Trevor Magnotti: Hey Mike,
With under 20 games to go until the season ends, and the Cavs entering their toughest stretch of games of the season, it looks like the team is not going to make the playoffs this year. With that being the case, I think it’s a good time to start looking at what the Cavs’ plan of attack for the offseason should be. Granted, this will mostly be speculation, because we have no idea where the Cavs’ new front office, whether it is headed by current interim general manager David Griffin or a new guy, is going to take the team. However, I wanted to break down the Cavs’ overall team needs for the offseason, as those probably won’t change much. Currently, the Cavs look like they will have about $30 million in cap space for this summer, if the current projection of $62.1 million for the salary cap is correct. The contract situations for the current roster breaks down like this:
Committed 2014-15 salary: Jarrett Jack, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Bennett, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, Tyler Zeller, Sergey Karasev
Team Options: Anderson Varejao ($9.8 million), Alonzo Gee ($3.3 million)
Unrestricted Free Agents: Luol Deng, Spencer Hawes, C.J. Miles, Matthew Dellavedova
I broke down what I think should be done with the current roster last week. Before we start looking at the team’s needs, what do you want to see done with the current Cavs’ roster?
Mike Schreiner: Well Trevor, I have to agree with you that it would be pretty surprising to see them make the playoffs considering their current record and what’s coming up. That being said, I would still rather see them try to compete for the rest of the season rather than go into tank mode once again. It just seems more important to teach the current young players about what is needed to compete at the NBA level than it is to try to get another high draft pick. Plus, it’s unlikely the Cavaliers could improve their draft position much at this point.
Looking at the Cavaliers roster situation going into next season, I pretty much agree with much of what you wrote in your piece last week. Irving is a building block who shouldn’t be traded unless the Cavaliers are offered a young player of comparable upside (nearly impossible) or he makes it apparent that he will do what he has to in order to play somewhere else (more likely, but still doubtful). Despite the controversy of the Waiters pick, he is probably about the fifth best player in his draft class, and if he becomes a sixth man in the mold of Jamal Crawford that’s fine. I wasn’t a big Bennett fan even prior to the draft, but he has shown flashes and more importantly, wouldn’t fetch nearly equal value in a trade. I like Thompson and Zeller, and think it’s waaaaayyy to early to judge Karasev, but would be fine if the Cavaliers moved any of these players in the right deal. To say Jack has been a disappointment would be a huge understatement. If they can simply trade him for a worse player with a shorter contract, I would be fine with it.
As far as the players who are either free agents or not fully guaranteed for next year, the ones I would have any interest in bringing back are Hawes, Varejao, Miles, and possibly Dellavedova. Deng just hasn’t worked out here (the Cavs probably would have been better off getting Dunleavy’s shooting), and Gee simply does not need to be guarded. Despite the rough record, Hawes has been a godsend to this team in terms of spacing, and he fits well with both Irving and Thompson. At just 25 years old, and probably affordable, he would be my top priority among the Cavaliers’ own free agents. Miles is arguably the most underrated player on this team (at least according to any advanced metric). Even if he doubles his currently salary for two or three years, I think it’s a decent deal. I’m torn on Varejao, if the Cavaliers can turn his semi-guaranteed deal into a piece that helps them both next season and in the future, then they should do it. I’m just sentimental and when he’s healthy, Andy is still a force. That being said, it seems like the Cavaliers may have to choose between him and Thompson, and while Varejao is the better player, he is eleven years older than Thompson (who is ahead of where Varejao was at that age in many ways), and Tristan may be the better long term fit. When it comes to Dellavedova (who I think may have some sort of option for next year),the question is whether or not he can be Irving’s primary backup if Jack is moved. What are your thoughts on this?
TM: As far as the immediate free agents, I agree with you that Dellavedova and Miles are probably the most likely to be of use if retained. Dellavedova has proven to be at least neutral as a backup to Kyrie, and he’s honestly been better that Jack on both ends for most of the season, and when you factor in that he’s on a minimum contract compared to Jack’s $6 million next year, Delly seems like a safe bet to stick around, especially if Jack does. Miles can still have use as a floor spacer and perimeter defender, and would help space out Dion’s minutes as the starter. In all honesty they’ll probably keep Varejao because he’s the current fan favorite. However, I agree with you that I’m not sure he has a lot of use here anymore. I’m glad to see we’re on the same page here. In summary, If any combination of Hawes/Varejao/Delly/Miles comes back, we’re okay with it, and we want Jack gone, preferably yesterday.
