Cavaliers Offseason Report: The King’s Ransom

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2016/17 Record: 51 – 31 (Lost the NBA Finals)

2017/18 Salaries: $137,889,758 (Luxury Tax Team) – full CLE salary cap situation – here.

Incoming Draft Picks: BKN ’18 1st, MIN/LAL ’19 2nd (Less Favourable), MIA ’20 2nd, POR ’20 2nd (56-60).

Outgoing Draft Picks: PHI/CHA ’18 2nd, ATL ’19 1st (11-30), ORL/DET/SAC/NYK ’19 2nd, LAC ’20 2nd.

Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 8.31.13 pmThe entire NBA Cavaliers offseason was as dramatic as they come. After losing the trilogy matchup against the Warriors in the NBA Finals, Cleveland looked like it was preparing itself for potentially the last crusade in 17/18. With LeBron James holding a Player Option for 18/19 and likely in the final year of his current deal, the Warriors somehow improved again while the Cavaliers were limited in what they could achieve. There was a sense of inevitability in the air when it came to Cleveland’s offseason.

Dan Gilbert had other ideas.

Cleveland’s owner decided to jettison General Manager, David Griffin, unable to reach a new agreement with the man who led his team to three straight Finals. Then proceeded to spearhead an attempt to land unproven executive Chauncey Billups to replace him. He  cheaped out failed and instead promoted current staffer, Koby Altman, to run the Cavs front office.

Then came Kyrie Irving’s trade demand – at least publicly – and the rest is now etched in Cavs folklore.

Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and star recruit The Brooklyn Pick are now all in wine and gold. It’s that return for Irving, which may find the Cavs owner held for ransom for the second time before the 17/18 plays out. Gilbert’s franchise received a return that is half built for now and half for the future. When the best player in the game is on your books for one more guaranteed year, that can really only go one of two ways.

The All For One Approach

A player of James’ calibre comes around once in a generation. That much is clear. The Cavs finally broke the Cleveland Curse in 2016, and may be pressed to go All In for 2017/18, as they realise that winning is their only best chance to retain the King’s services.

When Irving decided he wanted to leave for greener pastures, the Cavs could hardly have anticipated the haul they ended up acquiring. Altman played this one perfectly. Yes, Thomas’ hip injury is troubling, but ultimately there could hardly be a better short-term replacement for Irving to acquire. Irving the slightly better ISO player, Thomas the better 3pt shooter and foul drawer, their overall numbers are strikingly similar. With Thomas  in the final year of his contract, the Cavs are not financially wedded to him – and could decide to re-compete or re-build depending on LBJ’s decision.

The addition of Crowder will be a welcome one for King James. Crowder immediately provides the Cavs with a plus defender, allowing LeBron to rest against a weaker defensive match-up and providing Coach Lue the ability to deploy lineups that could (in theory) make the Warriors work that little bit harder for their buckets. While the addition of Crowder is a boon for the Cavs, it’ll be intriguing to see how he takes to being a sixth man. After two seasons of starting on a contender, and with three more years remaining on his very reasonable contract, will Salt Jae be happy with a bit part role?

If the Cavaliers begin to falter like they did in the 16/17 regular season, the pressure will be turned up by LeBron on Gilbert and Altman. The obvious high-level assets the Cavs have to potentially move are the BKN pick and Kevin Love. In a post-LBJ world, the Cavaliers may need Love to wind back the clock and go Minnesota-mode. That leaves the pick, and you can bet there will be teams calling about it – particularly if the Nets are as bad as advertised.

Perhaps as rumoured, a player like DeMarcus Cousins would be obtainable with a combination of assets including the BKN pick. A Cousins move would be a win now strategy, with only a small chance at retaining him in a post-King future. Cleveland may decide the only way to truly conquer this version of the Warriors is to go big. It’s unlikely that any small-ball five-man lineup can top what the Dubs throw out on a nightly basis and a trade for Cousins, would be moving it All For One last hurruh.

An alternate ending to this approach could be yet another half and half trade using the BKN pick. With limited game changing options in a single player obtainable with the pick, there is a chance they look to move it along with some contracts for multiple players. The Detroit Pistons loom as an intriguing trade partner if that were to eventuate.

If things don’t go to plan for Van Gundy again to begin the season, he may decide the lure of a pick still sitting in the Top Three by Christmas is enough to consider blowing it up. A package of Andre Drummond, Avery Bradley and Stanley Johnson while offloading the likes of Iman Shumpert and Channing Frye, has a little bit of everything for the Cavs. They may need to include a player like Tristan Thompson but it would be a worthy deal to compete next season and beyond – giving the Cavs three fifth’s of last seasons Celtics starting lineup, plus a dominant big and an intriguing young(ish) piece in Bradley.

The One For All Approach

It may appear as the safe option but going around one more time while preserving the future of the franchise, might prove as much a risk and reward strategy as the previous.

Cleveland will find itself in a fight for the title, with much of what they have above save for any return on the Brooklyn draft pick. Refusing to trade any of their future assets for win now pieces may drive LeBron out of his hometown or at least run the risk of it appearing to. However, the gutsy decision will almost certainly position them better than the last time James left.

