Offseason In Review: Cleveland Cavaliers

November 22 2012 at 9:08pm CDT By Luke Adams

Hoops Rumors is in the process of looking back at each team's offseason, from the end of the playoffs in June right up until opening night. Trades, free agent signings, draft picks, contract extensions, option decisions, camp invitees, and more will be covered, as we examine the moves each franchise made over the last several months.

Signings

Trades and Claims

Draft Picks

  • Dion Waiters (Round 1, 4th overall). Signed via rookie exception.
  • Tyler Zeller (Round 1, 17th overall). Signed via rookie exception.

Camp Invitees

  • Kevin Anderson
  • D'Aundray Brown
  • Micheal Eric
  • Justin Holiday
  • Kevin Jones

Departing Players

Rookie Contract Option Decisions

When a team has a number of expiring contracts coming off its books and a chance to claim a large amount of cap room, certain expectations arise among the club's fanbase. The Cavaliers certainly didn't have a huge amount of expiring contracts on their books last season, but clearing Antawn Jamison's $15MM+ salary was enough to create significant flexibility on its own. The Cavs had the opportunity to go out and spend over the summer, and based on the questions I received on a weekly basis in our live chats, it seemed that many Cavs fans were hoping to see that happen.

The Cavs ultimately weren't a major factor on the free agent market at all. Alonzo Gee and Luke Harangody were brought back on fairly small deals, and the team's lone outside free agent was C.J. Miles, who only received $2.25MM in guaranteed money. When the season got underway, the Cavs had the lowest payroll in the league by far, with well over $10MM in cap space still available. Why wasn't the club more aggressive in using that cap room over the offseason? There are a few reasons that likely contributed to the decision.

  1. Although Cleveland is well below the cap, it's still paying in the neighborhood of $60MM in player salaries, due to the $14.75MM owed to the amnestied Baron Davis.
  2. Since LeBron James left town, Cleveland hasn't exactly been a prime destination for free agents, meaning the Cavs may have needed to significantly overpay to land a free agent. One report suggested that the team made a $52MM offer to Nicolas Batum, which he turned down in favor of a lesser offer.
  3. While Batum would have been a nice fit in Cleveland, most $10MM-per-year free agents wouldn't have been enough to make the Cavs a real contender.
  4. By retaining that cap space, the Cavs are in position to take on a bad contract to facilitate a trade that lands them young players or picks.

It's that last point that should give Cavs fans hope going forward. Before the Lakers, Magic, Sixers, and Nuggets completed the four-way blockbuster that sent Dwight Howard to Los Angeles, the Cavs had been involved in the Howard trade talks. It wasn't because Cleveland had pieces that the Lakers or Magic wanted, but because the club had the necessary cap space to absorb a bad contract or two.

Every year, there's at least one GM (and often more) that will part ways with a first-round pick in order to gain cap flexibility. Sometimes it's as simple as taking one bad contract in exchange for another that expires earlier — the Bobcats and the Pistons consummated such a trade this offseason, when the Bobcats agreed to trade Corey Maggette's expiring deal for Ben Gordon's two-year deal and a first-rounder. By staying so far under the cap, the Cavs are in perfect position to get involved in such a deal and to continue accumulating assets.

While maintaining that future flexibility is nice, it doesn't necessarily mean the Cavs' offseason was a success. Cleveland had the fourth overall pick in the draft and traded multiple picks to move up to No. 17 overall. The club used those picks to select Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller, neither of whom are viewed as future All-Stars. Both players certainly have upside, and it's hard to criticize the Cavs for passing on a player like Damian Lillard when Kyrie Irving is already on the roster. Still, after last year's fourth overall pick was second-guessed by pundits who suggested the Cavs should have taken Jonas Valanciunas instead, Waiters' development will be crucial. There were plenty of experts who felt Harrison Barnes could be the better fit in Cleveland, so Waiters will be under the same sort of scrutiny as Thompson if he doesn't produce right away.

Although the Cavs' rebuilding process may be moving slower than some fans in Cleveland would like, the team has been wise to avoid being dragged down by long-term contracts and ill-advised free agent signings. Eventually, Cleveland will need to spend on either locking up its own players or on impact free agents, but for now, the team continues to inch in the right direction. The Cavs figure to have at least two first-round picks in 2013, and could continue to add even more if they find a team willing to give up a pick along with some unwanted salary. With Irving leading the way, it's a matter of putting those picks to good use, acquiring players capable of complementing the star point guard and making Cleveland a contender again.

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