LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony reportedly want to team up this summer and the Boston Celtics could possibly help make it happen. Not that they'd be coming to Boston, but Danny Ainge and the front office could facilitate a trade that would allow the Cleveland Cavaliers to outright sign the superstar duo.
According to ESPN's Marc Stein, sources say that Cleveland and Atlanta are looking to clear enough cap space to sign both Melo and LeBron. The problem is that in order to open up the space required to outright sign both superstars they need a team with "dead salary" in the form of non-guaranteed contracts and trade exceptions to make a trade.
Look around the league at each team's salary situation and you'll see that there's really only one team that can make that happen in one fell swoop: Boston.
Considering the latest reports from CSNNE's A. Sherrod Blakely that the Celtics have inquired about the top selection in this Thursday's draft, it wouldn't be out of the question that they are laying the foundation for a potential blockbuster deal that would take place in early July, one that would net them Jabari Parker or Andrew Wiggins and other assets.
Cleveland is clearly looking at every avenue possible, so many this is one of them.
So, when, why, how, and what would it take to make it all happen?
Phase 1, June 24-25: Preparing the Fireworks
As offers come flying in for the #1 pick, the Celtics may be able to bring the most interesting and intriguing proposal to the table since they can help Cleveland acquire LeBron and Melo at the price of the #1 pick and other assets.
With news that Cleveland is willing to deal the #1 pick, why wouldn't owner Dan Gilbert and new GM David Griffin be looking to make the biggest splash possible in acquiring both LeBron and Melo? It's conceivable, as long as they're able to find a dance partner.
Boston can do that for Cleveland by combining their $10.3 million trade exception as part of their trade last summer with Brooklyn with their $7.8 million in non-guaranteed contracts, and future draft picks as incentive for doing the deal. No other team can offer a comparable package.
Meanwhile, Cleveland would plan to draft a player for Boston (or themselves in the event of no deal), renounce all of their free agents and exceptions, and deny player contracts, opening up space for LeBron or Melo.
Phase 2, June 26: Cleveland Picks Boston's Man
For the sake of this article, we're going to assume that Cleveland selects Duke's Jabari Parker with the #1 pick since it's likely that he's the player Boston would most like to have, though it could conceivably be Andrew Wiggins or somebody else.
As for Boston, they go about their night as they normally would. Maybe a Kevin Love trade happens, maybe it doesn't. Either way, they make their picks and continue on with business as usual until free agency opens up in just a few days.
At this point there is absolutely no risk for either party involved. If James and Anthony decide to sign elsewhere, Cleveland still ends up with Parker, a talented scorer with amazing potential, and Boston still has the flexibility of making moves for stars like Love or going on with the youth movement. The special thing about this proposal is that there is no element of risk, period.
Phase 3, June 27-30: Planning for LeBron and Melo
Now Cleveland must begin to plan to make their pitch to both LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony for them to agree in principle to sign with them for nearly the max contract (how they'd open up space is outlined in Phase 4). So, what do they have to offer?
For LeBron, it's pretty simple: Home. Redemption. Legacy. Championships. Immortality.
Pic via Cleveland Seniors
In order to plant this idea in LeBron's head without colluding, it's not that difficult since Tristan Thompson's agent is Rich Paul, who also represents James. The idea could be floated to Paul, who would pass it along to Thompson. And since LeBron is a pending free agent, he'd hear about that opportunity too, who would then pass it along to Carmelo.
Of course, nothing would necessarily happen, but relationships exist in the NBA, and conversations can occur without tampering, and this level of conversation certainly doesn't qualify as such.
Sure, LeBron may have concerns about first-year head coach David Blatt, but if he needs any assurance, then all he needs to do is turn to his former teammate and friend, Anthony Parker.
The former Cavalier who played under Blatt, recently said this to Basketball Insiders: "I'm one of his biggest fans, so you're not going to hear me say anything negative about him ... You hear about coaches that have a specific style, where they go out and they need certain players to fit their style, but David is really able to adapt to his roster and kind of adjust and tailor the philosophies and strategies to the types of players that he has on the team."
