Mike’s Ideal Cavaliers Offseason


Well, it’s all over. Or is it? While the Cleveland Cavaliers’ season ended with a loss to the Golden State Warriors in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, things are far from over for this team. In fact, in some ways they are just beginning. The NBA Draft is this Thursday and Free Agency begins at the end of the month. With these events come player movement for nearly every team in the league, and the Cavaliers will be no different. With twelve potential free agents, the Cavaliers have an opportunity to improve an already impressive roster and prepare to take the final step in winning an NBA Championship. Any potential moves we discuss will fall within the rules of the collective bargaining agreement, but also assume that Dan Gilbert is willing to spend an enormous amount of money to try to win a championship (he always has before!).

Who’s Already Signed?

Not many. Kyrie Irving begins a five-year maximum contract extension that will soon be one of the biggest bargains in the league. Joe Harris enters the second year of a four-year deal (only the first two guaranteed) that pays him less than $1 million per year. Harris showed some promise as a shooter this season and will only be gone if he is used in a trade. Finally, Anderson Varejao, the longest-tenured member of the team, begins a 3-year $30 million contract extension that looks like a bad deal for the Cavaliers after Varejao missed the rest of the season after tearing his Achilles tendon in December. Among players whose contracts have options, Timofey Mozgov will undoubtedly have his team option of less than $5 million per year picked up after providing a huge boost for the Cavaliers after he was acquired in January. With the salary cap rising, Mozgov is a tremendous bargain. Mike Miller is likely to pick up his team option of $2.9 million after having the worst season of his career, although it is possible that Miller will decide to retire.

Who Definitely Isn’t Returning?

Shawn Marion announced his intention to retire after the season a few months ago, and he reiterated that intention to ESPN earlier this week. Brendan Haywood is also gone, but we’ll talk more about him later. Kendrick Perkins is unlikely to be back unless he is comfortable with being the fifth big man (unlikely, but not impossible). Every other player could possibly return.

Who Is A Sure Thing To Come Back?

Besides the players already signed, let’s go ahead and add both LeBron James and Tristan Thompson to the list of players who will definitely be back next season. While there will be rumors, and James may wait awhile to resign with the team to put pressure on the front office, I simply cannot see any way he leaves the Cavaliers again. While the idea of giving Thompson something in the neighborhood of a maximum contract may seem foolish to some, there are several reasons that it will happen. First, Thompson and James are tight, and the Cavaliers know they have to resign Thompson to keep James happy. Second, as the salary cap continues to rise, what is currently a max contract extension on a rookie deal could look like a good deal down the line. Third, Thompson is a 24 year old big man who is an elite rebounder, tremendous defender, and has a spotless bill of health. Both of Rich Paul’s guys will be back.

Who’s On The Fence?

Everyone else. Kevin Love is the main focus here. Love has said all of the right things about staying in Cleveland and wanting to be a Cavalier for the long haul, but has left himself some small openings in recent statements. Combine that with constant rumors of his unhappiness with how he was used and the third member of the Big Three has to be considered on the fence. J.R. Smith has said that he will likely opt out of his contract, but would like to return to the Cavaliers next year. Smith did a great job for the Cavs in the regular season, and had some big games in the Eastern Conference playoffs, but he was terrible in the Finals and was the one Cavalier who truly seemed to crack under the pressure. If he opts out of the last year of his contract, which would pay him $6 million next year, it’s hard to know exactly what he would command given his combination of talent and erratic behavior and performances. If Smith and the Cavaliers can find a deal that is amenable to both sides, he is probably back. James Jones did a nice job on a veteran’s minimum contract. He will likely return if he doesn’t retire.

