The Cleveland Cavaliers are sitting pretty with their current roster. I say current because it will change at least slightly within the next week and a half *cough* BRENDAN HAYWOOD *cough*.
To what degree the roster changes within that period has to do with what the Cavs do with their own free agents, which include Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith, and Matthew Dellavedova. Thompson, the only restricted free agent of that group, is expected to come back, as the Cavs are the team that can pay him the most and are expected to match any offer sheet from another team.
The reigning Eastern Conference champs will head into next season with much of the same roster in tact, including all of their projected starters: Kyrie Irving, Iman Shumpert, LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Timofey Mozgov. It’s valuable that the Cavs were able to keep a good amount of continuity considering last season was made up mostly of guys that played elsewhere the year prior.
Furthermore, of those starters mentioned, four of the five are (virtually) locked up for at least the next three years. Kyrie signed a five-year max extension last summer with a player option in the fifth year. Love signed a similar deal (different money) this season. Shumpert signed a four-year deal with a player option in the fourth year. As for LeBron, he’ll pretty much sign 1+1 deals (two years, with a player option) until it will be a financial risk for him (which probably isn’t anytime soon).
That leaves one Timofey Mozgov. The now 29-year-old was acquired in a midseason trade with the Denver Nuggets. Mozgov signed a three-year deal with the Nuggets in the summer of 2013 with a team option. The Cavs picked up that option, worth almost $5 million, this summer.
It’s not a given that Mozgov will be kept next summer. It’s not a given that Dan Gilbert will stop the cash flow next season. In short, it’s hard to tell one year from Mozgov’s contract expiring whether or not the Cavs will retain him. We could all use another season to get a better feel for which way the Cavs are leaning. But that won’t stop us from talking about it.
To keep it general, there are two major sides the Cavs will consider when deciding to re-sign Mozgov or not. And really, this goes for all free agents in any sport. One is financial, one is play on the court/field/ice/pitch.
It’s no secret that Gilbert has been throwing around the cash in order to assemble the best possible team for Cleveland.
Luckily for Gilbert, his wallet won’t be feeling as empty these next few years as it will this year.
New salary cap projections sent out to NBA teams: 2015-16: 67.1 million, tax 81.6, 2016-17: 89 million, tax 108. 2017-18: 108, 127 tax
— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) April 17, 2015
Next year’s cap will see a significant jump, perhaps making the Cavs more inclined to sign the big man.
I now turn the mic over to WFNY’s Jacob Rosen, one of CavsTwitter’s resident NBA cap experts. Rosen laid out what the Cavs cap will look like going forward as of July 1.
With Love 5/$109M, Tristan 5/$80M, Iman 4/$40M, here's reported look at Cavs cap future. Excludes JR, Delly, Haywood. pic.twitter.com/RBsY1lpjS2
— Jacob L. Rosen (@JacobLRosen) July 1, 2015
Note that in this table the Cavs are financially committed to only seven players for 2016-17, are still over the cap, and just short of $3 million away from the tax line. And since this table isn’t meant to be a true projection, it doesn’t even include some factors that will bump the Cavs’ projected ~$105.2 million. These include, Mo Williams’s $2.2 million player option, the possible multi year deals of J.R. Smith and Matthew Dellavedova (as noted in the tweet), and of course the six or seven other roster spots that need to be filled.
And then you have Mozgov. The Cavs look like they’ll be in a similar situation next year, though not to the same degree (as in not paying a tax bill that is at least double the amount of the actual roster).
(It should be noted that since the Cavs own Mozgov’s Bird Rights, they could re-sign him even if they’re over the cap.)
But still, the Cavs will have to decide if keeping Mozgov is worth paying that much extra dough in tax dollars. Yes, Gilbert is a willing spender as he’s proven this offseason. But it doesn’t seem that he’s careless.
Starting this year, teams over the tax pay their tax bill at an incremental rate. The more the Cavs spend over the tax, the higher the rate of that tax. That could partly be why J.R. and Delly haven’t been signed yet (it also could have to do with the Cavs waiting on what to do with Brendan Haywood).