And on top of that, one of the most highly respected young coaches in the game joined Blatt's staff, Tyronn Lue. Ask anyone about Lue and they speak glowingly.
For Carmelo, the reasoning for doing this are simple since he'd get a chance to play alongside LeBron, which appears to be what he desires. Remember, not many teams in the league can realistically make it happen: Cleveland can, and no team has a better pitch for LeBron than they do.
There are no guarantees that LeBron and Carmelo have interest in this idea, but it's hard to understand why they wouldn't since they'd both be able to freely sign for close to the max contract, join Kyrie Irving, and Cleveland would still be able to add more players afterwards.
Phase 4, July 1-8: Negotiate, Renounce, and Deny
On July 1 the NBA free agency period opens. Cleveland would now be able to legally negotiate contracts with both LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, though no deal could be signed until July 10. Assuming that Melo and LeBron agree in principle to a contract, the Cavs could take the appropriate steps towards making the deal.
Cleveland would have $82.7 million in total salary, including cap holds, and would have to get down to roughly $20.7 million in order to sign both superstar forwards to max contracts. The first step to getting there is renouncing free agents and denying contract options.
So, to get that done, the Cavs would renounce all of their free agents, Luol Deng ($19.2 mil), Spencer Hawes ($9.9 mil), C.J. Miles ($2.9 mil); renounce their Mid-Level and Bi-Annual exceptions; and deny the team options for Anderson Varejao ($5.7 mil*), Alonzo Gee ($3 mil), Scotty Hopson ($1.5 mil) and Matthew Dellavedova (816k).
If they stretched Varejao's remaining $4 million guaranteed contract, he'd be valued at only $1.3 mil this year. Doing these things would bring their salary, including cap holds (two roster minimums and #1 pick hold), down to $37.1 million.
Phase 5, July 9: The Blockbuster Trade
With the stars aligned for a deal to occur, Boston would use their $10.3 million trade exception to "absorb" the salaries of Anthony Bennett ($5.6 mil) and Jabari Parker ($4.6 mil*). From there, they would trade their remaining "dead money" in the form of Keith Bogans ($5.3 mil), Chris Johnson (915k), and Chris Babb (816k) in return for Jarrett Jack ($6.3 mil) and Carrick Felix (816k).
They would also pass along two future draft picks as "incentive" in the deal, bringing the transaction closer to equal value. When reviewing Boston's future picks, Brooklyn's 2016 1st appears to have significant value and could be the main add-on, with the Clippers' 2015 1st as a bonus piece.
Please note that this transaction would work as a non-simultaneous deal since trade exceptions can't be combined with a mid-level exception contract (Bogans).
Looking only at those names, the deal looks like a landslide for Boston, but not when you consider Cleveland's total salary would only be $24.4 million after denying the options on Bogans, Johnson, and Babb.
With a projected salary cap of $63.2 million, the Cavs would have $38.8 million to use on both Anthony ($22.5 mil year one max) and James ($20 mil year one max). This is where an additional asset would have to be moved by Cleveland, or LeBron and Melo would have to take slightly less than the maximum. The latter seems like a far more likely option.
Option 1: Cleveland Deals Waiters or Thompson
This doesn't seem like an ideal choice for Cleveland, nor is it for LeBron or Carmelo since it worsens the talent level of the team. However, it would be extremely easy for the Cavaliers to open up the extra $3.8 million required to sign both of them to the full max contract by dealing either Dion Waiters or Tristan Thompson for a future draft pick.
In the event that Thompson was dealt, a cap hold of the league minimum would be added, giving the Cavs a total salary of $19.6 million. If it were Waiters being moved, the salary would be $20.9 million.
Option 2: LeBron and Melo Take Slightly Less than the Max
But it's more likely that LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony would be willing to agree to equal contracts under the maximum, just like James and Chris Bosh agreed to equal deals when they signed with the Miami Heat.
Doing this has incentives, since the Cavs would ideally like to retain their young talent in Thompson and Waiters, and not to mention that they'd still have all of their exceptions available to use on other free agents who would be drooling to join a championship contender.
