A 34-year-old backup center on the Hornets roster seems an odd selling point for the Cavs to use in their pitch to woo LeBron James back to Cleveland, but Brendan Haywood is reportedly one of the players the Cavs believe can help them win over the four-time MVP. It’s not because of any recruiting message Haywood might deliver to James. Rather, it’s because of a vestige of the amnesty provision that’s scarcely considered outside of NBA front offices.
The Hornets agreed on draft night to a trade that will send Haywood to the Cavs. It won’t be official until after the July moratorium, which runs through Wednesday. On the surface, the deal seems like a pedestrian exchange of the aging Haywood and 45th overall pick Dwight Powell for reserve small forward Alonzo Gee.
Haywood was in the middle of his ninth season with the Wizards in 2010 when they traded him to the Mavericks, who re-signed him that summer to a six-year deal worth more than $52MM. Dallas also traded for Tyson Chandler that same offseason, and when Chandler beat out Haywood for the starting job, Haywood’s deal quickly became an object of regret. The only saving grace about that contract for Dallas was that his salary for the final season, worth more than $10.5MM, was non-guaranteed. That wasn’t enough to save Haywood from the chopping block in 2012, when the Mavs used the amnesty clause to waive Haywood and clear the cap room necessary to sign Chris Kaman to a one-year, $8MM deal, another contract that didn’t pan out for Dallas.
The then-Bobcats, sensing an opportunity to acquire a serviceable player they might not be able to woo in free agency, since they had just compiled the league’s worst winning percentage of all time, submitted a claim for Haywood. Unlike regular waivers, amnesty waivers allow teams to make partial claims in which they essentially place bids on the player. The Bobcats entered either the highest bid or the only bid — whether they had competition remains unknown — and won the rights to Haywood for $6.15MM. That amount was spread over the three remaining seasons on the contract that were fully guaranteed. The Mavs would pay the rest of his guaranteed salary, but it wouldn’t count against their cap.
The final, non-guaranteed season remained untouched. Dallas isn’t on the hook for that money, and Charlotte would only be responsible for it if it kept him past his contract guarantee date, which is August 1st, 2015, according to Mark Deeks of ShamSports. That gave the then-Bobcats, or any team to which they traded Haywood, full control over the deal’s final season, which is 2015/16. It left an unbalanced contract on Charlotte’s books, with salaries in the neighborhood of $2MM for the first three post-amnesty seasons preceding a hefty leap to more than $10.5MM.
Haywood will almost certainly be waived before next August and never receive that $10.5MM. Still, after next year’s July moratorium, that salary would still count toward the league’s salary matching requirements if the Cavs, once they officially acquire him from Charlotte, were to flip him in another trade. Cleveland could bring in a player making as much as $5MM more than Haywood’s non-guaranteed 2015/16 salary, and the team that gives up such a player could waive Haywood and gain a chunk of cap space equal to that approximately $10.5MM salary. Therein lies the value of Haywood.
The rechristened Hornets aren’t in any position to attract James to their team, or any starry 2015 free agent like Kevin Love or Rajon Rondo, the presence of owner Michael Jordan notwithstanding. For them, the trade will net immediate cap flexibility, since Gee’s $3MM salary is non-guaranteed for 2014/15, whereas Haywood’s salary is guaranteed for this coming season.
Haywood would still have been valuable to the Hornets, who could have traded his deal to acquire a high-dollar player next summer. But it’s even more valuable to the Cavs, who can use it to show another high-dollar player — LeBron — that they have the capability to surround him with game-changing talent.
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