On one of the wildest first days of NBA free agency in recent memory, the league's biggest headlining team hogged the spotlight.
Less than a month after bowing out in the NBA Finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers made three splashes to ensure they won't be relinquishing their spot atop the Eastern Conference anytime soon. It began with Kevin Love announcing his return to Cleveland on The Players' Tribune, just minutes after it was reported that the Cavaliers were nearing an agreement on an $80 million extension with Tristan Thompson. A few hours later Y! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reported that restricted free agent Iman Shumpert had agreed to a $40 million deal to stay with the reigning East champions.
In a span of 5 hours owner Dan Gilbert and general manager David Griffin gave LeBron James their answer about how the franchise planned on re-tooling the team's supporting cast. No, James was never in doubt of leaving Cleveland after opting out of his contract last week, but the statement made Wednesday by the front office proves that they'll pay any amount - and that luxury tax bill is going to be massive - to keep the four-time MVP happy and give him his best chance at a third (and Cleveland's first) NBA title.
With Kyrie Irving in the second year of a $90 million deal, Anderson Varejao due $30 million over the next three years, the team still needing to make decisions on Matthew Dellavedova (RFA) and J.R. Smith (opted out) and James needing a maximum deal, the money spent Wednesday will be part of what could be the largest payroll in NBA history.
But such is life with three max players, one of whom is the world's best player; Miami paid nearly $34 million in luxury tax penalties the final three seasons of James' tenure, per ShamSports.com. Cleveland also paid the luxury tax the final three seasons of James' first stay in Cleveland.
Money aside, and really whomever the Cavaliers fill in to complement their core, Wednesday's moves cement Cleveland as the team to beat for the foreseeable future. Assuming James never bolts from Cleveland again, their top four players will be under contract through at least 2019.
Last year Varejao missed all but 26 games, Kevin Love suffered a dislocated shoulder in the first round of the playoffs and Kyrie Irving fractured a kneecap in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. In a year where James and the Cavaliers were at their most vulnerable, they still won 53 games, went 12-2 in the East playoffs and were up 2-1 with homecourt advantage against the Warriors.
Wednesday's moves - Love wasn't a sure thing to return to Cleveland, and Shumpert reportedly was not close on a deal earlier in the day - feel like an already dangerous team recommitting and reloading around James.
On a day when the Bulls felt good about signing Mike Dunleavy Jr. for three years and getting All-Star Jimmy Butler to commit to a five-year max deal, the Cavaliers again one-upped their Central Division rivals.