Why the Cavaliers need to keep Bates on a two-way deal
A two-way contract is a relatively new addition to NBA life, introduced in the 2017 offseason to allow NBA teams to maintain better control over players who will spend much of their time in the G League. A player on a two-way deal can play up to 50 games with their NBA team, and otherwise will play and practice much of the time with the G-League affiliate.
The Cavaliers currently have Bates signed to a two-way deal, which is absolutely the right approach. That allows them to retain team control this season and beyond (two-way players can be made into restricted free agents) while not using a roster spot, nor setting the expectation that Bates will be a regular part of the rotation.
That is important because there is very little chance Emoni Bates will be ready to play one minute of NBA basketball this season that helps the Cavs win. That isn’t meant as a long-term indictment on Bates (more on that in a moment) but it’s a simple fact: rookies rarely drive winning, and especially not “project” players who went late in the second round.
The only reason it makes sense to transfer Bates to a full deal is if they need more than 50 games out of him, and there is no chance of that happening. Bates will likely get some spot minutes in blowouts this year, but it would not be surprising if he plays single-digit games this year. Isaiah Mobley played 12 games and 84 total minutes last season as a rookie second-rounder; that’s what fans should expect for Bates, not a regular rotation role.
Bates needs to be playing every available minute in the G League, not the NBA; he’s not ready for that yet. He is shifting from a high-usage, on-ball scorer to an off-ball movement shooter; that’s not an easy transition, and he needs reps in his new role. Those reps will come in the G League, not the NBA.
The reality that so many starry-eyed fans might be missing is that it is still more likely than not that Emoni Bates never becomes a rotation player in the NBA. He can shoot, yes, but he’s also a massive defensive liability. Can he shoot at an elite level to make it worth it? Can he round out the rest of his game to make his presence on the court valuable? Those questions have to be answered before you come anywhere near the question of stardom, or even starting.
Moving Bates to a full contract puts pressure on Bates to perform, and it puts pressure on the roster; when the Cavs need to add a player, Bates will be a cut candidate; letting him hit waivers opens up a chance for another team to swipe him, and then Bates can sign with another team instead of signing a new two-way with the Cavs.
A two-way contract is perfect for what Bates needs for next season, and there are a number of other ways to use that roster spot that will benefit Cleveland in the short-term or long-term much more than giving it to Bates. That’s a colossal mistake that the Cavs need to avoid as they try to set themselves and Bates up for long-term success.