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Offseason Outlook: Cleveland Cavaliers

Guaranteed Contracts


Non-Guaranteed Contracts

Free Agents / Cap Holds

Draft Picks

  • 1st Round (1st overall)
  • 1st Round (19th overall)
  • 2nd Round (31st overall)
  • 2nd Round (33rd overall)

Cap Outlook

  • Guaranteed Salary: $27,483,284
  • Options: $4,515,000
  • Non-Guaranteed Salary: $4,120,814
  • Cap Holds: $36,772,032
  • Total: $72,891,130

Undergoing a full-scale rebuild in the NBA requires strong scouting, player development, and cap management, but you could make the argument that the most important factor is luck. Take the Kings, for instance. Sacramento has posted a dismal 187-371 record over the last seven seasons, landing in the draft lottery every single year. However, even when they were the NBA's worst team in 2008/09, the Kings only landed the fourth overall pick, and never selected higher than that. Many of the team's signings and trades have been questionable, but its draft picks have been solid enough — the club just never picked high enough to land a true franchise player.

The Cavaliers, on the other hand, have had an exceptional string of luck since one of the worst nights in franchise history, when LeBron James made his infamous "Decision." In the three subsequent draft lotteries, the Cavs have overcome unlikely odds to land a pair of first overall picks, drafting Kyrie Irving the first time around and now looking to add another difference-maker in the 2013 draft.

So far, that luck hasn't translated into on-court success, but the assets the Cavs have at their disposal represent a general manager's dream. During a rebuild, teams typically target young players, cap flexibility, and draft picks. The Cavs have a ton of all three, including three recent top-four picks (Irving, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters) with another on the way, only about $27.48MM in guaranteed 2013/14 salary, and the potential for an incredible 13 picks (seven first-rounders) in the next three drafts.

Given the young talent already in place on the roster, it's no surprise that the Cavs are willing to sacrifice some of the picks and cap room they've accumulated to trade for a veteran star. In another year, dangling that first overall pick would be enough to engage in serious discussions for an established All-Star like Kevin Love or LaMarcus Aldridge. However, because this year's draft is viewed as weak at the top, a report suggesting the Cavs would part with the No. 1 pick as part of a package for Love was met with a shrug — of course they would.

The low relative value of the No. 1 pick this year is especially problematic for the Cavs since owner Dan Gilbert is expecting a playoff berth in 2013/14. That means that drafting Nerlens Noel, who is widely considered the player with the most upside in this year's class, may not be the most viable option for Cleveland, since Noel is expected to spend much of the season recovering from ACL surgery.

Still, if the Cavs are unable to find a palatable trade to add a star to complent Irving, there will be no shortage of alternate options for the team. In fact, there are so many different directions the team could go that it's virtually impossible to make any predictions with any confidence. Consider the following possible approaches for the team, all of which seem viable to me:

  1. Trading the No. 1 pick and various other assets for a star.
  2. Drafting Noel, continuing to acquire more assets using their cap room (for instance, turning two or three second-round picks into the Mavs' No. 13 pick and Shawn Marion), and preparing to make a bigger splash in the summer of 2014, when the draft and free agent classes will both be stronger.
  3. Drafting a player that could contribute immediately, such as Otto Porter or Ben McLemore, and using the cap room to target other high-upside players such as Nikola Pekovic, Andrew Bynum, and/or O.J. Mayo.
  4. Drafting an immediate contributor and using the cap room to target trade candidates with one remaining year on their contracts (ie. Danny Granger) or free agents who would sign one-year deals, so the team could contend for a playoff spot and still reload in the summer of '14.
  5. Some combination of the above strategies, perhaps involving trading down in the draft, or using Anderson Varejao's pseudo-expiring contract (it's partially guaranteed in 2014/15) as a trade chip.

The Cavs may not be one of the NBA's most desirable free agent destinations at this point, but even if they have trouble recruiting veterans to Cleveland, the Cavs still have so much flexibility that they should be able to add talent without being a big player in free agency. And we haven't even discussed the possibility of the Cavs eventually pursuing a reunion with LeBron in the summer of 2014. I'm less bullish on that idea than I once was, especially if the Heat continue to win championships, but Varejao's partial guarantee is the only non-rookie-contract money on Cleveland's books for 2014/15 so far, so cap room shouldn't be an issue.

The Cavaliers' young core has undergone some growing pains over the last several seasons, and it's possible that Thompson and Waiters weren't the optimal choices for the Cavs in their respective drafts. But there's so much talent on the roster and so many avenues for the team to continue adding more talent that it's hard not to be optimistic about the future in Cleveland. The Cavs' choice at first overall in this month's draft remains shrouded in mystery, and the same could be said about the rest of the team's offseason, which could go in any number of directions. I'll be looking forward to see where the club ends up in the fall.

Additional notes:

  • Of the team's free agents, I'd be surprised if Luke Walton, Daniel Gibson, or Omri Casspi returned, unless perhaps it was on a minimum-salary contract. However, I could see the Cavs deciding to re-sign Wayne Ellington, and there's no guarantee that Marreese Speights will opt out of the final year of his contract, worth $4.52MM.
  • Bringing back Speights and Ellington would compromise the club's flexibility somewhat, but if we assume Speights opts in, Cleveland uses both its first-round picks, and Ellington re-signs for an annual salary in the neighborhood of $3MM, there will still only be about $40MM in salary commitments on the Cavs' books.
  • Although the Cavs have four players (Irving, Thompson, Waiters, and Tyler Zeller) on rookie deals, none are extension-eligible this offseason. Irving and Thompson will be eligible for extensions during the 2014 offseason.

Cap footnotes:

  1. Miles', Quinn's, and Jones' contracts are all fully non-guaranteed, with no guarantee date.

Storytellers Contracts and Sham Sports were used in the creation of this post.

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2 thoughts on “Offseason Outlook: Cleveland Cavaliers

  1. RobertF

    Depending upon how the ping pong balls fall, one wonders how the Cav’s feel about
    Drummond from UConn. Along with a need for wings they definitely need help at
    Center, and the chances to obtain one doesn’t come along every year.

  2. Max Forstag

    I just don’t know if it’d be a good idea to draft a guy who shoots 30% at the line. We already have enough players who can-t make free throws.

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