For months it has been assumed by media and fans alike that Cavaliers power forward Marresse Speights will decline his player option and test the free agent market this offseason. Before the NBA Lottery, that loss would have been hard to deal with for the Cavaliers. Under the assumption that they would not be in a place to draft Kentucky center Nerlens Noel, the Cavaliers front office had to be freaking out about the front line. Under-guaranteed and secure contracts for next season in the front line are Anderson Varejao, Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller.
Looking at that trio, you have an oft-injured player, an inconsistent offensive player and a 7-footer who hasn’t proven to be physical enough. To be frank, that’s not exactly a trio you have confidence in – especially if you plan on being competitive.
In that scenario, Speights is incredibly important. When at his best in the Wine and Gold, he provided offense off the bench and tough rebounding on the inside. Sure, he faded a little bit down the stretch and became a forgotten man down the stretch, but if he is at his best, that’s exactly the kind of player you want on your bench – especially when he’s arguably the best player on the Cavaliers bench.
Understandably, the draft lottery changes everything. Assuming Chris Grant doesn’t flip the pick for a player like DeMarcus Cousins or another young All-Star, the odds to be the top pick is the aforementioned Noel. He’s going to miss time this season and probably will not come back until at least late December. But that’s still a player that a) is going to play this season, b) needs to play at least 20 minutes a game and c) provides a skill that no Cavalier big man (Speights included) provides with his shot blocking. This likely pick makes Speights expendable.
But remember: It’s 100 percent up to Speights whether or not he comes back to Cleveland next season. His player option, worth $4.5 million, is financially crippling for the Cavaliers, but it’s enough where (especially his play last season) he’d have to draw minutes every night.
And honestly, if I am Speights and the Cavaliers take Noel, I’m actually more inclined to stay. If I’m Speights, I know that when it comes down to it I’m a better player than Zeller. Am I going to beat out Thompson or Varejao for a starting spot? Probably not, but Varejao is seemingly always injured for long stretches and also has a contract that is set to expire soon. In this scenario, Speights is going to play. And to make the whole scenario sweeter, the Cavaliers, if everything likely snaps into place, are truly an up and coming power in the East. Kyrie Irving is at the helm, Dion Waiters has shown improvement and there are other good pieces on this team – especially if you draft Noel. In an NBA landscape that realistically could change based on whatever LeBron James decides to next summer, it kind of makes sense for Speights to hang on to a team that has a real chance to become a contender in the very near future. And let’s say he averages 13/5 with above 50 percent shooting next year. Be could realistically get a good offer (and maybe more than his market value) from the Cavaliers to become a long-term piece as Dan Gilbert continues his championship crusade.
And from the Cavaliers’ perspective, they have to have a vision of the future where Speights is not included in the long-term plan. Drafting Noel, in some way shape or form, has to make Grant, Gilbert and company pray that Speights declines his option. If he comes back, there is a clog in the frontcourt that will have to be addressed through a trade of some sort. But that is totally avoidable if Speights decides to walk. But remember, it’s all up to him. He has the Cavaliers at his mercy and what he decides to do could really affect how the Cavaliers build moving forward.