The Cavaliers entered draft day last Thursday hoping to trade J.R. Smith to pick up an extra asset or two, but ended up declining offers that would have landed the team a first-round pick, league sources tell Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com.
According to Fedor, the Cavaliers are still attempting to make a deal involving Smith, whose partially guaranteed contract is the last of its kind signed under the league’s previous Collective Bargaining Agreement. As I outlined back in March, that makes Smith an intriguing trade target for teams looking to create cap room.
Smith’s $15.68MM salary for 2019/20 will become fully guaranteed after June 30, so he’ll almost certainly be waived in the coming days, either by the Cavs or a new team.
In my previous examination of the Smith contract, I noted that the Cavs’ proximity to the luxury tax may ultimately prohibit the team from finding a deal that makes sense. Fedor confirms that the tax is the primary concern for Cleveland, reporting that the club would like to stay below that line in 2019/20 and avoid getting hit with repeater taxpayer penalties.
Trading Smith for an unwanted contract would make it difficult for the Cavs to avoid the tax without waiving-and-stretching one or two of their expiring deals, which would compromise their future cap flexibility. On top of that, many players available on the trade market for Smith have contracts that extend beyond 2019/20, creating additional complications for Cleveland.
Fedor points to the Bucks’ Tony Snell salary dump as one deal the Cavs probably could’ve gotten in on using Smith. However, acquiring Snell would’ve increased the cost of Cleveland’s 2019/20 roster to $139MM+ and added an extra $12MM+ to the club’s 2020/21 cap, all for the No. 30 overall pick. The tax line is projected to be around $132MM in ’19/20.
The Cavs later agreed to acquire the No. 30 pick another way, sending $5MM and a handful of second-round picks to Detroit for the rights to Kevin Porter Jr.
“There’s a pain threshold of doing it, going into the tax, which we would have to do in terms of taking back money and the rest of the NBA knowing that we’re in the tax and my job would be getting us out of the tax,” GM Koby Altman said after the draft, per Fedor.
“Is there enough value there to do that, to put ourselves out there like that?” Altman said. “I think that’s something we are weighing these last few days. There’s opportunity to do it. It’s just how deep do we want to go into the tax to bring back an asset? Also, what does it take us out of into the year? We’re still looking to add assets throughout the year, so using J.R. now might take us out of that.”
Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports (video link) believes the Lakers will be a top suitor for Smith if and when he’s eventually released.