Report came earlier today from Brian Windhorst that Cleveland may be interested in Tayshaun Prince.
Windhorst: "I've heard there's been interest from the #Cavs in Tayshaun Prince, who's fallen out of the rotation in Memphis."— ESPN Cleveland (@ESPNCleveland) December 5, 2014
There may not be much to this report, if we can even call this lone tweet a report. Prince seems a weird fit for a team that already has Lebron James, Mike Miller, and Shawn Marion on the wing. Yet brushing this report off would be far less fun than taking it completely seriously! Let's unpack the scenarios.
Word to the wise: If you don't find the minutiae of the NBA salary cap riveting, then instead of reading this article, watch this trailer. I won't be offended. The trailer is awesome.
While no single player on the Cleveland's roster matches salary with Tayshaun Prince, the Cavaliers do have a Trade Exception worth $5.2MM from the prior Keith Bogans trade, which means they could absorb about two-thirds of Tayshaun's contract without sending a dime back. This opens the door for several players to be considered. One is Mike Miller, but since we're so familiar with him, let's look at another guy.
Brendan Haywood: Haywood makes $2.2mm this year, so pairing his salary with the Trade Exception makes a Prince deal possible, if on paper a totally strange move.
Why recycle a veteran wing on the last year of his deal for another veteran big on the last year of his deal?
Because Haywood has one of the quirkier, and perhaps, more useful contracts in the NBA. Broken down at length here, due to Haywood's previous amnesty claim, Haywood's contract carries a team option that escalates his salary next season to $10.5mm.
Why would the Grizzlies pay Brendan Haywood $10.5mm?
They wouldn't. Neither would anybody else. Here's where things get tricky (if they haven't already). Haywood's contract only becomes guaranteed on August 1st, 2015. Free agency begins July 1st, 2015. That leaves one month where Haywood's contract becomes super valuable. It can still be moved in trades, counting dollar-for-dollar like a normal contract, but as long as the team acquiring him declines his option, he comes off their books.
There is an argument that simply letting Prince's contract expire achieves the same purpose, and perhaps that is a better scenario because the artificial August 1st timestamp isn't in play. But here's the thing: Memphis won't have $10mm in cap space next year unless they do one very important thing, and that's renounce their Bird Rights to Kosta Koufos. Koufos, though an unrestricted free agent next year, and technically off the Grizzlies' books, will still have a cap hold on the books for $5.7mm.
So, acquiring Haywood's contract actually makes keeping Koufos a little easier, though it restricts Memphis' options at adding talent. I see the Grizzlies' choices as follows:
1). Let Prince expire, renounce Koufos Bird Rights, hope you can sign Gasol for something less than the max, maybe trade Tony Allen or Vince Carter, renounce Beno Udrih and Jon Leuer, and you're in the ballpark of max cap space. Sound tricky? That's because it is.
2). Trade Prince for Haywood's contract, shave $5mm off this year's cap, keep Koufos (and his Bird Rights), and try to deal Haywood in the one month window. This is perhaps just as tricky as the above scenario, but it allows you to conceivably use Haywood's contract as a trade chip AND re-sign Koufos.
Let me be clear. Under this scenario, re-signing Koufos would be very difficult. The Grizzlies would have no matching rights, so they would be betting they could re-sign him quickly to a number that worked for both the team and the player and did not hamper their ability to re-sign Gasol. Something like $7mm/year could work. But the Grizzlies are also very likely to lose Koufos for nothing. He has a limited role on this team, and may simply prefer starting even if the Grizzlies offered more money. Who knows?
3). The Grizzlies work Koufos into the Prince deal with Cleveland. Under this scenario, the Grizzlies' ability to compete this year is dealt a blow. However, their ability to compete long term is probably maximized by dealing an asset before likely losing it for nothing.
I believe Haywood and James Jones works for Prince and Koufos. My back of the napkin math says that once you factor in the Bogans Trade Exception, this gets you within $100k of being legal, which means there's a way to get it done.
So why would Memphis risk trading the best backup center in the NBA? Because the Cleveland Cavaliers still own Memphis' draft pick that, due to the complex protections on it, hamstring any future trade they wish to make. Even though the pick likely will not be conveyd this year, or even the next, the Grizzlies cannot trade it because of the Stepien rule, which prohibits teams from trading picks in consecutive years.
Getting this pick back while also acquiring Haywood's trade-friendly contract would allow Memphis to head into the offseason able to offer teams an instant cap savings of $10mm AND 1st round picks AND young players. Every trade partner has a different goal when making a trade; the Grizzlies could come to the table in any scenario and make something work.
Conceivably, this opens the door to offer Golden State (faced with a tax bill if they want to re-sign Draymond Green) Brendan Haywood and a 1st for Andre Igoudala.
Perhaps you go the other way and try to get Denver to pay you a 1st round pick to take Javale McGee off their hands (hello "athletic big", HELLO COMEDY)?
Perhaps you offer Utah the chance to push the mini-reset button on their rebuild by offering Haywood and Jordan Adams for Gordon Hayward or Derrick Favors?
Perhaps you go after Al Horford or Kyle Korver and Jeff Teague?
Perhaps you approach Chicago about a sign and trade for Jimmy Butler at the max, a contract you could not offer him in free agency without ditching all your depth. Or perhaps you allow them to keep Jimmy Butler at the max by taking Mirotic off their hands in exchange for a future pick.
By the way, in this scenario, the Grizzlies could acquire $10mm of salary and (with a little bit of maneuvering) have access to the full Mid-Level Exception.
All of this future flexibility must be weighed against the present reality. The Grizzlies have never been this good, and the Thunder really may not make the playoffs. Keeping Koufos for this season really gives you your best chance at a title. And while I'm agnostic on the idea that trading Koufos or Prince would damage the Grizzlies' suddenly cherished "continuity", I do recognize that that is another factor worth weighing.
I don't know what I'd do if I was the GM. I just like to think about it out loud.