Cavaliers are spending ridiculous money for all the right reasons


It took all of one day of free agency to get there, as the Cavaliers demonstrated what their new look as defending Eastern Conference champs will be: much the same as their old look.

Cleveland has now doled out a max contract for Kevin Love, a $16 million-per-year deal for Tristan Thompson and $10 million-per-year for Iman Shumpert. A max-money deal for LeBron James is coming, too. The payouts are extraordinary, as the Cavs will have an NBA-record payroll of about $115 million next year, which would bring a luxury-tax bill of $85 million.

MORE: 12 affordable free agents who can really help | NBA free agency tracker

That could get worse next year, when they will be eligible for the repeater tax, which tacks another $1 onto the tally for each $1 over the tax. But, hey, it is Dan Gilbert’s money, and whatever can be said about his tenure as Cavs owner, it can’t be said that the man is not willing to spend to win these days.

An important offshoot in Gilbert’s willingness to keep this band together, though, is the fact that he’s also committing long-term to this band, with very little opportunity to change the roster going forward. Paying the luxury tax doesn’t just cost you money—it lessens the payouts available in the mid-level exception, limiting flexibility.

The Cavaliers are now about as flexible as peanut brittle.

But there was not much choice. Cleveland was already locked into Kyrie Irving’s contract, at $14.7 million, and the last year of Anderson Varejao’s contract ($9.6 million). Picking up the option on Timofey Mozgov, at $4.9 million, was a no-brainer.

There is still the Brendan Haywood chip to play, too. The Cavs can deal Haywood’s contract by August 1 and get a player or two worth about $10.5 million in return. Sources around the league, though, said that the Cavs are tamping down expectations on that front, and it is possible that the Haywood contract will simply be allowed to melt off the books or that he’d be dealt to an under-the-cap team in order to create a trade exception that could be used later.

HAYWOOD: An explanation how how his contract works in trades

The one guy who might not make it back is J.R. Smith, who is looking for a contract in the range of three years and $25 million, a source told Sporting News. The Cavs little interest in bringing Smith back at that price.

The Cavs could have let Love walk, especially with the commitment to Thompson. That might have been the right play in most years, the Cavs felt they could not do so this summer, because they are fewer than 12 months removed from sending reigning Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins to Minnesota for Love. That is a deal the organization has come to regret, but they’re certainly not willing to walk away from it altogether.

Executives around the league told Sporting News on Wednesday that Love eventually could wind up back on the trading block, but the Cavs needed to re-sign him rather than risk losing him for nothing in return. Thompson deserves a starting spot, and the Cavs are confident that, eventually, a smaller lineup with Thompson

at center and Love at power forward will work.

But if not? “Maybe in February or in the summer, you could see Love being talked about,” one league executive said. “If he stays healthy next year, that is what is most important. If he plays 75 games or so, then he is still going to have a lot of value, even if his numbers are not great. So it is still a chance for them to get assets going forward and if you gave up the No. 1 pick, you need to be able get something that will help long-term.”

Thus the Cavs will look much the same as they did last year, and that’s the right thing for them to have done. This roster was put together on the fly in January, and did well thereafter—34-9 in the regular season after a 19-20 start. In the playoffs, of course, they lost Love in the first round and Irving in the Finals (they were 12-2 in the postseason before Irving went down), and still managed to get to a sixth game against an overwhelming Warriors team.

With a full training camp and a smarter, more experienced David Blatt at coach (yes, he will be back), the Cavs should easily be the top seed in the East next year.

Gilbert will pay dearly for that. The Cavs have locked into their current roster for a while now, for better or worse. There is the possibility of slight change this summer, and eventually, a shakeup could come involving Love. But the Cavs we saw last year are pretty much the Cavs we will see for the foreseeable future.