With that said, let’s say for the sake of argument that only two of those four are returning, any combination of one guard and one big. Also, say we can’t find a suitor for Jack, which is very likely given his play this season and his contract. That means the Cavs will have 11 roster spots taken headed into the offseason with about $20 million in cap space. We have four spots to fill. One via the draft (potentially two if we guarantee money to our second-round pick like we did last year), and the rest through free agency. Through any of these outlets, give me one need the Cavs should be looking to fill, any why.
MS: I would say that three point shooting to space the floor is just a bit above a big who can protect the rim as the Cavaliers’ greatest need. Given who is staying with the team and who is returning, you would hope that three point shooting would come from whoever the new starting small forward will be, as well as whomever they sign to take Alonzo Gee’s spot on the roster. As the addition of Hawes has proven, this would give both Irving and Waiters room to operate and attack the basket. If there is one thing Danny Ferry did well in his tenure as GM here, it’s surround LeBron James with shooters. Mo Williams, Daniel Gibson, and Anthony Parker were among the best three point shooters in the league, and Delonte West and Damon Jones were both very capable as well. Having players like that meant that teams always had to be wary of LeBron kicking the ball out if they started to double or triple team him on a drive. Having shooters like that would be equally helpful for Irving. Besides, three point shooting is becoming more important to NBA offenses each year. This could be filled through the draft, where players such as Rodney Hood and Doug McDermott should be available if the Cavaliers keep their current draft position, although both men are subpar defenders, which is the last thing the they need. There will also be plenty of cheap free agents this summer who could help in this area as well. What primary need do you see?
TM: Shooting is absolutely one of the biggest, if not the biggest need for the Cavs this offseason, for all the reasons you laid out. The Cavs are currently shooting 21st in the league from 3-point range, and spacing has been a huge problem this season because of it. I’m absolutely on board with this being a primary need. My primary need is along the same lines in that it’s offensive help. The Cavs haven’t been a fun offense this year, and as far as bigs go, a lot of our current ones do a lot of the same thing on offense. Anderson Varejao, Tyler Zeller, and Spencer Hawes are strong in the pick-and-pop game. The Cavs have several good screen-setters, but as far as rolling off that screen, the Cavs don’t have a strong presence inside, which limits the effectiveness of Kyrie and Jack, because defenses know where the Cavs’ bigs are threats, and can collapse on the guards in the paint. That’s why I think a big help this offseason would be adding a solid pick-and-roll big man. The difference between a guy like Hawes and a guy like, say, Marcin Gortat of the Wizards, is that Gortat can stroke from mid-range and set strong screens, but more than anything he’s very good at sealing and filling the lane as a roll man, which allows John Wall to get better looks at the rim and helps open up the outside shooters. A guy like Gortat (And he’s a free agent! Although probably out of the Cavs’ price range) would really help maximize the talents of both Irving and Waiters, as well as open up the shooters from the outside, maybe making Waiters and Miles better from outside as well. Also, if you can find a guy who can do both that and be a decent defensive guy, which is very plausible, that’s even better. But the main concern, to me, is fixing the offense, and a big pick and roll finisher is an excellent way to do that. What are your thoughts on this, and is there anything else you think the Cavs need on offense before we look at the defense?
MS: That’s an excellent point. When people think about the seven seconds or less Phoenix Suns (especially relevant if David Griffin stays on as GM), they think about Steve Nash running the offense and a lot of three point shots. But what a lot of people seem to forget is how important Amar’e Stoudemire was to that offense due to his dominance as a roll man (this may be due to his injuries the last few years). That would definitely help the Cavs free everything up, although since both Irving and Waiters like to drive more than Nash ever did, you would need a big who is willing to get out of the way. I think the Cavs are/were hoping that Tristan Thompson could be that guy, but while he has the speed and handle necessary, his hands leave a lot to be desired. I think ideally the Cavaliers two starting big men would be one who can stretch the floor like Hawes, and a big who can finish inside. If you have decent shooters at the wings, that would be an offense that I think would work for Irving and probably fits what we both envision for this team. The question now is, can they find a big who can fill one of those two roles on offense and protect the rim?
