CLEVELAND — Even if LeBron James spurns the Cavaliers for the second time in four years as a free agent, the franchise is in solid shape going forward.
Cleveland general manager David Griffin unloaded the contracts of point guard Jarrett Jack, center Tyler Zeller and small forward Sergey Karasev in a three-way trade Wednesday with Brooklyn and Boston, shedding $9.5 million in salaries for the upcoming season.
By doing so, the Cavaliers are approximately $24 million below the NBA salary cap, which was officially set at $63.065 million later in the day.
James is demanding a maximum-level contract valued at $20.6 million per year, which Cleveland could not give him until it dealt Jack and Karasev to the Nets and Zeller and a first-round draft pick to the Celtics.
Boston also received Brooklyn shooting guard Marcus Thornton, while the Cavaliers were given the rights to three foreign players — Ilkan Karaman, Edin Bavcic and Christian Drejer — by the Nets.
The odds of Karaman, Bavcic or Drejer ever physically coming to Cleveland are microscopic, but their inclusion was necessary in order to make it legal under the league’s collective bargaining agreement.
NBA teams routinely draft overseas prospects in the second round strictly to use their future rights to facilitate trades down the road. Drejer last played for Lottomatica Roma (Italy) in the Euroleague, retiring after playing one game in the 2007-08 season.
Yahoo first reported players being acquired by the Cavaliers, but the teams were not permitted to discuss the deal until the NBA’s annual roster freeze ended at 12:01 a.m. today.
Should Cleveland be unable to convince James to return, it would be able to offer another free agent a max contract or use the large amount of cap space in a trade, perhaps for Timberwolves power forward Kevin Love.
Pistons power forward Greg Monroe, a restricted free agent, and Wizards small forward Trevor Ariza are the most attractive backup plans for the Cavaliers on the open market.
Cleveland also had strong interest in Jazz small forward Gordon Hayward and Rockets small forward Chandler Parsons — both restricted free agents — but they agreed to max offer sheets with Charlotte and Dallas, respectively.
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