Iman Shumpert and Matthew Dellavedova join Thompson as the Cavaliers’ restricted free agents. General Manager David Griffin has already said that both men will be given qualifying offers and that he would like to have both back next year. Shumpert is looking for a deal that will pay him roughly $10 million a year. Whether or not he is worth that is debateable. While he has shown potential as a 3-and-D type of player, Shumpert is actually a slightly below average three point shooter and inconsistent finisher at the rim who has been injury-prone throughout his career. However he is also a very good perimeter defender with some ball handling ability. His skills fit well with the Cavaliers’ needs, and given the way the salary cap will be rising, $10 million a year may soon be the equivalent to the midlevel exception. It seems likely that the Cavs match any offers within reason that Shumpert gets from other teams.

Dellavedova is a bit of a different case. The Cavs spent most of the season looking to upgrade at the backup point guard position only for the Aussie to have several big moments with Irving hurting. While his limitations were again exposed in the Finals, Dellavedova has probably secured his place as an NBA player. Whether or not he’s with the Cavaliers will likely depend on what other teams offer. The Knicks and Bucks are rumored to be interested, and the consensus seems to be that if they offer anything more than $3 million per year, the Cavaliers will likely decline to match. If Delly is able to be signed for less than that, the Cavaliers would like to have him back, but probably as the third point guard.

Can The Cavaliers Make Other Additions?

The Cavaliers will have limited flexibility this offseason as simply retaining their own free agents will put them over the salary cap, and teams can only go over to retain their own players. That being said, they do have a few pieces they can use. Brendan Haywood’s contract is the biggest piece. Haywood is owed $10.5 million for next season, but that contract is completely unguaranteed if he is waived by August 2nd. This would allow the Cavaliers to take on significant salary from a team looking to shed some contracts. The Cavaliers also will have the taxpayers mid level exception (worth around $3 million), and the 24th and 53rd picks in next week’s draft. They also have the rights to Russian center Sasha Kaun, who is interested in coming over to the NBA for the upcoming season. Finally, they can always sign players to contracts for the veteran’s minimum.

So What Would Be An Ideal Roster For 2015-16?

The Cavaliers’ biggest need is a guard who can create offense and play both with and behind Kyrie Irving. They’ve already been linked to Mo Williams and Norris Cole, but it’s unclear how much of an upgrade either of those players would be. They could also use a fifth big man and a forward who can stretch the floor and defend both forward positions. While it will be difficult to fill all of these positions, it is not impossible.

In a perfect world, the Cavaliers bring back all of their free agents with the exception of Marion and Haywood. Smith could also be replaced if he winds up with an offer too rich for the Cavaliers’ tastes, but I don’t see anyone giving him that kind of offer. The fifth big man slot is either filled by Perkins (who realizes this is how he can stay in the league) or Kaun. In an ideal world, the Cavaliers would be able to trade Haywood and both of their picks to the Denver Nuggets for Wilson Chandler and Randy Foye. Foye could play both with and behind Irving. He isn’t a true point guard, but neither is Dellavedova. He does have enough ball handling skills, and his outside shooting makes him a nice piece alongside James and Irving. Chandler is the perfect backup for James. He’s a big wing who’s a good enough three point shooter and can guard both forward positions as well as shooting guard. Chandler would keep James from playing power forward on defense even when the Cavs go small, but still allow LeBron to play in the post on offense. This would give the Cavaliers the following roster:

Point Guard: Kyrie Irving, Randy Foye, Matthew Dellavedova

Shooting Guard: Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith, Joe Harris

Small Forward: LeBron James, Wilson Chandler, Mike Miller

Power Forward: Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, James Jones

Center: Timofey Mozgov, Anderson Varejao, Kendrick Perkins/Sasha Kaun

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This is a roster that would be absolutely stacked. It has depth, youth, experience, shooting, playmaking, size, and defense. The second unit would allow for a ten man rotation and save every player’s legs. The third string still offers a healthy amount of shooting and leadership. This roster isn’t likely (an alternative plan of trading for Danilo Gallinari and signing C.J. Watson might be more realistic and just as good), but it would give the Cavaliers the kind of roster that could dominate the league for the next several years.

Next: Rumor: Cavs Shopping Haywood, Pick