The Cleveland Cavaliers will have another lottery pick with which to establish a young core for the future, but they had better hope that in their trade deadline deal — which netted the Clippers’ Baron Davis and the aforementioned pick for Mo Williams — the only price they pay is measured in salary committed and cap damage. There’s a fundamental danger in trading appraised assets for mere opportunities (draft picks), and though the draft may be the best way for Cleveland to execute a proper rebuild, the decision to acquire Davis in order to add another reasonably high pick in this summer’s draft could end up doing the Cavaliers franchise considerable damage.
The Cavs’ decision to take on considerable salary — which will only clog up their cap space for the next three seasons, eventual buyout or no — in their current state is questionable enough, but the decision to take on the considerable salary of Baron Davis is another issue entirely. Kurt already touched on some of the pitfalls; Davis is largely unmotivated, insists on launching shots he has no business taking, and sees active defense as a mere suggestion. The on-court damage Davis could (and likely will) do to his team is considerable.
That starts with Ramon Sessions, who has undoubtedly been the brightest spot for Cleveland this season. If there’s any piece to build around on the Cavs’ roster it’s Sessions; J.J. Hickson is still far too inconsistent and is lacking as a shot creator and as a defender, and the rest of the pieces in Cleveland are either aging, injured, or underdeveloped. Sessions was all this team had, and now he likely won’t even start for the team that should be his. Acquiring Davis doesn’t necessarily spell the end of Sessions as a Cav, but it certainly makes the idea of a long-term marriage between player and team a bit more tenuous.
But it gets worse. Davis is the kind of player who — due to his personality and contract size — can immobilize a franchise. The combined $28.7 million Davis is owed over the next two seasons is fairly crippling, and while the exchange of massive contracts this season has proven that no player is untradeable, moving such players often requires paying a price of a different kind. When things inevitably get sour with Davis, the Cavs will do their best to find a taker for him, but that task will only get more and more difficult as contracts like Davis’ become increasingly anachronistic. A new collective bargaining agreement is expected to completely do away with deals of that size, and while that doesn’t necessarily make the prospect of moving Davis down the line an impossibility, it makes the proposition much more difficult.
Williams’ deal was much more movable than Davis’ is and will be, and that fact creates a set of problems separate from the impact of the differences in their salary. This is as good as Davis’ value gets. If he’s moved sometime in the next year, the Cavs will likely have to offer incentive to the team that takes him, just as the Clippers did here.
Cleveland cashed in on Williams’ value, and what they received is a chance to draft a player they like and the right to pay Davis exorbitant sums of money for the next three seasons. They gave away an asset for an opportunity in a game that’s stacked against them (stars can certainly come out of the mid-lottery, but it’s not the most likely outcome), and to have an extra pick in what many are calling a particularly weak draft class. That puts a tremendous amount of pressure on Chris Grant to produce with his pair of lottery picks this summer. Only positive ends can justify these means, and anything less would not only mark this trade as a failure, but also make Davis’ price tag even more painful.