To say the offseason has been successful for the Cleveland Cavaliers may be the understatement of the century. First, the Cavs won the NBA draft lottery, where they later selected Kansas swingman Andrew Wiggins. Then, just before the draft, they hired David Blatt, a highly respected basketball mind and arguably the best basketball coach in the Euroleague, as their new head coach. Finally, they were able to re-sign LeBron James, the best player in the game, four years after he left Cleveland for the Miami Heat. The truth is that the Cavaliers’ summer could not have gone any better so far.
That being said, this team is far from perfect. They are still very young, with few elite defenders, and not enough shooting. For most NBA defenses the most important position defensively is that of center, which is arguably also the Cleveland Cavaliers’ weakest spot. Anderson Varejao and Brendan Haywood are the only centers on the roster, and both are injury-prone veterans who should not be relied upon to play heavy minutes. Power forwards Tristan Thompson and Anthony Bennett are simply too small to play heavy minutes at the center position, and rookie Dwight Powell is unlikely to see the floor much this year unless it is with the Canton Charge. So what should the Cavaliers do to shore up the center position? Considering that any real assets are likely being saved for a potential trade for Kevin Love, it’s far more likely the Cavaliers sign a free agent to help with interior defense and rim protection. Shooting like the kind Spencer Hawes provided during his brief stay would be a great addition, but will be almost impossible to find.
There are several veterans who could come in and help the Cleveland Cavaliers in limited minutes at the center position. Jermaine O’Neal did a nice job filling in for the Golden State Warriors while Andrew Bogut was injured, Nazr Mohammed was a solid backup for the Chicago Bulls and Emeka Okafor has been an outstanding defender throughout his career. While all three of these men have had very good careers and are still capable of offering some rim protection, there are several drawbacks. O’Neal and Mohammed are 35 and 36 years old, respectively, and both have dealt with several injuries throughout their careers. O’Neal hasn’t played in more than 55 games in the last four seasons, and Mohammed hasn’t averaged more than 11 minutes per game in the last three. Okafor is a bit younger at 31, but he missed all of last season due to a herniated disk in his neck and it is unclear if he’ll ever play again. It’s hard to be confident that any of these choices could handle heavy minutes in the event of another injury to Varejao.
Obviously nearly all quality young big men are under contract since they are such a rare commodity, but Jason Smith and Ekpe Udoh are two centers under the age of 30 who could interest the Cavaliers. Smith is a 28 year old with a solid offensive game who give good effort on defense, but is a below-average rebounder for his position (although the team rebounded slightly better when he was on the floor). Coming off knee surgery, the New Orleans Pelicans performed roughly the same on both sides of the ball whether or not Smith was on the court. However, Smith does has a solid midrange game which could help the Cavaliers a bit with their spacing issues. However, Smith was recently signed to the New York Knicks, leaving the Cavs with slimmer pickings. Udoh, 27, had gotten lost in the Milwaukee Bucks constantly changing frontcourt rotations over the last few years. While he is a poor offensive player and mediocre rebounder, Udoh has shown great potential on the defensive end and has averaged 2.6 blocks per 36 minutes for his career. He is also an elite athlete who could run the floor with James, Irving and Wiggins.
Not Gonna Happen
Let’s just put this out there; Greg Monroe is not coming to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Monroe is a terrific young big man who would fit in extremely well on offense. He is also a restricted free agent, and there have been few rumblings concerning him outside of the possibility returning to the Detroit Pistons. But none of that really matters. The Cavaliers do not have the cap space necessary to sign Monroe and are unlikely to give up any assets in a sign-and-trade while Love is still a possibility. The Pistons are also unlikely to help Monroe go to a team within their division and will likely match whatever offers Monroe might receive. Monroe is also a poor defender who doesn’t protect the rim at all. There is almost no chance he winds up in Cleveland.
Given the limited amount of money the Cavaliers have available after signing James, there are no perfect answers at center for this team. That being said, there are several solid options who could help the Cavs shore up the center spot, particularly on the defensive end. Considering the offensive capabilities of their perimeter players, another big man who can defend may be all the Cavaliers need to truly contend for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.