As the Cleveland Cavaliers have marched to a league-worst 8-31 record, the one light at the end of the tunnel in what's been a disaster of a season has been the likelihood that the team will wind up with one of the top picks in the 2019 NBA Draft.
That, however, could now be in jeopardy.
According to Marc Stein of The New York Times, the NBA is launching an investigation into the Cavs' signing and subsequent release of former Golden State Warriors guard Patrick McCaw. If wrongdoing is found, Cleveland could face stiff punishments, including fines as high as $3 million to $6 million or the loss of draft picks.
The latter would be a severe, franchise-altering penalty for the Cavs, who will likely be one of the three teams with the best odds of landing the No. 1 pick at the NBA Draft Lottery this spring. Under the collective bargaining agreement, Cleveland would forfeit any picks rather than surrendering them to the Warriors.
While determining guilt could prove difficult, the circumstances surrounding the Cavs' signing of McCaw were curious.
Following the 2017-18 season, McCaw became a restricted free agent, giving the Warriors the right to match any deal he signed with another team. The two sides remained at a stalemate until Dec. 28, when Cleveland signed him to a fully non-guaranteed two-year, $6 million offer sheet.
With Golden State declining to match a deal that would have cost them approximately $11 million in luxury tax penalties, McCaw became a member of the Cavs. But after appearing in just three games, the 23-year-old guard was then waived by Cleveland, allowing him to hit unrestricted free agency before his deal became fully guaranteed.
"The whole thing was kind of strange," Warriors head coach Steve Kerr told reporters on Tuesday, per The Associated Press. "I don't know that there's been a totally non-guaranteed offer sheet before."
From Golden State's vantage point, the Cavs were doing McCaw and his agent, Billy Duffy, a favor, by providing a path to unrestricted free agency that may not have existed otherwise. Cleveland, meanwhile, will likely argue that it was merely attempting to meet the ever-changing needs of its depleted roster, doing so by signing a young swingman with plenty of upside.
At the center of the NBA's investigation will be the question of whether the Cavs signed McCaw with an agreement in place that they would then waive him. Finding that answer could prove difficult.
But if the league does, it could provide long-lasting damage to a franchise that can't afford to take another hit.