In the quiet of August, with most free agents signed and no substantive trade talks going on for the big names on the market, rumors that would be little more than whispers get projected as shouts because of a lack of competition.
That’s what happened with the Cleveland Cavaliers and restricted free agent P.J. Washington. The big man out of Kentucky has played the last four seasons in Charlotte and is stuck in limbo this summer, wanting a new long-term contract that the Hornets are unwilling to give to him.
A fellow NBA writer mentioned on Twitter (who I hope breaks up with their ‘X’ soon) that he had heard the Cavaliers were interested in Washington, and that was aggregated around until hundreds of Cavaliers fans were discussing the possibility. But how much could you trust a rumor that wasn’t substantiated by an established source?
That tension was relieved this week, when respected Cleveand.com Cavaliers Insider Chris Fedor wrote about Washington and the Cavs and confirmed that there is a connection between the Cavaliers and P.J. Washington. He also clarified that, despite interest from Cleveland, there aren’t any meaningful conversations happening right now.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are interested in P.J. Washington
The fit of P.J. Washington on the Cavaliers make sense, as he is something of a switch-big who is best deployed at power forward but can switch onto centers and has the strength not to get overwhelmed. A 36.6 percent 3-point shooter for his career, Washington would pair well with either Jarrett Allen or Evan Mobley and be a plus on both ends of the court.
The more difficult fit for Washington is his salary. As Fedor points out in his piece, teams allowing a player to walk in a sign-and-trade generally don’t want to be bogged down with returning salary. That’s why the Cavs had to loop in San Antonio to make the Max Strus deal work.
We discussed the financial situation at length earlier this month, explaining the different options for matching salary and what kind of a deal Washington could sign for. We also proposed an example trade, which would send a minimum of salary back to the Hornets. Fedor, either in ignorance of the new salary-matching rules in the CBA or in recognition that the Cavs will want to approach a salary-neutral deal, suggests Dean Wade and Ricky Rubio as a return.
If the cost is Wade, Rubio and two seconds, the Cavaliers have to decide whether Washington is good enough to spend nearly all of the bullets remaining in the chamber. At the same time, the Hornets have to decide if that return is worth it. Washington, for his part, has to agree to a contract number that is likely less than what he’s been seeking after from Charlotte.
That’s a lot of moving parts and parties that have to buy in, making this deal a longshot even if the Hornets and Washington don’t come to a deal. Yet the confirmation of this rumor from a plugged-in source makes it real. Burblings about Donovan Mitchell, Max Strus and Lauri Markkanen all became reality in each of the past three offseasons, so it shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.
The Cavaliers are trying to build the best possible team to win now and in the future. Is Washington the right player to help them achieve that goal? It’s a worthy question, but the realities of his situation may give them an avenue to add a better player than they could get elsewhere for the assets they have. That could make this a situation to jump on.