Any players added for CLE with add x3.50-4 in taxes. So tax # will increase. Early Bird rights with MD and Full Bird rights w/JS.
— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) July 21, 2015
Then comes the matter of wondering just how much Mozgov is set to make next summer, which blends in with what kind of player he is on the court.
Timo will be 30-years-old when next summer comes around, with six NBA seasons under his belt. It would seem that he’s on the younger side of the 30 scale since he started his NBA career when he was 24. He’s also played in a total of 213 out of a possible 476 regular season games.
He spent the first four years of his career being an observer from the bench. It wasn’t until his last full year in Denver that he was playing 20 minutes a night. This was also the first time he played more than 50 games.
As with almost every Cav not named Kyrie, LeBron, and Love, Mozgov really found his peak niche when he was able to play a role that fit his strengths and didn’t make him do too much. This can be said with guys like Shumpert, J.R., and especially Thompson.
Though Mozgov will be a relatively fresh 30-year-old, this will probably be his last shot at big money. He certainly won’t be getting the less than $5 million he’s gotten each year of his career.
For reference, Kosta Koufas, who was another rim protector the Cavs were rumored to be targeting via trade last season, signed a four-year, $33 million contract with the Kings this offseason. This will probably end up looking like a discount for the Kings with the rising cap – which is why Mozgov will look to average more money per year. Another reason he’ll be looking for (a lot) more money is he’s just a flat out better player, which is not a knock against Koufas, who is a good player.
Here’s a profound statistic that favors the Cavs re-signing Mozgov: according to NBA.com/Stats, the Cavs outscored opponents by 11 points per 100 possessions with Mozgov on the floor. This is staggering on it’s own accord, but what makes it seem even better is when you see that number go down to 4.1 with Mozgov off the floor.
Granted, this statistic isn’t perfect. Three of the most common Cavs lineups with Mozgov in them also came with at least two of the Big 3. Even still, that Net Rating of 11 is eye-popping and Mozgov did a good amount to earn that statistic.
Something that miiiight go against the Cavs re-signing Mozgov is the arthroscopic surgery he had on his right knee about three weeks ago.
Also, paying $15-17 million a year for a guy in his 30’s who plays 25 minutes a night just sounds wrong, even with the spike in salary cap.
The Cavs might also have reinforcements should Mozgov walk. The known one is Tristan Thompson, who is perhaps the most versatile defender on the team in terms of ability, position, and scheme and lineup adaptability.
The semi-known reinforcement could come by way of Mozgov’s homeland of Russian in the form of Sasha Kaun. The Seattle Supersonics drafted Kaun in 2008 (yes, 2008) before his rights were traded to the Cavs. Since then, he spent time playing for CSKA Moscow.
Kaun, who is 30-years-old, met with the Cavs last week and they might decide to finally bring him on. Should he show some promise, the Cavs might be more at ease with letting Mozgov go and having Thompson and Kaun man the center position.
The bottom line is there are a lot of variables at play here, some more important than others. Mozgov gives the Cavs their most legitimate relief in terms of rim protection. He’s mobile for his size and while that’s an asset, it will soon decline with the age he’s at. He also proved to be one of the better offensive rebounders in the league with an OREB% of 11, good for 20th in the NBA.
He’s a good pick-and-roll big, even if he’s not that great at catching the ball in traffic. He’s a safety valve for teammates who drive and get stalled. He also offers decent shooting range, although he might never be a great pick-and-pop player (although Anderson Varejao didn’t become a great mid-range shooter until the latter part of his peak.)
Mozgov offers some great traits for this Cavs team. But it’s almost inevitable that he’ll be able to grab a bunch of money. It’s up to Gilbert to decide if he wants to keep ponying up the dough.
At this point in time, I really don’t know if the Cavs should bring Mozgov back or not. That’s not a cop-out, it would just be irresponsible to make a hard assessment one way or the other a year before he hits the market. So much can and will probably happen between now and then that I’ll go back and forth about it. Until then, we should enjoy having one more guaranteed year with him because he is a darn good player.