TM: We’ve hinted at it so far, but haven’t really dove in depth on this. The Cavs currently have a bunch of bigs who are okay defensively, but there’s no one player who does anything at a particularly elite level. Varejao probably gets the closest to this with his post defense and defensive rebounding, but he’s nowhere near reliable with his injury history and atrocious pick-n-roll defense. In particularly, high screen defense is a huge issue among the bigs, and the Cavs have no one to contest shots at the rim, especially out of PNR looks. And when your point guard isn’t great at defending these, as Kyrie and Jack’s struggles have shown, it’s deadly to team defense. I thought this was a big issue heading into last season, and we attempted to solve it with Andrew Bynum. Now it’s still a need. I still think that banking on improving the offense, pushing the pace, and trying to develop the players we have on defense, particularly Dion, Kyrie, and Tristan, is the more important for the Cavs, especially with the available rim protectors there appear to be this offseason, or lack there of. However, rim protection is still a huge issue. Where else do you see necessary improvement needed on the defensive end?
MS: Look, good offenses tend to have smart offensive players and good defenses tend to have smart defensive players. Don’t get me wrong, I agree with you that the Cavaliers should continue developing the defensive skills of the young players they have, but you need to surround them with smart defenders. Part of the problem with Varejao’s defense is that he’s asked to do things as a full time center that he simply wasn’t asked to do during the LeBron era. Z, Ben Wallace, and even Shaq’s corpse could offer some rim protection and let Varejao do what he does best, which is make the hustle plays that help teams win. Now – with no rim protector on the roster – he has to perform a role that is not really ideal for him. The one thing I’ll say in defense of his pick and roll defense is that he often has to pick up the guard or wing in the pick and roll because his guards don’t fight through screens well at all. I guess the one thing the Cavaliers could use besides a rim protector is a big wing defender who could pick up the other team’s best player and at least make him work for his shots. Considering that this would likely be a small forward who the Cavaliers would want some three point shooting from, it seems that their search for some three-and D continues. I’ve written several pieces about this regarding trade candidates before the Cavaliers added Deng, and there should be a few free agents available this summer who fit the bill as long as their teams don’t resign them. I’m looking at you Trevor Ariza, Marvin Williams, and possibly Thabo Sefolosha (if his shooting bounces back). Do any of these guys intrigue you?
TM: I’m also on board with a big, solid wing defender. The Cavs do pretty well in guarding smaller wings with Dion Waiters and C.J. Miles, but they lack the ability to keep a bigger wing under wraps. Guys like Carmelo Anthony, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Richard Jefferson have given the Cavs fits this year due to their size, and the fact that the Cavs really don’t have an ideal defender for them outside of the very disappointing Luol Deng. I think we’ve hit all the major needs: A big wing defender, an outside shooter, a pick and roll big, and a rim protector. If we can combine these with one player that does both well, even better. Let’s start with the guys who can fill these needs in free agency, then move to the draft.
On the wing, I like the idea of you mentioning Trevor Ariza. He’s a lockdown defensive player, a solid three-point shooter, and a nice veteran presence on the wing. Unfortunately, I think the Wizards are going to re-sign him, because they need the same things. Another option is Francisco Garcia of Houston, but he’s slipping on the defensive end and has an injury history. Guys like Wes Johnson and Cartier Martin would be serviceable but inconsistent. I think the guys that you mentioned and these three are all decent options, however. If Miles does not return, and the Cavs look for a more consistent three-point threat, the options are a little better, as I like adding guys like Jodie Meeks or Rodney Stuckey are available. I think the better route would be grabbing a three who can defend well in the draft, and grabbing one of these shooters to start at shooting guard. How does this plan sound, and what are your thoughts on free agent bigs?
