Trade Exception).
Another effect of Cleveland’s decision to trade Bogans to the 76ers is that they are now more likely to have to part with the Brendan Haywood contract a year earlier than would be optimal. Haywood’s salary is FOR only $2.21 million this season, but it balloons to a $10.52 million non-guaranteed deal next season, and the Cavaliers targeted this unique deal for a long while before they acquired it. (The aforementioned deal for Hopson was done specifically with Haywood’s contract in mind.) As valuable as Bogans’s contract would have been this season, the Haywood contract will be twice as valuable next season, a hugely important piece for salary matching and completing bigger deals and a huge trade asset to a team running short of them. However, if the Cavaliers are feeling the pressure to win this season in order to make sure Kevin Love and LeBron James (both of whom have player options after this season) do not give up on their Cleveland experiment after just one season, the Cavs may have to throw in Haywood’s $2.21 million 2014-15 salary to make a deal work this season purely to make up the salary aggregation numbers. That would be a relative waste of an asset with huge potential, would certainly not be what they had chased him for so long for, and it would not be the case had the Cavs simply made the decision to keep Bogans on their regular season roster to start the season.
So why did they trade Bogans to Philly?
Despite the supposed intentions, Cleveland definitely did not make the move to increase their roster flexibility going forward, as the move did the opposite. The Bogans trade to Philly was not a move that created options; it was a move that took options off the table for the Cavs. (It should be mentioned that the trade exception runs through September 27th 2015, whereas Bogans could not be traded after the trade deadline seven months previously. This however does not offset the considerable loss of the immediate salary aggregation benefits that Bogans offered.)
They also did not trade Bogans for competitive purposes. By doing so they freed up a roster spot, but they did so at the expense of devaluing their $5.28 million trade chip, now in the form of a trade exception. Bogans was definitely a player that was unlikely to see any floor time or make any meaningful contribution to the Cavs this season. However, the roster spot has not really helped any – the Cavaliers do not run fifteen deep, and had no one in training camp they desperately needed to keep. If anything, the first dozen or so games of the regular season have shown us that the Cavaliers are actually quite reliant on their starting lineup, and on most nights they do not go much deeper than an eight-man rotation. They basically traded away Bogans, a player that would not have seen the floor, to open up a roster spot for another player that is not seeing the floor (pick any from James Jones, Alex Kirk, or Louis Amundson).
Perhaps another reason for the decision to trade Bogans is that it saved the Cavs some money. Instead of paying Bogans a pro-rated portion of his $5.28 million salary until they traded (or less likely cut) him, the Cavs are paying a different player the league minimum. Depending on which player you figure the Cavs would have cut to keep Bogans, the amount of money saved ranges anywhere from $3.76 million to about $4.75 million in savings to the Gilbert family. Additionally, although tax payments are only based upon a team’s payroll as of the final day of the regular season, trading Bogans to Philly at a time that they were sure they had a taker for Bogans means the Cavs now have an easier route to staying under the tax line in 2014-15. Had the Cavs kept Bogans on their regular season roster, the possibility existed that they would not have found a trade to their liking and Bogans would have stayed on the team into the offseason, which, save for any other roster moves, would have made the Cavs a tax paying team in 2014-15. (Remember that the date he would have become guaranteed, January 10th, precedes the trade deadline date of February 19th.) Staying under the tax in 2014-15 does not just offer savings in this season; it also means savings in future years as it delays the eventual repeater tax (paid by teams over the tax line in three out of the past four seasons), which the Cavs will likely face if they manage to keep Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, and Kevin Love on the same roster for more than just a couple of seasons.
It would be a shame, however, if it simply came down to that. Cleveland gave up two second picks (effectively three with Powell), then gave up another one two days later to get rid of him, and the only basketball asset they returned is a traded player exception. The TPE has its uses and will more than likely be utilized at some point. But with their star players perhaps only here for one year, Cleveland had to put themselves into a position to be able to fully capitalize on this season. And because of this, they have not done so.
Incredible lottery luck notwithstanding, David Griffin and the Cavs front office deserve major kudos for managing to land LeBron James and Kevin Love in a single offseason. On top of those headlining moves, the Cavaliers also did well in targeting and acquiring assets, such as the Haywood and Bogans contracts that they could use to facilitate transactions that would further improve the roster around Love and James. However, after all that good luck and all those good moves, the Cavs went and dealt Bogans to the 76ers and basically turned a dollar into a dime, undermining one of their more valuable trade chips.
It seems hard to believe that they would make such a move for purely financial reasons, especially when one would think Dan Gilbert should be intent on spending whatever is necessary to keep LeBron happy and to build a contender in Cleveland. Perhaps the more believable explanation is that the Cavs simply misjudged the situation. In light of how the Cavaliers spent more money than they had to when they signed Scotty Hopson, it seems more than plausible that perhaps they simply did not fully appreciate the diminished trade value of a Bogans Trade Exception relative to the original Bogans contract. Trade rumors will probably fly about the Cavaliers from now through the trade deadline, and when they do, there will be much discussion as to who they might target and how they can obtain them. When this happens, though, remember the far greater options that they could have had.