Last offseason, the Cleveland Cavaliers brought Ricky Rubio back in free agency, which was not the most shocking news at the time. It had been often reported the two sides had mutual interest in him potentially being back with the team when he would hit free agency, and that’s what played out.
Rubio far exceeded expectations with Cleveland in the 2021-22 campaign prior to his ACL tear and his then-expiring contract being dealt to the Indiana Pacers as part of the package for Caris LeVert, and Rubio aided Darius Garland’s growth. Eventually, Rubio and the Cavaliers agreed to terms on him being re-signed via three-year deal last summer, with a partial guarantee for the third year.
What was clear from then, though, was the Cavaliers still would have use for a third lead guard to have for insurance, and more so as a holdover to have until Rubio would be back, which would turn out to be mid-January. That would end up being veteran point guard Raul Neto, who was signed via one-year, veteran’s minimum deal last offseason.
Neto would have 3.3 points and 1.6 assists in 10.5 minutes per contest on the year, in what amounted to 48 regular season appearances. For the most part, it was understood he was going to be most notably a defensive bench piece to have for spurts, and when Rubio was going to be available, the Neto opportunities were really going to be scarce in meaningful action.
Neto is a Cavalier that is set to be an unrestricted free agent this summer again, and plenty probably have their doubts about him being re-signed it seems.
So, is there any argument for the Cavs to bring Neto back for next season?
As we’ve alluded to, the Neto signing this past offseason was largely predicated on him being a place holder for Cleveland until Rubio was back in the fold. He was also a rotational option for the Cavaliers to have a bit on nights Rubio was inactive for injury recovery management, or for some spurts to have defensively for point of attack help.
Neto has proven to be a capable defender, and his peskiness in that aspect is admirable. Neto has shown he can get after opposing primary ball handlers for spurts, and is never easy to screen in pick-and-roll situations.
Despite his size limitations at 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds, Neto has made his imprint as a defensive energy contributor off the bench in his career, such as earlier on with the Utah Jazz and Philadelphia 76ers. He did so in regular season action a considerable portion of the time with the Cavs during this now-past regular season, too.
However, Neto didn’t provide much for the Cavaliers on offense, and while he demonstrated some real offensive abilities with the Washington Wizards in a more consistent role for two seasons, in this situation with Cleveland, it’s difficult to forecast him being viable there.
The minutes inconsistencies weren’t all on him, obviously, but Neto connected on only 28.6 percent of his three-point attempts, and per NBA.com’s shot tracking data, hit just 30.3 percent of his catch-and-shoot deep attempts in the regular season.
Over the course of Neto’s NBA tenure, his catch-and-shoot play, or deep shooting in general, has been touch-and-go. Plus, even with him being quick as a straight-line driver with some pick-and-roll and finishing craft, he has some shot creation limitations.
Neto also doesn’t have close to the vision and passing acumen of Rubio, by comparison. Last season with the Cavs, Neto had a respectable 5.6 assists per-36 minutes, which was fine, but he’s not a player who regularly would seem to command rotational minutes, given off-ball limitations and his vision not being near that of Rubio or Darius Garland’s.
So, with his offensive limitations in mind, there probably is not much of an argument to be had for the Cavaliers to bring back Neto for next season. He’s not going to likely project as a playoff contributor, either.
The answer is likely a no for the Cavs’ Neto question.
Even if the Cavaliers were to potentially involve Rubio as part of a trade package, or if Rubio is back, I’d rather Cleveland look elsewhere for a deep reserve lead guard or look to add a combo guard who could be more offensively viable for stretches. Now, Caris LeVert, if he is re-signed could very well function in that role and/or as a wing playmaker, anyhow.
It’d seem to be a good possibility the 31-year-old Neto plays elsewhere next season. Even with the Cavs being able to re-sign Neto via Non-Bird Rights, to a deal for up to 120 percent of his last salary, so again a team-friendly contract, Cleveland should probably pass.