First time around, the Cavaliers were left with the bones of a team built poorly around LeBron James when he left for South Beach. There were highly paid veterans such as Antawn Jamison and Mo Williams (who was luckily flipped for Baron Davis and a pick that became Irving) eating up the salary cap, with next to no promising prospects to build the next team around. The Cavs endured four losing seasons before the King returned, with the luck of the lottery and fortune of losing basketball the only reason they had number one picks Irving, Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins to build a new team. In fact, no member of the 10/11 Cavs remained on the roster when James returned to Ohio.

If James were to leave after the 17/18 season with the Cavs making no short-sighted trades, they might just be able to start the rebuild a little earlier this time around. Even after Irving decided to bolt first.

The prize possession would be a Nets pick likely to fall anywhere in the Top Five and land one of Luka Doncic, Michael Porter Jr., Marvin Bagley III, DeAndre Ayton or Mohamed Bamba to build a future around. That to go along with Ante Zizic and Cedi Osman having promising rookie campaigns, could put them ahead of the curve. Plus the Cavs owning all but one of their own future first round picks. The allure of this approach is they could land pick One For All they know.

In a perfect world where everything goes right, is there a chance Cleveland not only ends up in a better position than last time James left but also in the best position any James potential suitor can offer?

A world where Kevin Love and Jae Crowder have career years and remain for two further seasons, Isaiah Thomas returns healthy and can possibly be brought back, while JR Smith and Tristan Thompson continue to prove their worth. All on top of the possible youth above and the Cavs look built for many years to come.

With the East the best place for LBJ to compete, is there a better option than returning to The Land?

Best case scenarios aside, there can only be two paths to take when you find the franchise in such a position. Unfortunately for the Cavaliers, there are no easy or even correct answers.

Short of the Cavaliers pulling the metaphorical sword from the stone, in the form of a trade with Detroit or landing the first overall pick, Cleveland finds itself stuck between a rock and a hard place.

The answers run deep from within the Q.

Projected Starting Five:

Projected Depth Chart:Screen Shot 2017-09-11 at 8.05.54 pm

Overall Offseason Grade: C+

2017/18 Prediction: 51-31

From a pure transactional standpoint, the Cavs likely fared a little better than the C+ grade gives them credit for. However, the final result simply turns what was a disastrous offseason into an okay one. Having said that, you never bet against the King. In a weak Eastern Conference, Cleveland should still be able to win over 50 regular season games and finish with at least two rounds of home court. What they can do from there will really come down to the four key questions below.

knicks - rose

Player To Watch: Derrick Rose

First things first, Rose isn’t his former self and never will be. However an agreement for Rose’s services at the veteran minimum, is a hit and hope type of deal for the Cavs. Rose is likely to fill in for Thomas’ absence to begin the season before resuming the sixth man type role all parties agreed to in the late stages of free agency. Rose will be asked to help facilitate in a starting lineup with enough scoring weapons, plus play off the ball at times while LeBron handles. Before shifting to the second unit, where he will be allowed to create for himself a lot more and react to how the defense plays him with shooters aplenty. It could be a tough double act for Rose but if he can bring the 18 and 4 type production from last season with the Knicks, he might just be the x-factor the Cavs need.

Four Key Questions:

1. Are the Cavaliers done dealing?
As it currently stands, Cleveland’s roster looks in a state of imbalance. While depth on a contending team is certainly a welcome quantity, the Cavs appear extremely shallow at Center and in serious need of further athleticism in order to compete with the likes of the Celtics and Warriors. Crowder currently sits on the outside looking in to the starting lineup, while Kay Felder and Edy Tavares are outside the final roster altogether. Even if Gilbert can withstand any James pressure to trade the Nets pick, Cleveland and Altman might still have some smaller fish to Frye fry.

2. When will Thomas return and how do the Cavaliers make it work?
The $150+ million question that currently has no answer. Thomas himself will be doing everything he can to return as quick as possible. Not only to help the Cavs beat up on his old firm in the East on the way to the Finals but also to ensure he gets as close to $30 million per year on his next deal. Thomas will need to come back with enough time to prove both his health and his worth. How the Cavaliers handle the transition will likely come down to how things have fared with Rose and others in his place and the timing of his return. Both parties would be hoping for a return before Christmas.

3. Can either of the European rookies crack the rotation?
Ante Zizic and Cedi Osman currently sit as the 14th and 15th men in the Cavaliers rotation. As NBA Rookies on a Championship contender, neither can truly expect huge minutes with the way the roster is currently shaped. However, Zizic currently sits as the only backup big man on the roster and may get some early opportunity to show his worth. While for Osman, he sits behind a wealth of proven wings but many of whom are well passed their prime. Through injury or resting, Osman might get a chance to prove why the Cavs were keen to bring him to the NBA.

4. Will LeBron’s eyes start to stray elsewhere as the season draws near?
As of right now, there really isn’t a better option than Cleveland for Lebron James if he wants to continue to compete for titles. Despite the murmurs of Los Angeles, James is going to choose legacy over lifestyle while the twilight years of his career are playing out. The East gives him the best chance at repeat chances while the Warriors are around and there doesn’t appear to be better Eastern options as of right now. However, the NBA can change in a flash and the Cavs will be sweating on his decision if things go from bad to worse this season. Cleveland’s best chance at limiting LeBron from looking elsewhere, will be to do everything they can to occupy him well into June 2018.

Info courtesy of:
Basketball Reference
Basketball Insiders
Real GM
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