State of the Cap: Cleveland Cavaliers

NBADRAFT.NET breaks it downs for us:
2006/07 Cleveland Cavaliers Payroll: $49.8 million
2006/07 Estimated NBA Salary Cap: $52 million
Roughly: $2.2 million under cap

The Good: Now that LeBron James has established himself as the most complete and explosive player in the league, its time for the Cavs to talk extension. James has one year left on his rookie deal and he will obviously get max money from Cleveland. Will he test the free agent market? Possibly. The good news for the Cavs is that they won 50 games this year and spent a lot of money last summer to prove to LeBron that they’ll do whatever it takes to build a winner around him. Still, the entire city would breath a lot easier if the Cavs and their star could hammer out an extension this summer instead of next.

It was a risk signing Zydrunas Ilgauskas to a fat 5-year contract considering he is one more foot injury away from retiring. So far, it has worked out well. Z was second on the team in scoring at 15.6 and shot 50% from the field. He was also the team’s leading free throw shooter. For a player who is 7-3, he doesn’t rebound much, averaging just 7.6 per game, but Z is an important part of the Cav’s half-court offense. He can pass, shoot 18 footers, and provide a consistent presence in the post. If he can stay healthy, Z should be able to earn the 4 years and $44 million left on his deal. A few more rebounds wouldn’t hurt.

The Bad: Everyone knew that Larry Hughes was a very talented player with constant injury problems. He had played more than 67 games just twice in his seven-year career prior to joining Cleveland. So what happened this year, after Hughes signed a five-year, $60 million dollar deal? He gets injured and plays in just 36 games. When he did play, it wasn’t all rosey. Hughes barely shot 40% from the field and his rebounds, assists, and steals were well off of last year’s pace. Needless to say, Larry did not earn the $12 million dollars he was paid this season.

Eric Snow’s contract continues to be dead weight. His 4.8 points, 4.2 assists, and 40% shooting isn’t even close to the $6.7 million he will receive, on average, each of the next three seasons. What’s sad is that those numbers are all up from last year. If he continues to improve at that rate, Snow’s contract might be worth it in about ten years.

Donyell Marshall and Damon Jones were brought in at relatively cheap prices to be role players on this team. Marshall has three years and $16.5 million left on his deal and Jones has three years and $12 million remaining. However, neither player has done a good job of filling their roles. Both players shot under 40% this year, despite the fact that they were signed to be scoring threats from the outside to open up the lane for LeBron and Big Z. At least Marshall could contribute 6.1 rebounds a game. Damon Jones gave this team nothing. For being such a big talker about his shooting, you’d think Jones would want to hit more than a very average 37% of his three-point attempts.

The Future: With Hughes and Ilgauskas getting big bucks and LeBron about to be a max man, most of Cleveland’s cap space will be gone for the near future. Where does that leave Drew Gooden? The young forward’s stats were down a bit this year because of the all the new players, but he was still the team’s leading rebounder at 8.4 per game. He also makes 51% of his shots and is the kind of athletic big man that LeBron needs to run the floor with him. The draft class is weak this summer, which inflates the value of a player like Gooden. If the Cavs don’t care about flying over the salary cap then they can probably keep him, but it remains to be seen if Cleveland is that high on him.

As long as they can keep LeBron in town and their players healthy, the Cavs will be an elite team in the East. They will probably need to tinker with their role players through small trades and exceptions, but they are willing to go as far as their young superstar will take them. Every year, James looks more and more like a player who could win a championship nearly by himself, a la Michael Jordan. Larry Hughes could become LeBron’s Scottie Pippen, but we’ll need to see him play a full season before we can make any determination. Considering all the abuse the Cavs took over the years from His Airness, I would consider it good Karma that they might get a chance to return the favor.

Bonus Points… for snatching Flip Murray away from the Sonics for almost nothing. Flip is turning into a much better role player than Damon Jones. He shoots better from the field and simply plays with more energy. Murray is a free-agent after this season, but the Cavs might want to convince him to stick around.