The Cavaliers have added a veteran big man for the stretch run. In a three-team trade, Cleveland acquired Channing Frye from the Magic while sending Anderson Varejao and Jared Cunnigham to the Trail Blazers. Both Varejao and Cunningham are reportedly expected to be waived. Portland also receives a 2018 first-round pick from the Cavs and the Magic get a second-rounder from the Blazers. SI.com grades the deal below.
Cleveland Cavaliers: A-
Cavaliers receive: Channing Frye
As if firing coach David Blatt while sitting atop the East’s standings wasn’t clear enough evidence that the Cavaliers are serious about their championship push, GM David Griffin traded away longtime fan favorite Anderson Varejao on Tuesday. The 33-year-old Varejao, who has been in Cleveland since 2004 and remained in town during LeBron James’s four-year detour to Miami, received only scant playing time this season after coming back from an Achilles injury earlier in the year. His friendship with James and the good feelings he built up in Cleveland over the last decade-plus weren’t enough to keep him in town for the latest title push; instead, Griffin dumped Varejao’s salary into the Blazers’ open cap space and added stretch big man Channing Frye in his place.
Frye, 32, is a clear upgrade over Varejao despite his modest 2015–16 stats (5.2 PPG, 3.2 RPG). He’s younger, more agile, much more durable, and he’s a career 38.7% three-point shooter who gives coach Tyronn Lue the ability to play ultra-spaced lineups with Frye and Kevin Love together. A fit at either the four or the five, Frye represents a compelling addition to a frontline that also includes Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov. The Cavaliers now enter the playoff push with no major weak links in their group of bigs: They’re capable of matching up against traditional teams (Mozgov at the 5) and small-ball looks (Thompson, Love or Frye at the 5) alike while also creating matchup concerns for their opponents with their shooter-heavy combination (Love and Frye together).
The biggest knock on this deal from a basketball standpoint? Frye might not prove to be a difference-maker against the Warriors and Spurs in a theoretical Finals matchup, as he’s not a major rim-protecting presence and he’s not quite versatile enough to keep up when either the Warriors or Spurs go to super-small lineups. Still, Cleveland must get to the Finals first, and Frye should help them do that. Let’s not forget the Cavaliers’ horrible injury luck down the stretch last year, either. Frye would likely have played a major role for Cleveland following Love’s first-round injury.
From a money standpoint, Cleveland is trading short-term savings for longer-term obligations. Taking on Frye ($8.2M) and dumping Varejao ($9.7M) and Cunningham ($981K) lowers Cleveland’s payroll number by roughly $2.5 million and generates an actual savings of more than $10 million because the Cavaliers are significantly over the luxury tax threshold. However, Frye is under contract through 2017–18 ($7.8M in 2016–17 and $7.4M in 2017–18) whereas Varejao’s final guaranteed year was next season. For Cleveland, agreeing to take on the extra year of Frye is simply the price of doing business when the franchise is in title-or-bust mode.
Griffin sacrificed a 2018 first-round pick to sublet Portland’s cap space for Varejao. James will be 33 during the 2017–18 season, and both Love and Kyrie Irving are already under contract for that year. In other words, barring some crazy turn of events, that pick is unlikely to be a top-20 selection. For Cleveland, in desperate search of its first title, this is a worthwhile cost to add a truly functional big man.
Orlando Magic: F
Magic receive: Jared Cunningham (from CLE), second-round pick (from POR)
When Orlando signed Frye to a four-year, $32 million contract in 2014, it seemed like an awkward fit. Why was a rebuilding team overpaying to add a veteran role player? Less than two years later, the Frye era in Orlando is over and the whole thing goes down as a colossal waste of time and money.
Frye never came close to duplicating his career-year production from his earlier days in Phoenix, he never helped lift Orlando towards respectability, and he brought virtually nothing in return as a trade piece. Remember, future trade value was always looming as the Magic’s back-up justification for signing him. All they managed was a second-round pick, a player they reportedly plan to waive (Cunningham), and the right not to pay Frye for the final 2.5 years of his four-year deal. Let’s throw a party. A pity party.
Given that the Magic were already below the salary cap line before this move, there’s no immediate reason to get excited about the savings generated by dumping Frye. For now, this is a matter of a losing team squeezing some financial relief out of another sub-.500 season. That could change come July, when the Magic hope to use their young core to attract an A-list free agent, but the Magic have swung and missed on that front in recent years and they will face stiff competition from all corners thanks to the extra spending power generated by the rising salary cap. Heavy skepticism that the Magic can salvage this deal by adding an impact free agent is warranted given GM Rob Hennigan’s lackluster track record.
Portland Trail Blazers: B-
Trail Blazers receive: Anderson Varejao (from CLE), 2018 first-round pick (from CLE)
The Blazers, well under the NBA’s salary cap floor, seemed poised to use their cap space to add an asset for months. They accomplished that goal in textbook fashion, accepting Varejao’s contract ($9.7M this year and $9.3M next year) in exchange for a 2018 first-round pick. Paying Varejao this year bears no negative consequence, as Portland would have had to shell out money to reach the cap floor anyway. In fact, the timing of the trade helps Portland save a good chunk of change.
As for Varejao’s future obligation, the Blazers are uniquely positioned with significant flexibility. Damian Lillard’s max rookie extension is the only contract of real significance on their books to date and they’re unlikely to attract a top-tier free agent this summer. The Blazers reportedly plan to waive Varejao, a clear non-fit on a young, up-and-coming roster, and they will be able to decide whether to pay him off next year or pay him off over multiple seasons using the stretch provision. Either way, paying Varejao’s 2016–17 salary number shouldn’t impact Portland’s ability to offer extensions to Meyers Leonard, CJ McCollum and its other young core pieces down the line. There’s no cap-crimping going on here.
The Blazers will gladly welcome an incoming first-round pick, even they have to wait two years to receive it and even if it’s towards the end of the draft, because they will send their 2016 first-round pick to the Nuggets if they make the playoffs this season. It might be helpful, then, to think of this trade as a hedge: the worst-case scenario for Portland this season was making the playoffs, getting swept immediately and losing their pick in the process. Now, the pick aspect of that worst-case scenario is a little less painful.