Free Agents (Cap Holds)
For the first few weeks of this season, the Cavaliers were playing well enough to be part of the Eastern Conference playoff conversation, led by first overall pick Kyrie Irving and veteran big men Antawn Jamison and Anderson Varejao. However, Irving and Varejao suffered injuries and the Cavs eventually finished the season by losing 27 of their final 35 games.
Although the team tied for the NBA's third-worst record, it wasn't a lost year in Cleveland. The Cavs appear to have landed a future All-Star in Irving, and Tristan Thompson showed flashes of the promise that made him a top-five draft pick in 2011. Cleveland also landed a first-round pick in exchange for free-agent-to-be Ramon Sessions, and now head into June armed with a pair of first-rounders in a deep draft.
Assuming the Cavaliers don't land the first overall pick, they seem like a good bet to draft a player like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Harrison Barnes, or Bradley Beal. Adding one of those guys to a core that includes Irving, Thompson, Varejao, and maybe restricted free agent Alonzo Gee would bode well for the team's long-term prospects.
If Cleveland hopes to contend for the postseason in the short term though, the club will need to replace Jamison's production, since the veteran forward has indicated that he won't re-sign. Jamison may have been overpaid at $15MM+, but he also averaged more than 17 points per game for the Cavs, scoring that won't be easy to find elsewhere.
The good news? Renouncing Jamison will immediately remove an $18MM+ cap hold off Cleveland's books, giving the team room to pursue free agents. The Cavaliers won't be players for the top free agents on the market, but kicking the tires on guys like O.J. Mayo, Leandro Barbosa, Nicolas Batum, and Ryan Anderson could pay off.
The Cavs have a lot of options when it comes to filling out their roster for 2012/13. I expect them to use at least a couple of their draft picks, and to bring back some of their own low-cost free agents or players on non-guaranteed deals. Even so, they should have room to take advantage of their cap space to bring in a free agent or two.
Heading into this offseason, Irving, Thompson, and Varejao are the only Cavs under contract past 2012/13, so the team is in great shape when it comes to cap flexibility. With another lottery pick on the way, the team shouldn't feel any pressure to deal Varejao to get even younger. If the team explores a trade, I think it would involve moving one or two of their draft picks for a veteran.
With the LeBron James era a little further in the rear-view mirror, the Cavaliers seem to be rebuilding the right way. A few smart moves this summer and some better luck with injuries could make Cleveland a playoff contender again as soon as next season.