Just imagine a veteran like Pau Gasol willing to sign for the room mid-level exception if it meant capping his career with more championships, maybe Dwyane Wade would be willing to sacrifice salary to stay with LeBron, or Mike Miller decides to make another run, and quality role playing big men like Kris Humphries, Andray Blatche, and Chris Andersen could all have interest as well.
Cleveland gets close to nothing in the deal itself, but as a result, they get everything.
For Boston, building a superstar team for Cleveland comes with its benefits, since they'd position themselves for a bright future with Jabari Parker, and whomever they select or acquire via trade with the #6 and #17 picks in the draft. The Celtics could essentially go any number of directions with their assets, setting them up for an Eastern Conference rivalry with their partners in crime, the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Phase 6, July 10: Cleveland Signs LeBron and Melo
This is where the signings officially occur, since July 10 is the date when the NBA's July moratorium ends. Cleveland would sign both LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony to four-year deals worth $83 million (their first-year salaries would be $19.4 million).
The roster minimum cap holds would be eliminated, giving Cleveland a total salary of $62,185,329, and just over $1 mil in cap space assuming the cap number stays at the projected $63.2 million.
Cleveland gets their super team and still has exceptions to use on veteran players salivating at the chance at a championship, and Boston is still in a position to make power moves throughout the year, assuming they hadn't already before the draft.
Let's take a look at how each team's roster would look at this point:
Boston Celtics Team Salary
|Player Name --- Year||2014||2015||2016||2017||2018|
|PG Rajon Rondo||$12,909,091|
|F Gerald Wallace||$10,105,855||$10,105,855|
|F Jeff Green (*Player Option)||$9,200,000||$9,200,000*|
|PF Brandon Bass||$6,900,000|
|G Jarrett Jack (*Non-Guaranteed)||$6,300,000||$6,300,000||$6,300,000*|
|F Anthony Bennett (*Team Option **Qualifying)||$5,563,920||$5,803,560*||$7,318,289*||$9,513,776**|
|F Jabari Parker (*Team Option **Qualifying)||$5,510,640||$5,758,680||$6,006,600*||$7,574,323*||$9,846,620**|
|C Joel Anthony||$3,800,000|
|#6 Pick (*Team Option **Qualifying)||$3,283,320||$3,431,040||$3,578,880*||$4,538,020*||$6,053,719**|
|C Vitor Faverani (*Non-Guaranteed **Qualifying)||$2,090,000||$2,180,000*||$2,725,000**|
|PF Kelly Olynyk (*Team Option **Qualifying)||$2,075,760||$2,165,160*||$3,094,013*||$4,279,021**|
|PF Jared Sullinger (*Team Option **Qualifying)||$1,424,520||$2,269,260*||$3,270,004**|
|#17 Pick (*Team Option **Qualifying)||$1,674,480||$1,749,840||$1,825,200*||$2,803,507*||$3,958,552**|
|SG Carrick Felix (*Non-Guaranteed **Team Option)||$816,482||$947,276*||$1,015,696**|
|PG Phil Pressey (*Non-Guaranteed **Qualifying)||$816,482||$947,276*||$1,215,696**|
Boston would be in a perfect position to make a number of moves. They could still have use the non-taxpayer mid-level exception on a center like Marcin Gortat, or they could even trade an expiring contract like Brandon Bass and Joel Anthony in exchange for him in a sign-and-trade. And not to mention that the Kevin Love blockbuster could still occur on draft night. It's not out of the question that the Celtics could be looking at a starting lineup that includes Love, Rajon Rondo, Jabari Parker, and Jeff Green.
The problem would be resigning Avery Bradley, unless someone like Green is dealt in a separate deal, which is possible whether or not this blockbuster occurs. Bradley wasn't included in the team salary because it's difficult to see the team signing him unless they're able to unload Green; with enough speculation as is, it made more sense to just leave him off for now, but he does have a roster cap hold of $3.6 million.
