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Attention Cavs fans: Collin Sexton is not on this team

Collin Sexton, Cleveland Cavaliers. Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images
Collin Sexton, Cleveland Cavaliers. Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images /

Collin Sexton is an incredibly talented young guard, a fierce competitor and fearless finisher inside who has never let his size stop him from attacking. Over four years with the Cleveland Cavaliers he has demonstrated a will to score no matter the opposition, and has seen success, especially in averaging 24.3 points per game two seasons ago.

Currently, he is also swathed in trade rumors, and as such the Cavs and many fans are discussing potential destinations and trade returns. That’s not because the Cavs don’t want Sexton to be a part of their team moving forward, as they have consistently said that they do, but rather because their idea of Sexton’s role and contract value are very different than his.

As these conversations swirl around, one fact of the situation seems to escape many fans of the Cavs, whether they are writing articles or hosting podcasts or just sharing their thoughts on Twitter. Unfortunately for their conclusions, this fact is fundamental to the entire situation, and it renders many of their ideas moot. What is that fact?

Collin Sexton is not a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers

That may seem obvious to some and ridiculous to others, but it’s the fact of the matter. Collin Sexton is not currently on the roster of the Cleveland Cavaliers. He is a free agent, unsigned by the Cavs or any team. Any idea of the Cavs trading him has to take this into account.

The relationship between the Cavaliers and Sexton right now is that the team holds his restricted free agent rights. That means they have the ability to match any contract that Sexton goes out and signs with another team. This right of refusal dampens the market for his services, and very few restricted free agents actually sign an offer sheet with another team.

Only one has done so this summer, when center DeAndre Ayton signed a max contract with the Indiana Pacers; the Phoenix Suns matched that offer immediately, and Ayton will remain with the Suns.

Sexton has not found a team to sign him to an offer sheet yet, and the Cavs have held firm on a contract offer of around $13 million per season, which Sexton has not agreed to yet. That leaves the two sides in something of a holding pattern, and it’s reasonable to therefore look at potential trade opportunities.

A sign-and-trade is when a team that wants to sign a free agent works out a deal with that player’s former team. Instead of risking the Cavs matching a contract for Sexton, the other team can send some sort of asset back, be that players, draft picks or both, incentivizing the Cavs to sign Sexton and immediately trade him to that new team.

That’s all well and good, but now that we’ve given this situation all of the proper context, let’s land on the problem. As everyone explores the potential trade market for Sexton, they seem to be forgetting one very important fact: Sexton is not on the team!

That means the players and picks who might realistically be sent back to the Cavs in any proposed Sexton sign-and-trade are going to be much less valuable than Sexton would be if he were under contract. If the Cavs had Sexton signed to a four-year, $64 million contract, for example, they would be negotiating for the acquisition of Sexton. The trades they consider would be balanced on a scale with Sexton on the other side.

That’s not what is happening here. The Cavs aren’t trading Sexton; they’re simply trading away their right of refusal. Picture that scale in your mind. On one side is a piece of paper that says “the Cavs can match any contract Sexton signs”. On the other is whatever player or picks might be worth that right, not what might be equal to Sexton’s value.

Those ideas that Cavs fans have about trading Sexton for a star-level player? They aren’t happening. That’s even more true now, as Sexton’s leverage lowers day by day in trying to find a team that will pay him more than the Cavs are offering. Sexton isn’t the centerpiece of a deal for Donovan Mitchell, he isn’t going to be flipped for some starting small forward, his rights aren’t worth even a first-round pick.

We ran a piece a few days ago looking at some wings the Cavs could target in a sign-and-trade. The names in the piece were Gary Harris, Joe Harris and Reggie Bullock. Those are solid 3-and-D wings who could start or come off the bench in a strong rotation. They are also the sort of low-upside players that many Cavs fans can’t imagine trading Sexton for.

Is Collin Sexton a more valuable player, with a higher ceiling, than a role player 3-and-D wing? Yes, that’s likely true. But the Cavs aren’t trading Sexton the player for Joe Shooter the role player; they are just trading his restricted free agent rights.

With Kevin Durant agreeing (for now) to return to the Brooklyn Nets, and Donovan Mitchell looking destined for the New York Knicks, it’s possible the free agent market comes alive again and the rest of the offseason transactions happen. There could be news anytime on the Sexton front.

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Be diligent now to set the right expectations, for yourself and for other fans of the Cavs. Whatever your personal evaluation of Sexton, as a star or a Sixth Man, remember that the Cavs aren’t looking for fair value for Sexton in return; they’re asking for an incentive not to match a contract. That star you want? They’re not walking through the door.