The Cavs sent center Rakeem Christmas, the No. 36 overall pick in June's draft, to the Pacers for a 2019 second-round pick owed by the Los Angeles Lakers. The trade gives the Cavs roster flexibility and an asset they can use to move Haywood and create a large trade exception in the next week.
After the trade, the Pacers and Christmas agreed to a four-year deal with the first two seasons guaranteed, sources said.
While a final decision hasn't been reached, the Cavs have nearly come to the conclusion that they will not be able to find a suitable deal to use Haywood's $10.52 million non-guaranteed contract, sources said.
The Cavs shopped the contract around to numerous teams over the past six weeks but weren't able to settle on a deal they liked. Other possible trades, including talks with the Brooklyn Nets involving Joe Johnson, dried up when teams made other moves. Part of the reason the Cavs agreed to a minimum contract with free-agent forward Richard Jefferson this week was because they realized they'd just about exhausted their Haywood options and decided to move on.
The Cavs have also been concerned about taking on additional salaries because they are facing historic luxury-tax penalties this season. LeBron James, Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert are starting huge new contracts, and free agent Tristan Thompson is expected to follow.
In a separate move on Thursday, the Cavs agreed to a one-year, $1.45 million minimum-salary deal with veteran James Jones. He averaged 4.4 points in 20 playoff games for the Cavs last season.
The Cavs are considering options to move Haywood before Aug. 1, when the contract becomes guaranteed, and create what would be the largest trade exception currently in the NBA. The Cavs used a trade exception they created last summer to trade for Timofey Mozgov during last season, a move that helped turn their season around. Creating a large exception would leave their options open for trades going into the season.
The Portland Trail Blazers and Philadelphia 76ers are the only teams with enough cap space to absorb Haywood and create a trade exception for Cleveland. The Utah Jazz are also close but would have to trade or cut several players with non-guaranteed contracts to do so.
The Cavs will likely make a deal with one of these teams, and then Haywood would be immediately waived before his salary is guaranteed. To rent out this cap space, even for just a few hours, the Cavs might need to surrender a draft pick. Until last month, the Cavs didn't own any second-round picks until 2020 but have acquired two 2019 second-rounders over the past months. They also have the rights to a handful of overseas players.
Thus the Christmas trade gives them an asset to help make a future deal with the soon-to-be-created trade exception. Christmas played in four games for the Cavs' summer league team in Las Vegas, averaging eight points and 4.5 rebounds. With a veteran team and a large tax bill, it was questionable whether the Cavs would have even looked to sign Christmas this season.
Another possible reason the Cavs moved on from Christmas is that they have another backup big-man option in Sasha Kaun, a 2008 Cavs draft pick who has been playing in Russia. Kaun, who also played at Kansas, met with the Cavs last week in Las Vegas. The team still has $1.2 million left of its taxpayer midlevel exception, and they might use it on Kaun.