The Cleveland Cavaliers are the defending NBA champions, yet they are currently benefiting from the flukiest loophole in today’s NBA, thus helping make the rich even richer.
If a player on an NBA roster prior to March 1 is waived before the March 1 deadline, he can then sign with a contending team and be eligible to participate in the postseason. Therefore, with the NBA trade deadline occurring approximately one week before that waiver deadline, it has become a common trend for bad teams to buy out or waive costly veterans, thus allowing those veterans to sign with contenders.
It is a win-win for everyone involved. For one, the veteran player, who is only interested in contending for rings at this point in his career, can then join a team with a legitimate shot of winning it all. Also, the bad team can rid itself of a hefty contract and a player not too interested in giving it his all for said bad team. Moreover, that frees up playing time for a young player who could ultimately help turn the team around in the coming years. And, lastly, the obvious benefactor is the good team that adds a solid veteran to its roster for a relatively small fee.
This year’s Cavs are a prime example. After LeBron’s epic rant concerning his team needing another “fucking playmaker,” Cavs management acted fairly quickly to placate King James, adding former Dallas Mavericks Andrew Bogut and Deron Williams off of the waiver wire after Bogut was shipped away by the Mavs to the Philadelphia 76ers at the trade deadline and subsequently waived and Williams was unable to be bought out by Dallas and was subsequently waived, as well.
Although both over the hill and injury-prone, Bogut and Williams are still solid players who can make major differences for any team, even one as already great as Cleveland. Their signings are very fluky but fit with the current NBA landscape. Gone are the days when team chemistry was considered the driving force behind a championship-caliber NBA team. Now, having the best possible players at all times is the main concern, as the quest for rings is as urgent as it has ever been for players, coaches, executives and even ardent fans.
Of course, championship-caliber teams have always looked to improve themselves at the trade deadline, but at least they had to give up something in return that might hurt them in the long run to temporarily get better. These waiver wire signings, on the other hand, are effectively NBA’s version of pork barrel politics. The good team adds a good player for a fairly small contract, as both parties are interested in only one thing this late in the season: winning the whole thing.
And it’s becoming more impactful with each passing season. In 2013, the San Antonio Spurs converted a fluky late-season signing by inking a washed-up Tracy McGrady to a deal so that he could provide a veteran voice in the locker room. So, essentially, no big deal. Fast forward four years, and the Cavs sign a center who is a year removed from starting on the team with the best regular season record in the history of the NBA.
But that’s one of the many fluky aspects of modern sports, all designed to speed up the process of becoming a championship-caliber team. In the case of the Cleveland Cavaliers, they are obviously championship-caliber, but LeBron is not in the mood for patiently waiting for more titles. He wants as many as he can get as soon as he can get them. As a result, enter Bogut and Williams. The signings may pay off for Cleveland, but they may not. Regardless, expect Cleveland and any other contenders to attempt to do something similar around this time next year and many, many years after that, as this is the new reality of an NBA fueled by ring envy.