Of course, with all this young talent, Boston could also go the other way and trade away Rajon Rondo for even more young assets, giving Brad Stevens a young team to work with and mold into the system that he wants. This deal does give Boston a salary with Jarrett Jack, but he becomes valuable in 2015, since paired with Gerald Wallace and draft picks, he could facilitate a blockbuster deal for a star player to-be-named-later.
Cleveland Cavaliers Team Salary
|Player Name -- Year||2014||2015||2016||2017|
|F LeBron James||$19,403,278||$20,276,426||$21,188,865||$22,142,364|
|F Carmelo Anthony||$19,403,278||$20,276,426||$21,188,865||$22,142,364|
|PG Kyrie Irving (*Qualifying)||$7,070,730||$9,191,949*|
|PF Tristan Thompson (*Qualifying)||$5,138,430||$6,777,589|
|SG Dion Waiters (*Team Option **Qualifying)||$4,062,000||$5,138,430*||$6,777,589**|
|PF Tyler Zeller (*Team Option **Qualifying)||$1,703,760||$2,616,975*||$3,695,169**|
|G Sergey Karasev (*Team Option **Qualifying)||$1,533,840||$1,599,840*||$2,463,754*||$3,513,313**|
|Anderson Varejao Stretched Contract||$1,333,333||$1,333,333||$1,333,333||$1,333,333|
|#33 Pick Cap Hold||$507,336||$816,482||$915,243||$948,163|
|9th Roster Spot Cap Hold||$507,336|
|10th Roster Spot Cap Hold||$507,336|
|11th Roster Spot Cap Hold||$507,336|
|12th Roster Spot Cap Hold||$507,336|
How about that for a splash in David Griffin's first summer as a general manager? The roster has plenty of holes, but also loads of salary cap space before they reach the luxury tax, and of course Daniel Gilbert would (most likely) be willing to go over the cap considering the position his team would be in to win a title.
With a core of Irving, Waiters, Melo, and LeBron, the Cavaliers would have more than enough scoring ammo. As outlined above, players like Pau Gasol or Dwyane Wade would likely be willing to join in for less money considering the strong chance at an appearance in the NBA Finals.
Some might say that giving up the #1 picks in 2013 and 2014 may seem like a steep price to pay, but is it really if the return nets them Carmelo, LeBron, and two future picks? It's more like robbery, since they'd be getting two guaranteed studs for a player who has never played in the NBA (Jabari Parker) and another who didn't flash his potential last season (Anthony Bennett).
Overall, it's actually incredible how perfect of a position Cleveland would be in even after signing both LeBron and Melo to near max contracts. They'd have plenty of cap space to make signings, giving them arguably the best team in all of the NBA.
Remember, this article is entirely speculative, but it's based on two substantive rumors and pure common sense:
- Cleveland wants to make a franchise-changing move and signing both LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony seems more realistic than some may think.
- Boston is at a crossroads and this deal opens up more doors for them than they already have. They could go with the full rebuild or retain the pieces necessary to make another transaction for a proven star in 2014 or 2015.
- Both team's general managers (David Griffin and Danny Ainge) are forward-thinking men with the guts to make a deal like this. There is only a slight element of risk and if there are two guys who are willing to pull it off, it's them.
- Why would LeBron James consider anywhere other than Cleveland or Miami? Going to Chicago doesn't make a lot of sense considering the MJ storyline, Houston doesn't seem like a realistic avenue, and the thought of Atlanta would probably make him chuckle. Cleveland offers more than any other organization can, especially if he's able to bring Carmelo Anthony and others along with him.
- It might hurt Boston to create a superpower in Cleveland, but if they're going with the full youth movement, by the time these players develop, LeBron and Melo's contracts will be nearly expired. By that point, the Celtics could have their sights on Banners 18, 19, and 20.
I'd be pretty surprised if this idea hasn't been at least discussed between Boston and Cleveland. We may never find out about it unless it does happen, but it sure is fun to think about. Remember, ideas are floated back and forth between general managers. Maybe this is one of them.
Follow me on Twitter @KevinOConnorNBA or contact me by email at KevinOConnorNBA@gmail.com