A closer look at a minor Hornets-Cavaliers draft-night trade

Blake Murphy
Jeremy Brevard / USA Today Sports

It seemed like a pretty peripheral trade, one that wouldn't make much of a difference when the season got under way in 2014.

And it won't. Not much, anyway.

But the draft-night trade between the Charlotte Hornets and the Cleveland Cavaliers could be an important one for the future of both teams, thanks to the uniqueness of the two contracts that were exchanged.

In the deal, Cleveland sent Alonzo Gee to the Hornets for Brendan Haywood and the No. 45 overall pick, a pick the Cavaliers then used on Stanford forward Dwight Powell, who joins Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Tristan Thompson as the fourth Canadian on the roster.

On the surface, this looked like the Hornets paying the Cavaliers the No. 45 pick to take on Haywood's $2.2 million cap hit for this season.

That's surely how the Hornets saw it. Gee as a fully non-guaranteed contract for 2014-15, meaning they can waive him and have effectively cleared Haywood's salary from their books. For a team that stands to have roughly $20 million in cap space, that extra wiggle room beneath the cap could be the difference between a second-tier free agent and a third tier one. For example, it could be the difference between landing Lance Stephenson or settling for Swaggy P.

The deal is much more important for the Cavs, however. Powell could be a nice player, but he alone probably wouldn't be worth absorbing Haywood for, especially considering the Cavs also hope to be free agent players. 

Instead, it's the 2015-16 year on Haywood's contract that is the real asset Cleveland acquired. Due to the language of the collective bargaining agreement, when the Hornets put an Amnexty claim on Haywood after he was waived by the Dallas Mavericks, the Hornets had Haywood under contract at the amount of their bid (the $2.2 million figure), except for the final year on his deal.

Haywood has a 2015-16 salary on the books at $10.5 million, except it's entirely non-guaranteed. That means the Cavs could waive it without paying him a cent or losing any 2015 cap space, or, far more importantly, use him as what is essentially a giant trade exception. In short, they could use that $10.5 million contract for the purposes of salary matching in a trade next summer, and the team acquiring him could waive him without paying a dime.

That's an enormous asset to have in the warchest. It cost the Cavs some cap space in the interim, but it landed them Powell and gave them what should be a major weapon for adding a star next summer. It's a shrewd move by new general manager David Griffin.