Cavaliers general manager David Griffin and superstar forward LeBron James have gone back and forth this month, making public comments about what the team’s roster does and doesn’t need. Most recently, James publicly called for the Cavs to add a “playmaker” to their roster, with Griffin responding by chiding the Finals MVP for his comments.
According to Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com, however, James’ frustration with the Cavaliers’ leadership group goes above Griffin. Windhorst reports that there is tension between James and Cavs ownership about the team’s payroll spending, with sources tell Windhorst that the relationship between LeBron and owner Dan Gilbert has been “strained” due to their different viewpoints on the issue of team salary.
When James was considering a return to Cleveland in 2014, the Cavs’ willingness to spend unconditionally on talent, regardless of the luxury-tax bill, was a major factor, according to Windhorst, who reports that LeBron signed on with the team after Gilbert agreed not to limit his spending. Since then, Cleveland has had a higher bill for team salary and the luxury tax than any other NBA team, but James has grown frustrated with what he perceives to be slowed spending this season, in the wake of the Cavs’ first title.
The Cavaliers allowed rotation players like Matthew Dellavedova and Timofey Mozgov to depart in free agency this past summer, but committed approximately $57MM to a long-term deal for J.R. Smith, not to mention signing James himself to a deal worth nearly $100MM over three years. More recently, the club managed to acquire Kyle Korver in a trade with the Hawks while simultaneously reducing team salary.
James’ recent comments about not wanting the team to become complacent angered Gilbert, since they seemed to imply that the organization was making a conscious choice not to get better, sources tell Windhorst. For his part, Griffin insists that money is no object for the Cavs, if the right deal presents itself.
“We can absolutely increase payroll if it’s the right piece at the right time. I’ve never once been given a mandate of any kind relative to money,” Griffin said. “We’re not going to do something where we go ask for more money unless we believe it makes us appreciably better. … As we have all along, ownership will do what needs to be done.”
In 2015/16, the Cavs paid $107MM in team salary and $54MM in luxury tax. Those numbers are currently at about $127MM+ and $27MM+ for the 2016/17 season, as our Salary Cap Snapshot for the Cavs shows. Signing a player to their roster to fill their open 15th spot would cost the Cavs about $2.50 in luxury tax penalties for every dollar they spend. The team is also close to going $15MM over the luxury tax line ($113.287MM), in which case that penalty would increase to $3.25 per extra dollar spent.