With 20 games left in the Cavaliers’ schedule, the Cavaliers are in position to potentially make a playoff push, as they are currently four games back of the flailing Atlanta Hawks for the eighth seed. While this push will definitely get plenty of day-to-day press here (That is our job, after all), it’s around this time that looking towards the summer and next season become pertinent. It’s a time for the Cavs to not only attempt to get to the playoffs, but to also evaluate their plan moving forward, scout potential 2014 draft picks in their waning NCAA tournament games, and critically evaluate their own players to determine how they might fit in the long-term plan. This last piece is especially important to the Cavs, who are in a period of transition with a new front office likely coming in, and a significant number of expiring contracts. Figuring out who you want back, who wants to come back, and how these players fit in your plan helps the draft evaluation process, and sets up who to target for free agency. That being said, here’s a quick sizing-up of what these evaluations might be for each Cavalier.
The Primary Building Block
A label so obvious it felt slightly silly to type, Kyrie is clearly the one player who is untouchable for the Cavs. Any general manager would love to have a player of Kyrie’s caliber, and his skills should be who the team’s complimentary pieces are built around, for the time being. Regardless of the direction the team takes in management, it’s indisputable that Kyrie will be here, and his extension is going to be a hot topic as the team moves forward. The Cavs control him with restricted free agency next summer, but I’d expect a John Wall/Paul George situation next year, with the Cavs throwing a max extension at him in the fall. Keeping this in mind is going to make staying under the tax line long-term a potential concern, and could factor into free agency decisions even this summer. Kyrie’s worth this though, especially if he can make the type of leap John Wall did from year three to year four, and the Cavs are going to have him as a focal point for at least a few more years.
Developing Complimentary Pieces
Dion Waiters, Anthony Bennett
I see these two as players who have use on a playoff contender. Waiters has the potential to be a lethal sixth man, and his instant scoring ability and swagger have been the only thing that holds Cleveland’s bench units together at times this season. He’s a solid secondary ball-handler, and like the Chris Paul/Jamal Crawford combo for the Clippers, this could be a nice little set-up for the Cavs if they put the right supporting pieces around Waiters and Irving. Meanwhile, Bennett has started to really look like the player the Cavs apparently thought he was in June, and it seems likely that with a full offseason of training and Summer League, he could turn into a nice second/third scorer as an undersized starting power forward. Think of him as a fat Thaddeus Young. These are definitely players the Cavs can create a team around with the right supporting pieces. Therefore, I’d like to see the Cavs keep these guys around and make them focal points of the team’s system. Unless trade negotiations for an estabished elite player occur, and these negotiations center around the inclusion of one of these two to make it happen, I want Waiters and Bennett around for the long-term future, and I want the Cavs to build the team with the skill sets of these two in mind.
The Expendable Developing Complimentary Pieces
Tristan Thompson, Tyler Zeller
Both of these players play big roles on the Cavs for now, but I don’t think either is very necessary to the long-term plan. Thompson has given no indication that he has a ceiling much higher than an acceptable two-way power forward who isn’t great on either end, and his production is incredibly replaceable. The following players, in addition to Tristan Thompson, post between 10-14 points per game, 8-12 rebounds per game, and hover between 46-51 percent shooting, as Tristan does: Jonas Valanciunas, Derrick Favors, Marcin Gortat, J.J. Hickson, Nikola Vucevic, Joakim Noah, Andre Drummond, and DeAndre Jordan. That’s not to mention that most of those guys can either shoot some from outside, or are elite defensive players and/or passers. Thompson’s not good at either, and with Bennett still having the potential to be a legitimate offensive weapon and an acceptable rebounder, Thompson is by no means an essential player for this team moving forward. It’s the same for Zeller, who fits nicely with Kyrie Irving in the pick-n-roll and can hold his own defensively, but hasn’t demonstrated at age 24 that he’s ever going to be starting-quality at center. Both of these guys will be around likely for at least two more years, but past that, I don’t see them being vital to the team’s future, and are very movable right now in the right deal.
Deng’s tenure in Cleveland hasn’t been fun for anyone involved. He seems to hate it here, and his uninspired play hasn’t been helpful to the team. His shot selection has been so bad recently that he’s made Waiters’ look acceptable, and defensively he hasn’t fit in. It seems clear that once the summer rolls around, he’ll want to bounce to a winning situation that could better utilize him, like Phoenix, Dallas, or Toronto. It doesn’t make sense for the Cavs to bring Deng back at the money he’s going to command for the production they will likely receive from him.
Free Agents Worth Possibly Retaining
Spencer Hawes, C.J. Miles
Hawes and Miles are both exiting free agents, and I wouldn’t mind seeing either remain with the team on the right deal. Hawes and Irving have excellent high-screen chemistry, and his outside shooting really helps to stretch the opposing defense and open the court up for Irving and Waiters to drive. However, he’s going to likely command somewhere between $6-8 million a season over a long-term deal this summer, and he’s not a good defensive player by any means. If you’re committing to Bennett as your piece at power forward, the Hawes/Bennett combo has way too much defensive apathy for me to trust, and drafting a defense-first center prospect or adding a quality defensive power forward would be paramount in you retain Hawes. Still, it’s worth considering.
Meanwhile, you know what you’re getting with Miles. He’s a streaky shooter and decent perimeter defender who’s athleticism is beginning to falter, and while he’s a guy who can definitely fit in as your starting two to allow Waiters to come off the bench, he doesn’t bring anything vital to the team and he’s absolutely replaceable. He’s probably better suited as a bench guy on a contender, where he’s one of multiple available shooters. However, if he indicates that he’s set on coming back here, and he does so on a cheap short-term deal like his current contract, he’s worth bringing back as a veteran presence and shooter.
The crux of any new general manager (or David Griffin, if he keeps his job) is going to be finding a way to unload Jack’s horrific play and his bloated contract. There’s zero reason for him to be on this team moving forward, as Waiters should move into the secondary ball-handler role. Any shooting that Jack brings would be better served coming from either a new starter at small forward or another backup wing. Unfortunately, we’re probably stuck with him for at least one more full season, before his contract becomes a more enticing potential expiring with an option. But unless he has a renaissance next season, Jack’s only role in the long-term plan will be as something the Cavs need to get rid of.
Inconsequential Bit Players
Sergey Karasev, Matthew Dellavedova, Arinze Onuaku, Alonzo Gee, Carrick Felix
Keep Karasev around to see if he ever develops the shooting touch or basketball IQ to make him worthy of the 19th pick in last year’s draft. But other than that, Delly, Gee, Arinze and Felix are all roster fodder with little value to the long-term plan here. Gee in particular is getting dropped like a bad habit this summer, and that’s going to be awesome.
I have no idea what the Cavs should do with Varejao. On one hand, he’s valuable as a post defender and rebounder, who would be the ideal third big if Bennett/Hawes ends up being the starting pair. He’s also been here forever and is a fan favorite, which counts for something. However, his injury history at his age is terrifying, and he’s probably worth more money than the Cavs should realistically be spending on him. Honestly, I don’t care whether Andy stays or goes. I just want to see him not miss extended time and play for a winning team again. Whether that’s in Cleveland or elsewhere is a question I don’t really know how to answer. As it stands, this is probably the hardest player to decide on for Cavs management, and it’s going to be very interesting to see what they do with Andy – especially since his contract is not fully guaranteed for next season.