Offseason In Review: Cleveland Cavaliers

November 9 2013 at 2:15pm CST By Chuck Myron

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

  • Acquired a 2015 second-round pick and a 2016 second-round pick from the Trail Blazers in exchange for the No. 31 pick in the 2013 draft.

Draft Picks

  • Anthony Bennett (Round 1, 1st overall). Signed via rookie exception.
  • Sergey Karasev (Round 1, 19th overall). Signed via rookie exception.
  • Carrick Felix (Round 2, 33rd overall). Signed via cap space for four years, $3.29MM. Third year is non-guaranteed. Fourth year is team option.

Camp Invitees

Departing Players

Rookie Contract Option Decisions

The Cavaliers sure weren’t afraid to take a few chances this summer. Risk-taking might be necessary for a small-market team to succeed in a league where the Nets are spending $180MM+ in payroll and luxury taxes this season. Maybe it’s part of the team’s plan to show LeBron James they’re willing to do whatever it takes to win as the former Cav eyes potential free agency in the summer of 2014. Whatever it means for the franchise down the road, the team’s bold moves must help the team to the playoffs this season to satisfy owner Dan Gilbert.

The Andrew Bynum signing was the splashier gamble, but the risk with the most long-term consequences for the club could be the decision to draft Anthony Bennett with the No. 1 overall pick. Few anticipated that the UNLV forward would be the choice, and there was speculation on the eve of the draft that he could slide all the way to the Blazers at tenth overall. That same report said the Cavs were deciding between Alex Len and Nerlens Noel, while another dispatch within 10 days of the draft specifically mentioned Bennett as a player the Cavs wouldn’t draft unless they traded down. The Cavs took Bennett even though his injured rotator cuff prevented him from working out prior to the draft and kept him out of summer league, but neither Noel or Len were healthy at draft time, either.

GM Chris Grant seemingly had ample opportunity to trade the top pick, and he appeared willing to seek a deal of some kind for all four of the team’s selections, as a slew of trade rumors linked the Cavs to Paul Pierce, Kevin Love, Luol Deng and Shawn Marion, among others. They ultimately hung on to both of their first-round picks and converted the top pick in the second round into a pair of future picks that will probably fall somewhere in the middle of the second round. They open a playoffs-or-bust season with three June draftees and undrafted signee Matthew Dellavedova, and none of their four rookies are starting.

Grant’s most prominent free agent signing isn’t starting either, and Bynum has already hinted that he may be much closer to retirement than his old All-Star form. Hitching their wagon to Bynum’s creaky knees was a risk, to be sure, but the Cavs at least gave themselves an out, guaranteeing less than 25% of his nearly $25MM contract. The team can write the $6MM guarantee off as a loss if they don’t like what they see by January 10th, but doing so wouldn’t erase thoughts of what the Cavs might have done if they had used their ample cap space to go after another center, either through trade or free agency.

Nikola Pekovic went weeks without signing an offer from the Timberwolves or any other team, and if the Cavs had swooped in, the worst-case scenario would have involved the offer sheet tying up their cap room for a scant three days before Minnesota decided to match. Pekovic’s $12.1MM salary this season is slightly less than what Bynum will get if he remains on the roster past January 10th, so Grant and company probably wouldn’t have had to significantly alter their other free agent plans to come away with Pekovic.

Of course, Bynum’s upside, like Bennett’s, appeared higher than competing options, and Grant made it clear this summer that he would be bold. The GM gambled on another signing, betting that the half-season of helpful production that Earl Clark gave the Lakers was a greater indicator of Clark’s ability than his three and half years spent as a non-factor. I figured Clark would get a deal worth about $2MM a year when I examined his free agent stock in May, but the Cavs gave him double that.

Another of Grant’s moves seemed more on target. I thought Jarrett Jack would wind up with approximately $6MM annually, and that’s just about what the Cavs gave him. Jack is another bench piece, but he, not Stephen Curry, had the ball in his hands for key stretches with the Warriors last season, when Golden State emerged from the lottery to mount a serious challenge in the second round of the playoffs. Grant no doubt envisions Jack doing the same alongside Kyrie Irving this year.

Clark has opened the season as the starter at small forward, but all of the other additions for the Cavs this season are to the team’s bench. The eight players who departed the team were reserves, too, but Cleveland didn’t lose 58 games last season simply because its bench was substandard. The team’s first string has to improve for it to make the playoffs, and unless Bennett, Bynum or another player currently not in the starting lineup nabs a spot at some point, it seems the Cavs had a summer of lateral movement. The return of Anderson Varejao will certainly help, but his injury history cautions against banking on a full season from him. The pressure’s on Irving, Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson to show marked improvement this year. The former top-five picks certainly seem capable of doing so, but an improvement of 17 wins, which would bring the team to .500, is not an easy leap.

The specter of LeBron returning to the team he left behind will tempt Cleveland all season, even if he refuses to talk about his ability to opt out of his contract with the Heat. The Cavs will be able to clear enough space to welcome him back to northeast Ohio with a max deal, and they’ll have plenty of talented young players with upside to surround him. But unless Grant continues to upgrade the roster with in-season trades, it’ll be a stretch for the Cavs to demonstrate to LeBron that they can put a playoff-caliber roster around him.

Luke Adams contributed to this post.

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