It now looks like the Cavaliers will be in the running for free agent power forward Charlie Villanueva after all.
The Milwaukee Bucks made qualifying offers to restricted free agents Ramon Sessions and Ersan Ilyasova on Monday, but did not extend one to Villanueva, who made $3.45 million last season. That means the 6-foot-11, 232-pounder’s days with the Bucks are through and he will now become an unrestricted free agent.
When the Bucks traded Richard Jefferson to San Antonio last week for three expiring contracts, it was thought they would use their savings to keep Villanueva, but general manager John Hammond has apparently decided against exercising the right to match any offer the 24-year-old receives.
That could be great news for the Cavaliers, who are in the market for a power forward who can stretch defenses and defend on the perimeter, two of Villanueva’s biggest strengths.
Villanueva, who played with Cleveland’s LeBron James in the 2003 McDonald’s All-American High School Game and with point guard Mo Williams in Milwaukee, has hinted on several occasions that he would love to join the Cavaliers.
Cleveland general manager Danny Ferry can begin exploring that possibility at midnight tonight, when teams can officially start negotiating with free agents. Deals can be reached, but the earliest they can be signed is July 8.
The Cavaliers can offer the mid-level exception of about $5.6 million and the biannual of $2 million.
With only Atlanta, Detroit, Memphis, Oklahoma City, Portland and Toronto currently in positions where they have more than the mid-level to offer — and with many other clubs not eager to spend in tough economic times — Ferry, with the blessing of owner Dan Gilbert, could strike quickly and aggressively in the free agent market.
The Cavaliers also want to retain their own unrestricted free agent, Anderson Varejao, with Dallas appearing to be their primary competition for the power forward’s services.
From most likely to least likely, here’s a breakdown of some players Cleveland might pursue as it looks to add a power forward who can stretch defenses and defend on the perimeter and a wing player with size and athleticism:
Charlie Villanueva: Villanueva, who turns 25 in August, averaged 16.2 points and 6.7 rebounds for Milwaukee last season. Though not a great rebounder, he’s long-limbed and solid offensively, where he can score from behind the 3-point arc, on drives or by posting up.
Villanueva also has the physical attributes to be a solid defender, so it wouldn’t be shocking if the Cavaliers pursued him heavily and quickly offered him the full mid-level exception, with maximum raises, for five years.
With Villanueva on record as saying he’d love to play with James, that just might be enough to land the power forward.
Jamario Moon: Moon has decent size and athleticism, the two main attributes the Cavaliers are looking to add on the wing. He probably wouldn’t be a starter in Cleveland, but he could provide some needed scoring punch off the bench.
Most importantly, the biannual exception would represent a fairly decent pay increase for Moon, who played in Miami last season.
Anthony Parker: The Cavaliers love Parker, whose presence at shooting guard would not only make them bigger, but also allow Delonte West to come off the bench at both backcourt spots.
However, it will likely take close to the full mid-level exception to land Parker, and even all of the mid-level might not be enough if Toronto really commits to bringing him back.
If the Cavaliers land Villanueva, Moon is probably their best option with the biannual exception. If Villanueva goes elsewhere, Cleveland could up the ante for Parker.
Matt Barnes: Barnes is an athletic wing who can score in bunches, but his defense is suspect, perhaps because he’s played for wide-open teams (Phoenix, Golden State) who haven’t asked much from him at that end of the court.
Cleveland definitely has some interest, but it will probably take a good chunk of the mid-level exception to get the unrestricted free agent.
Rasheed Wallace: Though he will be 35 in September, Wallace has a great history when it comes to defending Orlando center Dwight Howard and the 3-point ability to stretch defenses.
He’s not exactly a choirboy, so exactly how he’d fit into a larger-than-life Cleveland locker room that already includes James and O’Neal has to be a bit of a concern.
However, the full mid-level exception, with maximum pay increases over a three-year deal, might be enough to land “Sheed,” who made more than $13 million last season in Detroit.
Antonio McDyess: McDyess, who like Wallace will turn 35 in September, doesn’t have quite the shooting range or ability to defend as his Pistons teammate, but he would be a nice backup plan for Cleveland.
Desmond Mason: If the Cavaliers don’t land Parker, Moon or Barnes, they could turn their attention to Mason, a very athletic and solid defender who lacks great perimeter skills on offense. Mason, however, is coming off an injury-plagued season.
Marcin Gortat: Orlando’s young backup center is going to have a ton of suitors. Someone might give him more than the mid-level, especially since the Magic is extended financially and unlikely to match that offer in order to keep the restricted free agent. With the addition of O’Neal, the Cavaliers are now much less likely to be a major player.
Trevor Ariza: Ariza would be perfect for the Cavaliers, but there’s no way the NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers are going to let their starting small forward leave.
Channing Frye: The 6-11 Frye, who showed a lot of promise early in his career before regressing in Portland the last several years, is a restricted free agent, but the Trail Blazers may be willing to let him walk. The Cavaliers’ interest could increase if they don’t land Wallace.
Josh Childress: The former Atlanta swingman has the option of getting out of his contract in Greece, which could push the solid performer into the “hot” category if the Cavaliers get an inkling he wants to do that.
David Lee: Lee is an undersized yet rugged rebounder, but the Cavaliers probably don’t have much interest now that they’ve acquired O’Neal. In addition, Lee is a restricted free agent.
Paul Millsap: Millsap put up monster numbers in Utah last season when Carlos Boozer was hurt, but the full mid-level will probably not be enough to land the power forward.
Chris Wilcox: Wilcox is a decent pro, but he’s not the kind of “stretch four” the Cavaliers are looking for in a power forward.
Grant Hill: Hill, who will turn 37 in October, played well in Phoenix last season and would like to return. If the Cavaliers fail in their other attempts to land a tall, athletic wing, they could make a push for the solid, seasoned pro.
Steve Novak: Novak is a tall, lights-out shooter from the perimeter, but Cleveland probably is seeking more athleticism than the unrestricted free agent can provide.
Shawn Marion, Ben Gordon, Carlos Boozer, Lamar Odom, Ron Artest: The mid-level exception won’t be enough to land any of them, unless the Cavaliers can arrange some type of sign-and-trade deal.
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.