Alec Burks is the currently man of the hour in Cleveland. After being dealt to the Cavaliers in exchange for Kyle Korver, Burks has performed well, including a game-winning dunk with three seconds remaining against the Brooklyn Nets on Monday.
Burks is a great fit for the Cavs and has clearly improved the team, but he will likely not remain a Cavalier for the long-term. He is a good player, but there is no reason to keep him around, and every reason to trade him.
Alec Burks is a 27-year-old veteran in his eighth NBA season. He has been a role player for his entire career, and a very good one at that. He averages 9.6 points per game for his career while shooting 35% from three-point range. He can play shooting guard or small forward, and has solid rebounding skills. He is an excellent person to have in the locker room, as he is revered by his former teammates in Utah.
It seems like Burks is a great person, player, and fit, so why wouldn’t the Cavaliers want to keep him? The answer lies in his contract and Cleveland’s timeline. In 2015, Burks signed a four-year contract worth $42 million. He makes a little over $11 million this season, and is an unrestricted free agent next summer. Sure, the Cavs could attempt to re-sign him, but what’s the point in that? He will be looking for his last big contract, as he is still in his prime. He would be too expensive for the Cavaliers to really consider retaining him, as he isn’t the superstar they need to return to competing.
He is too old (27 is not old by NBA standards, but the Cavs have no use for a role player his age) to stay with the team for cheap until they are competitive again. While Burks is here, he will be playing quite a bit, in order to inflate his numbers and make him more attractive to other teams.
Why should other teams want him? Well, for starters, he is a very good bench player. He can shoot the three and is a good slasher. Every NBA contender could use a scorer like him, and that makes his potential market quite large. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, his contract will be incredibly valuable to teams. Since he has no salary for next season, any team that acquires him can create about $11 million in cap space for free agency next summer. The same goes for George Hill and J.R. Smith’s deals. Any team that trades for Burks (or Hill) is getting a fantastic value; a solid veteran player who can contribute to a playoff run at a high level, a positive locker room presence, and cap relief for next year.
Furthermore, because the Cavaliers are finally below the luxury tax threshold, they can actually take back around $16 million in salary in a Burks trade. This gives the team much more flexibility in pursuing a deal.
According to Joe Vardon of The Athletic, “Burks is widely expected to be traded again this season because he’s on an expiring contract worth $11.5 million.” This makes perfect sense, and it confirms that the Cavs were looking to the future when they traded Kyle Korver. While Korver is probably a more valuable player than Burks because of his elite shooting ability, the Cavaliers now have more trade options with Burks because of his expiring salary.
While Burks probably will be traded again at some point this season, it may be a while before something happens. NBA rules prohibit a player that has been traded from being traded again in tandem with another player until 60 days have passed from the original transaction. There will be a short time-frame between when the 60 days end (January 28th) and the NBA trade deadline (February 7th). Expect something to happen around then, as the Cavs could really bring in some assets if they combine Hill and Burks’ contracts.
In any deal for Burks, Hill, or Smith, Cleveland should look to acquire young players with potential and future draft picks, and they will obtain those through both the value of Burks, Hill, and Smith as players, as well as taking on bad contracts in return. While the Cavs did not end up trading for the Philadelphia 76ers’ Markelle Fultz, that deal could still happen at some point, including a straight-up swap for Burks.
There are also a myriad of terrible contracts in the NBA, so the Cavaliers’ options on that front will not be limited at all. Potential players include Chandler Parsons, who is owed $24 million this season and $25 next year, Nicolas Batum (who is owed nearly $77 million through 2020-2021, including a player option, which he will almost certainly accept), and Tyler Johnson, who will make over $19 million both this season and next.
General manager Koby Altman’s track record is not very good, but the Kyle Korver trade was a smart move. Not only did the team acquire two future second-round picks, but they also arguably gained an even more valuable player to flip at the trade deadline. If Altman can turn Burks into a bad contract and a first-round pick, or a young player with potential such as Fultz, he will have proved himself as an NBA GM.
Burks may very well end up on his third team this season, but it won’t be by his choice. When asked about remaining in Cleveland, Burks answered “Hopefully. That’s not up to me, We will see what happens.” Burks seems to realize that his position as a member of the Cavaliers is not set in stone, even though it has nothing to do with him personally. Even in his short time with the team, he has been a model professional, and it won’t be easy to let him go.
However, the NBA is a business, and the Cavs must do what is best for the team’s future. That means trading Burks, along with other veterans on the team. Burks may have just gotten here, but he will likely be on his way out soon, whether that is fair or not.