The Cleveland Cavaliers entered the weekend focused on three main exit strategies for Andrew Bynum as the Jan. 7 guarantee date on the remaining $6 million of the center's 2013-14 salary fast approaches Tuesday, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.
Sources said Utah Jazz veteran swingman Richard Jefferson has emerged as a new trade target for the Cavaliers after ongoing talks with the Los Angeles Lakers on a deal centered around the swap of former teammates Pau Gasol and Bynum remained at an impasse Friday.
A deal with Utah that would send Jefferson to Cleveland and likewise allow the Jazz to acquire and waive Bynum before the other half of his $12.3 million salary this season becomes guaranteed is one of three primary options for the Cavaliers. The other two, sources said Friday, are continuing talks with the Lakers this weekend in hopes of hashing out trade terms both teams can stomach, or electing to keep Bynum beyond Tuesday's deadline and then reshopping him as a trade asset before the Feb. 20 trade deadline, or, if necessary, again in late June and early July.
Any team that has Bynum on its roster Jan. 7 can immediately wipe $6 million of its books this season by waiving him that day by 5 p.m. But sources said that Cleveland is strongly weighing the idea of keeping Bynum if it can't trade him by then, despite the fact it would fully guarantee the former All-Star center an extra $6 million.
In that scenario -- even if he never played another second for the Cavs -- Bynum theoretically could be an attractive trade piece in connection with the June draft or immediately after it because his $12.5 million salary in 2014-15 is fully nonguaranteed. Any team that has Bynum on its roster in July can erase the $12.5 million as long as he clears waivers by July 10.
ESPN reported Thursday that talks headlined by Gasol and Bynum had stalled, largely because the Lakers are seeking an additional quality asset from the Cavs on top of Bynum's cap-friendly contract, which could save Los Angeles more than $20 million in salary and luxury tax if it acquired Bynum next week and immediately released him. Sources say that L.A. also covets either a young prospect or a future first-round pick as well as Bynum if it parts with Gasol, but Cleveland has been unwilling to put either of those assets on the table.
It's believed that Utah's demands in a deal headlined by Jefferson and Bynum would be far more modest in comparison, given that Jefferson, at 33, has essentially been a role player for the past five seasons after a long run as a slashing scorer in both New Jersey and Milwaukee.
Cleveland, though, has been looking to upgrade its options at small forward for some time. And Jefferson, averaging 9.9 points in his debut season with the Jazz as an $11 million player, is shooting 41.7 percent from 3-point range and would bring some needed know-how to the position for the Cavs, who remain hopeful of reaching the playoffs in the inviting Eastern Conference after a three-season drought dating to the free-agent exodus of LeBron James.
Sources say the Cavs and Lakers remained engaged in talks as of Friday, leaving open the possibility that an agreement can be struck. But ESPN reported Friday night that the Lakers believe they have other routes to getting under the luxury tax threshold beyond just swapping the four-time All-Star for the instant cap relief Bynum's contract would provide.
By late Friday night, the Lakers were cooling on the trade altogether, fearing that "we're further apart than ever," as one source told ESPNLosAngeles.com's Ramona Shelburne.
Trading for and then waiving Bynum could take the Lakers below the luxury-tax line for the first time in seven years. Yet sources say the Lakers remain reluctant to part with Gasol before giving the team time to recover from an ongoing wave of injuries that has derailed their season. Point guard Jordan Farmar was the latest to go down, suffering a hamstring tear that is expected to sideline him for a month. The Lakers (14-19) had lost six games in a row before beating Jefferson and Utah on Friday night.
There is, however, some tangible pressure on the Lakers to get out of the luxury tax to help with future flexibility. If the Lakers remain a tax team at season's end, going into the tax in either of the next two seasons would trigger a costly "repeater tax" that the franchise hopes to avoid. The Lakers' plan, in the wake of signing Kobe Bryant to a two-year, $48.5 million extension in late November, is to be major free-agent players the next two summers.
Sources say the Cavs have been shopping Bynum all over the league this week after a series of flare-ups with various coaches convinced the team's management to suspend him last weekend and effectively end its experiment with him.
Cleveland (11-21) signed Bynum to the largely nonguaranteed two-year, $25 million contract last summer after the 26-year-old missed the entire 2012-13 season with Philadelphia thanks to knee issues that have plagued him for years. The Sixers' failed gamble with Bynum came as part of the four-team blockbuster trade in August 2012 that landed Dwight Howard with the Lakers.
Information from ESPNLosAngeles.com's Ramona Shelburne and Dave McMenamin was used in this report.