By Bob Evans
With the Cleveland Cavaliers heading into the All-Star break after a disheartening last second loss to the San Antonio Spurs, many fans have firmly fixed their sights on next week’s trade deadline—with Atlanta Hawks star Josh Smith at the top of many of their wish lists.
After pulling off grand larceny in his trade with the Memphis Grizzlies a few short weeks ago, many fans are wondering just what magic general manager Chris Grant will pull before the 21st of February. However, while the Cavaliers’ name continues to be mentioned in the same sentence with Smith’s trade rumors, a trade for the 27-year old big man seems highly unlikely.
In the last year of his current contract with the Hawks, Smith has a very attractive 13.2 million dollar expiring contract. For those of you who are not familiar with how NBA contracts work around the trade deadline, contracts like Smith’s are a major asset for teams—not something a team is just going to give away for nothing. Add in the fact that Atlanta is currently 29-22 and sitting in prime playoff position, and let’s just say it is going to take a decent amount of assets to pry Smith away from the Hawks.
The trade deadline has become an art form of sorts for NBA general managers over the past 10 years. They have begun to strategically utilize assets like expiring contracts, veteran players, draft picks and cap space to bolster their team for a playoff push, remove unwanted future salary burden or blow up their roster after the mid-way point of the NBA season.
Just a few short years ago, Grant inherited a team that fit a number of these categories. The Cavaliers were muddled with salary cap burden, had a bunch of role players fit for their jettisoned former superstar LeBron James and in need of a major rebuild. So, the new general manager did just that, sending familiar face after familiar face away in trades and pretty much putting the NBA D-League on display for Cavaliers’ fans.
While the team’s record does not show it, the Cavaliers have come a long way from not having free agent or trade flexibility. The assets Grant has accumulated are currently on display both on the court (four first-round draft picks the last two seasons), and in his back pocket in the form of a boatload of draft picks over the next four seasons.
Grant’s ability to stockpile these assets while maintaining salary cap flexibility has become an art form in its own right; which is why shipping off a combination of players and draft picks for a possible 29-game rental of Smith makes literally no sense for the current blueprint of this franchise.
Does Smith fill a need? Of course he does; but with his impending free agency and the fact the Cavaliers are 11 games out of the No. 8 spot for the playoffs, giving up those assets Grant has worked so hard to stockpile for uncertainty is not only crazy, it is completely out of character for the Cavaliers’ GM.
Grant has had the opportunity to involve himself in deals like this before, as the Cavaliers were linked in trades prior to the season that saw Andrew Bynum, Dwight Howard and Andre Iguodala all change area codes. Instead of throwing his hat into the ring for one of these players, Grant decided his assets were more valuable than possibly one to two seasons from these players.
While the rest of the teams currently question whether or not they made the right deal, Grant moved on and fleeced the Memphis Grizzlies to the tune of first and second-round picks, Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington, Josh Selby and Jeremy Pargo for literally nothing in two separate trades this year. If that doesn’t tell you what kind of shopper Grant is by now, then you will never know.
If the team’s fates were switched, with the Cavaliers sitting at 29-22 and the Hawks at 16-37, this deal would make a lot of sense. Smith’s 17.4 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.15 blocks per game are the perfect addition for a team trying to make a run at an NBA Championship.
Unless there is some sort of hush-hush, impending long-term extension that nobody knows about between the Cavaliers and Smith, you will likely not see J-Smoove donning the Wine and Gold this season. However, with a ton of cap space and his name in the free agency ring for this summer—we could be revisiting this topic in a few short months.
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