The Cleveland Cavaliers have had a busy offseason, one that indicates where they believe they are as a franchise. They spent all of their available money to add veteran shooters who can fill in around their core and help them win right now. They didn’t mortgage the future, but this is a team trying to win now.
At the same time, they are still one of the youngest contenders in the league, with a core of players all 26 years old or younger. Darius Garland is just 23 years old; Evan Mobley and Isaac Okoro are 22. This team doesn’t need to rush anything.
That’s why it makes sense for the Cavaliers to keep their eyes open to increasing their pool of young prospects, even if it means taking up a roster spot that could be used to sign a win-now veteran. And it just so happens that the Houston Rockets may have paved the way for the Cavaliers to do just that.
The Houston Rockets are rushing things
The Houston Rockets have been bad for three consecutive years, which is a long time for any team to be in the basement. With pressure from their owner to get better right away, and with their first-round pick owed to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Rockets decided to push the chips in and spend wildly in free agency.
They signed veteran point guard Fred VanVleet to a max contract, gave Jock Landale a ludicrously large contract, added championship forward Jeff Green and, in the coup de grace, handed the braggadocious Dillon Brooks $86 million over four years.
To make room for their spending spree, the Rockets had to clear some roster spots. They have had an incredible number of first-round picks over the past few seasons, and if they are going to “win big” this season they don’t have room on the roster or in the rotation to provide them playing time. They, therefore, sent a number of players packing in a massive five-team sign-and-trade that brought in Dillon Brooks and sent out four talented young players.
That deal sent KJ Martin to the LA Clippers, and they will keep him. But the other three prospects sent out could all be options for the Cavs to swoop in and either “buy low” or claim off of waivers.
Who should the Cavaliers be keeping an eye on?
The Oklahoma City Thunder ended up with two such players, TyTy Washington and Usman Garuba. Yet they also have 21 players on their roster, right at the offseason limit, and can only take 15 into the season. That’s a lot of players who will either be traded or waived. Washington and Garuba have plenty of potential, but the Thunder are already packed with such players.
That’s where the Cavs come in. TyTy Washington is a former Kentucky point guard with an intriguing combination of scoring and passing, and although he doesn’t have a ton of size has plenty of on-ball defensive skills. Usman Garuba has very few offensive skills, but his defense as a switch big is impressive already and will only get better with time. Either one would be an excellent developmental addition to the roster.
The Memphis Grizzlies landed one such player on their team in the deal, a shooting guard named Josh Christopher who is entering his third season in the league. He has plenty of on-ball scoring talent and shooting ability, and his potential to develop into a rotation guard is worth a flier. They have 17 players and will need to cut a couple of players by Training Camp. The Cavs can’t sign all three, but they absolutely should get into the mix on one or two of these players.
Washington is the player to target first, a player who had a fringe lottery grade from many draft analysts heading into the 2022 NBA Draft. He could very easily develop into the long-term backup to Darius Garland. Garuba has a budding offensive game and if he can develop enough skills as a finisher or corner shooter his defense would make him a fearsome weapon to deploy. Christopher has the type of on-ball scoring ability that you can’t teach.
The Cavaliers are good enough to compete right now, but keeping alive their pipeline of young talent will be crucial to long-term sustainability. With their draft picks heading out the door to Utah in so many future drafts, striking on buy-low first-round talents is the way to go.
The Rockets are losing players as they accelerate rapidly toward relevance; the Cavs can benefit by not making the same mistakes.