In our “What’s Next” series, a Right Down Euclid writer will look at each individual member of the Cleveland Cavaliers by analyzing what their future looks like and/or what’s the next step in their development. In this piece, Zak Kolesar looks at Cavaliers center Spencer Hawes.
Earl Clark had struggled all season in a Cleveland Cavaliers uniform from the point that former general manager Chris Grant brought him on board for two years and $9 million last summer. He wasn’t producing at the three position the way that Cleveland had wanted him to, and it was unlikely that the Cavs would pick up the second-year option on Clark’s contract. With the team needing shoes to fill at center due to an Anderson Varejao injury, Cleveland shipped off Clark, Henry Sims and two second-round picks to bring on board center Spencer Hawes.
What seemed like a last-ditch effort to cover up a miserable free agency period (the Andrew Bynum disaster, Jarrett Jack’s frustrating play off the bench and the widening of the gaping hole at small forward thanks to Clark) turned out to be an experiment that was enjoyable to watch as Cleveland hung on to its slim playoff hopes. Having a big man that could spread the floor on offense opened up opportunities for a Cleveland offense that was struggling to find any sort of consistent rhythm prior to Hawes’ arrival.
So how good was Hawes for the Cavaliers during 27 games? After coming off the bench the first two games upon arriving in Cleveland, he soon found himself implanted in the Cavs starting five. His ability to force bigs to cover him outside of the paint helped in opening up the lanes for the guards and molding Tristan Thompson’s offensive skillset, building the Canadian’s confidence down low. Nearly putting up four treys a game for the Cavaliers at a career-high 44.8 percent clip was a godsend when Kyrie Irving went down during the final stretch of the 2013-14 season.
Cleveland will have to cough up some cash for a big competing in a rather small free agency center crop this offseason, which includes the likes of Greg Monroe and Marcin Gortat. I can’t imagine Cleveland guaranteeing Hawes more than two years with the team, which will probably come at a price tag just over $15 million. The Cavs may want to pull the trigger on bringing Hawes on board for a full season because of the uncertainty that lies ahead for the team at center.
Although Hawes brought a different approach to the court for the Cavs over the last 27 games of the season, his skill set made the Cavaliers offense a much more fluid bunch. The 2-7 start that Hawes experienced in Cleveland quickly became a thing of the past once the Cavs center became better acclimated with his teammates. This resulted in rapid ball movement and frequent fast breaks that this Cleveland team struggled to produce over the first 50-plus games of the season. His 2.4 assists per game with the Cavs was a dip from his previous stints with Philadelphia and the Sacramento Kings, but, unlike his situation in Philly, Hawes was called on to produce more frequently as a scorer with the Cavs. The result was a career high 13.5 points per game for Hawes, something that Cleveland fans would love to see back on the court in a Cavaliers uniform next year.
The problem, however, is that Hawes is an unrestricted free agent, meaning that the Cavs will have to make a couple of decisions if they decide to bring him back. The most important decision for the Cavs front office to make if they want to move forward with re-signing Hawes concerns Varejao and his non-guaranteed contract for the 2014-15 season. Varejao played the most games (65) this season since the 2009-2010, but only managed to average 8.4 points and 9.7 rebounds. His play in the pick-and-roll, which is usually a strong point for Andy, was very shaky throughout last season. If the team decides against brining back Varejao, who has been a member of the Cavaliers organization for all 10 seasons of his career, they could further increase their estimated $29 million in cap space to lure in a big or shooters in free agency.
Varejao’s contract for $9.7 million, but only $4 million of that contract is guaranteed. I don’t see a situation where both Varejao and Hawes can come back to the Cavs, and right now it seems more likely that Cleveland would bring back Andy more so than let him go and re-sign Hawes. We all know that Hawes puts the Cavs in a better position to win than the aging Varejao does, but, as the business world goes, we know that monetary decisions oftentimes trump logical decisions.
Right now it seems like a coin flip that Hawes will be back for the Cavs this season, but his play during his short span in Cleveland was enough for me to want to ink him a deal in order to keep the Cavaliers offense fluid. It’s a tough decision to say goodbye to Andy, but I think it’s the right one if fans want to see what Hawes can do in Cleveland with a whole season under his belt.