August 1, 2014

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Change: Is it in the air?

Cavaliers may have to decide how badly they want to keep Pavlovic and Varejao

CLEVELAND — Cavaliers general manager Danny Ferry spent some time Friday reflecting on his team’s 4-0 NBA Finals loss to the San Antonio Spurs, but his primary focus is now on the future.
One of Ferry’s first orders of business will be signing restricted free agents Sasha Pavlovic and Anderson Varejao, both of whom are likely to receive offer sheets from other teams that start at least at the mid-level exception, which was $5.2 million this season but could go up to around $5.8 million in 2007-08.
“We want both of them back,” Ferry said. “I would expect interest in both players (around the league). They’re both young, talented players that will be attractive to other teams.”
Pavlovic, a starter, and Varejao, Cleveland’s top sub, will likely have their agents pursue the highest offer sheet they can get from another club, knowing the Cavaliers will match it unless it’s so outlandish it would throw the team’s whole salary structure out of whack.
“Both those guys were big in what we accomplished,” Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. “It would be really nice to have them back.”
Pavlovic, who will receive a $2.8 million qualifying offer from the Cavaliers so they can retain their right to match any offer he receives, earned $1.9 million in 2006-07.
Given that he put up career highs in almost every statistical category in his fourth pro season, including scoring average (9.0), and is still just 23 years old, the Montenegro native will likely draw a lot of interest on the free-agent market.
At 6-foot-7 and 239 pounds, Pavlovic can shoot and get to the hole at the offensive end, and his defense improved greatly this season in Brown’s system. Cleveland’s starting shooting guard still needs to improve his consistency and work on maintaining his aggressiveness, but he’s definitely a player the Cavaliers would like to keep.
“I like being in Cleveland,” said Pavlovic, who is represented by Mark Cornstein. “I’m hoping I’m going to be back here, but it’s not up to me. We’ll see what happens.
“You never know what’s going to happen. This is a business.”
At 6-10 and 240 pounds, Varejao is the kind of active, athletic big man a lot of teams would love to have, which is why he’s about to get a monster raise from the $945,000 he earned in 2006-07, his third NBA season.
His offensive game is still a work in progress and his mental focus on the defensive end is often lacking, but his hustle and ability to annoy opponents will make him attractive on the free-agent market, especially since the Brazil native is just 24.
“I can take care of my family (with a new contract),” said Varejao, who is represented by Dan Fegan. “That’s the great thing.
“I love the city (of Cleveland). I love the fans. When I first came here, I could barely speak any English, but everybody made me feel at home. I would love to come back.”
The Cavaliers, who already have power forward Drew Gooden under contract for $13.5 million over the next two seasons, are probably hoping they can retain Varejao for close to the mid-level, but they’ll have to make a tough decision if another team swoops in and offers him a five-year deal that starts at $7 million or $8 million, which is entirely possible.
There’s the possibility they could match the offer and work a sign-and-trade deal, and there’s also the possibility they could use Gooden, who will earn a rather mundane $6.4 million next season — at least by NBA standards — as trade bait in their ongoing quest to find a quality starting point guard.
If the latter happens, Varejao would likely end up starting at power forward, but he’s made no serious noise about wanting that role next season.
“The most important thing to me is to be important, to be a big part of the team,” Varejao said. “I would like to be a starter, of course, but the most important thing is to be important.”
Teams are allowed to start talking contract with free agents on July 1. Deals can be agreed upon any time after that, but can’t be signed until July 11.
The Cavaliers, whose team payroll is already $64.36 million for next season without Pavlovic and Varejao figured in, are certain to be in the luxury tax, which requires teams to pay $1 for every $1 they are over the threshold. The luxury tax was set at $65.42 million this season, but will likely go up at least a couple million dollars.
With the contracts of Scot Pollard and Dwayne Jones expiring and David Wesley’s option for next season unlikely to be picked up, it’s probable the Cavaliers will also go out and sign a couple other free agents with their mid-level and bi-annual exceptions. The latter will be around $1.83 million.
That would put them even further into the tax, but owner Dan Gilbert has said he’s willing to pay it if it means putting an improved team on the floor.
“Dan’s idea is money follows, (it doesn’t lead), so make good decisions and things will work out from there,” Ferry said. “We have to make good decisions for ourselves.”
The Cavaliers don’t have a pick in either round of the June 28 NBA Draft, but could purchase a selection from another team for as much as $3 million. Ferry said he would “definitely” explore that option, but added $3 million by itself probably wouldn’t be enough to get the Cavaliers in the top half of the first round.
Though Brown said he was happy with the players on his roster, Cleveland could also make some type of trade as it continues to pursue the first championship in franchise history.
“We may have to make some changes,” Brown said. “We may have to do something to help us take that next step.”
Contact Rick Noland at rickn@ohio.net or (330) 721-4061.