For the Cleveland Cavaliers, this offseason is the most important since the summer of 2010 – more commonly known as the summer LeBron James took his talents to South Beach. While no franchise-defining player likely to test the open market, this summer is important because so much of the roster is likely to change.
However, the problem is this: outside of the draft (which won’t solve all the problems), there isn’t any clear solution for the Cavaliers’ woes. The smiles currently sported by the Cavaliers top brass just days ago are likely to turn into frustrated scowls as the reality of a challenging and vexing offseason sets in.
At the most, the Cavaliers will have seven new players on the roster next season. That’s over 50 percent roster overhaul for a team that only won 24 games this season. Granted, this team did deal with an absurd amount of injuries, but 24 wins in an 82-game season equals a winning percent of 29 percent. Only two teams in the entire NBA (the consistently terrible Charlotte Bobcats and league-worst Orlando Magic) had worse records than the Cavaliers. For a team consistently winning 50-plus games just three years ago, that’s a very sharp decline brought on by a singular player who largely propped up the subpar talent around him. After all, Sasha Pavlovic was a key player on the 2007 Finals team.
In that sense, it’s fitting that Mike Brown has come back to replace Byron Scott as head coach. Stylistically, Brown is a coach that is strong in the Cavaliers’ weakest facet of the game: defense. Up until now, Brown has never been tasked to rebuild a franchise like he will be his second tenure as Cavaliers coach. His only two jobs have been with the Cavaliers, who he took to the Finals, and the Lakers who were expected to contend this season for the NBA championship. It will surely be a transition for him to coach the least talented team of his coaching career, but that isn’t even the Cavaliers’ biggest problem.
Which brings me to this looming offseason. With a new coach, new schemes and a largely new roster, adequate talent is going to need to be brought in aggressively through the draft, trades and free agency. The draft, to be frank, is pretty straightforward. If the Cavaliers land the top pick, they’ll likely take Nerlens Noel from Kentucky. If they select in the top 3, they’ll have to choose between Anthony Bennett from UNLV and Otto Porter from Georgetown. Porter is probably the better fit, as he doesn’t need the ball as much to thrive as Bennett. Either player, however, will provide an upgrade over Alonzo Gee at small forward.
Any of the Cavaliers’ other picks (which are 19th overall and two of the first three picks in the second round) are going to be role players. Potentially, a player like Jeff Withey from Kansas or Gorgui Dieng from national champion Louisville could come right in and play a solid role. But, since the lottery hasn’t yet taken place and stocks are still going to shift, the draft is still just speculation at this point.
Free agency and the trade market is where things will get interesting. On the open market, there is really no player that stands out as a piece that general manager Chris Grant could realistically target to fill a starting roll. Like last offseason, it will be about signing solid role players to come off the bench. The best name on that list, by this writer’s estimation, is former Cavalier J.J. Hickson. Since being traded for Omri Casspi two years ago, Hickson (who I am openly in favor of bringing back) has found his stride in Portland after leaving the Sacramento Kings. He’s developed into a solid big that runs the floor well and thrives in transition. And if Mo Speights decides to test the free agency market as expected, that’s the kind of player the Cavaliers will need to either play alongside Tyler Zeller on the bench or be the first big off the bench if Anderson Varejao battles injuries again next season.
And doesn’t Hickson being among the top talent speak to how hard it will be for the Cavaliers to make a quality acquisition (or acquisitions) this summer through free agency? And even if there were a large number of quality free agents available, it’s not as if Cleveland is a hot destination for free agents in the first place.
That brings us to the trade market. One name that has been brought up as a potential trading chip is LaMarcus Aldridge, the Portland Trailblazers All-Star forward. Still, such a trade probably will not happen, even though Aldridge could make a huge and immediate impact (just imagine him running the pick-and-roll with Kyrie Irving) . Such a trade would require giving up Tristan Thompson and/or Dion Waiters – something that is likely not to happen considering how high the organization is on both players.
However, even if such a trade isn’t likely, that is the kind of trade that the Cavaliers will need to make to make strides this offseason. A high caliber player is the only type of talent that can help this team get instantly better next season. Players like Noel (who likely won’t play next season), Porter and Bennett are all types of talents that can move the team in the right direction, but not quickly.
Make no doubt about it, being playoff contenders is what the Cavaliers are hoping to accomplish next season. Those are high expectations, but considering how weak the Eastern Conference is, a playoff push isn’t out of the question – they just need the proper roster acquisitions. Problem is there isn’t a clear path to the acquired said talent and, for all we know, it may not even be out there for the taking.