MS: I’ve been a big Jodie Meeks guy since the Sixers made the second round of the playoffs a few years ago. I have no idea why this guy can’t get paid at all. I’m also not sure why Cartier Martin can’t find a team to stick with. I’d also be fine with the Cavs trying to sign P.J. Tucker to an offer sheet that the Suns might not want to match, which considering their cap situation is unlikely. As far as free agent bigs, you could easily convince me that Hawes is the best big man available, considering his age and established production. Other than that, if you’re looking for a big who can protect the rim and/or be at least an above average pick and roll finisher, I think you’re looking at Marcin Gortat, Emeka Okafor (if healthy), Z-Bo, Chris Kaman, and a bunch of guys who should play ahead of the Cavaliers’ current big men. It’s kind of depressing that getting a rim protector seems almost impossible. To be honest with you, my dream is that the Cavaliers win the lottery, take Embiid, and fill the wing spots with smart free agent acquisitions. But right now, it seems like your strategy for the draft is far more realistic. What are your quick thoughts on the draft prospects, especially if the Cavs draft early?
TM: My quick power rankings of guys in the so-called “top seven” as fits for the Cavs:
1. Joel Embiid: The ideal draft pick in the top three. A solid all-around big man who can stroke it a bit, finish in traffic, and has great defensive potential? Sounds like he hits everything we wanted in a big earlier.
2. Andrew Wiggins: Probably a pretty great fit. He plays excellent defense, can shoot a little, and will bring a lot of what Luol Deng was supposed to bring to the table in terms of facilitating a good offense. He’ll also get a chance to grow into his superstar role with Kyrie here, so the “Shies away from the moment” BS isn’t an issue.
3. Jabari Parker: We need scoring, so even though he’s defensively below average, I think he’d do fine.
4-7: I basically have Marcus Smart, Dante Exum, Julius Randle, and Aaron Gordon all as guys the Cavs should avoid. Smart can’t shoot, Exum is more a point guard than shooting guard, I’m not sure how Randle’s style translates to the NBA, and Gordon is another undersized, raw power forward. Drafting Gordon or Exum to me would be insanity, and If the Cavs somehow end up with a pick in the 4-7 range, I want them to either reach for Noah Vonleh or trade down. What are your thoughts on the guys who would actually fill needs for Cleveland?
MS: I do have to admit I haven’t watched enough college basketball this season to be sold on any wing outside of Andrew Wiggins. I have the feeling Jabari Parker is going to wind up being a tweener in the Beasley-Williams-Bennett mold, which never seems to quite work out. Even if he winds up being Rudy Gay or a lesser version of Carmelo Anthony, I think the Cavaliers need more defense at the wing than Parker can provide. Considering the odds of getting Wiggins, I think you then look at James Young or Aaron Gordon (if you can live with the terrible shooting). If the Cavs decide to draft a three who can shoot, they should look at Rodney Hood or Doug McDermott, but both of those guys are subpar defenders. I’m actually not really high on this draft for the Cavs outside of Wiggins and Embiid. None of the guys in their draft area seem like good basketball fits from what I’ve read. What players do you have in mind if the Cavs keep their current draft position?
TM: Currently slotted at ninth, Draft Express has the Cavs taking Dario Saric, the forward from Croatia. Saric makes sense as a defensive player, as he’s a huge, athletic wing with excellent instincts. He can’t shoot at all, but he’s the type of guy who actually, if Anthony Bennett’s outside shot improves, might be a nice compliment to him for the Cavs to have. If the Cavs drafted him then signed, say, Meeks or Anthony Morrow, that covers both needs on the wing. Another option at that spot that the Cavs might want to look into is the Bosnian center, Jusuf Nurkic. Nurkic is a dynamic pick-n-roll big with great footwork in space, a huge body, and great defensive potential. I’ve watched a lot of film on him in the last few days, and I’m huge on this guy. Hood and Young might make sense, but Young has a long way to go in terms of consistency and basketball IQ before he’s ever a rotation player, and Hood’s defense is slightly concerning, although I think criticisms of Hood and Parker are overblown a bit. I’m not big on them getting a big in the draft unless they decide to let Varejao go and Hawes is walking. Finally, if they use the Dan Gilbert horseshoe again on lottery night, I agree with you that Embiid is the guy there. But that’s so unlikely I don’t really want to consider it. My overall ideal plan would be to retain Varejao and Delly, then draft either Saric or Hood, sign Meeks or an equivalent shooter for cheap, and use a bulk of the cap space to go after Gortat or Chris Bosh (if he opts out) in free agency. How does this plan sound? Give me a brief summary of what you would do with the offseason as well.
MS: I like Saric’s passing for a team who needs it, but I’ve read conflicting reports on his defense. Plus, Chad Ford is now reporting that Saric is talking about staying in Europe for two more years, which takes him off the table for me. I guess, assuming that Varejao and Delly are back and Hawes and Miles are not, I would go with Hood or McDermott (see Kevin Pelton and Ford’s recent discussion on him), or possibly Gary Harris if the Cavaliers think it will be easier to sign a small forward than a shooting guard. I would love to get Bosh (not the Heat guy everyone is thinking about), but I don’t see him signing here. I also see the Wizards overpaying Gortat to keep him. I guess if I drafted Hood, I would probably follow up with signing Meeks, Ariza (less likely to be overpaid by the Wizards due to the presence of Martell Webster and Otto Porter), and the best value for the money out of Gortat, Okafor, and Channing Frye (if Frye opts out of his contract, he’s the rare big who can spread the floor and is a solid post defender). This is assuming the Cavaliers don’t make any trades, but I think they are very likely to be active on that front this summer.
TM: I like that plan as well. I think there’s a ton of options out there for the Cavs to go after, and we’ve laid them out pretty well here. Last question though: You said at the end that you think a trade is likely this summer. I tend to disagree. However, let’s say the Cavs still haven’t landed a post player this offseason, and one becomes available (say, for example, Omer Asik). What pieces are you willing to part with to bring in a quality starter, both from the current roster and the draft pick stockpile?
MS: I would like to have Asik as the team’s new starting center. Despite all the drama surrounding the Rockets, he remains one of the truly elite defensive centers in the game. He also showed last season that he isn’t a complete black hole on offense either. He’s decent in the pick-and-roll due to his agility (although this is undermined by poor hands), and stays within himself on this end. He’s also improved enough as a free throw shooter that it’s an overall plus if he gets to the line. At 27 he should have at least five years left playing at his current level. That being said, the Cavaliers would have to use this seasons’ issues against the Rockets in negotiations. I would be fine with the Cavs trading any one of their bigs (including Hawes in a sign-and-trade) for Asik. As far as picks go, It would probably make sense to throw in the 2015 Miami Heat first round pick or the Cavaliers’ own pick (lottery protected) for him. As far as other trades prospects go, the Cavs may want to give the Denver Nuggets a call. Denver’s season has been a massive disappointment and they would probably be best served by clearing some cap space and starting to rebuild. Both Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler would intrigue me as small forwards who fit this team in several ways. Both are solid three point shooters, capable defenders (at least at the small forward position), are young enough to play with this core for several years, and most importantly, are locked into their current deals for a few more years. If Gallinari were to come back from his ACL injury as the same player he was before, his size and shooting at the three would make him the perfect fit for this roster. Both men could probably be had for nonguaranteed/expiring contracts and a fairly well protected first rounder.
TM: Gallinari/Chandler is intriguing, especially because Denver’s season has been a downward spiral in 2014, and if they land a top-three pick by virtue of their own and New York’s picks being potential lottery picks, I could see them grabbing Parker or Wiggins and looking to free up cap space by dealing one of these two. I also like the idea of Asik, although dealing Varejao in a package would make much more sense for both teams than a Hawes sign and trade. I’m not high on Greg Monroe or Rajon Rondo, for obvious reasons. However though, like most NBA trades, I think if the Cavs do wheel and deal, what they end up doing will be something completely unexpected.
I think that wraps up our discussion of the Cavs’ roster options for now. Thanks for your time Mike, and hopefully we can revisit this when we have a more firm picture of how this season will shake out.