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Offseason In Review: Cleveland Cavaliers

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.



  • None


  • Acquired cash from the Trail Blazers in exchange for Mike Miller, Brendan Haywood, Cleveland’s 2020 second-round pick and the better of the 2019 second-round picks that Cleveland owns from the Lakers and Timberwolves.
  • Acquired the rights to 2015 draftees Cedi Osman and Rakeem Christmas, as well Minnesota’s 2019 second round pick, in exchange for the rights to Tyus Jones, the No. 24 overall pick in this year’s draft.
  • Acquired the Lakers’ 2019 second-round pick in exchange for the rights to Christmas.

Waiver Claims

  • None

Draft Picks

Camp Invitees

Departing Players

Rookie Contract Option Decisions

  • None

Courtesy of USA Today Sports Images

Courtesy of USA Today Sports Images

The homecoming of LeBron James brought about cataclysmic change to a team that was already in flux, as GM David Griffin, just a few months into the job, spent several months transforming a roster midway through a rebuild into one designed to contend immediately. It was a process not without hiccups, with the Rookie of the Year award of Andrew Wiggins standing in sharp contrast to the disappointing, injury-marred campaign of Kevin Love, for whom the Cavs surrendered the 2014 No. 1 overall pick. Still, as the team entered the 2015 offseason, it was clear that Griffin and company had found the pieces necessary for the team to win the championship that has eluded Cleveland for decades, so long as the team could get through a postseason with better health than the Cavs had this past spring. The task this summer was to retain those players.

Nine Cavs became free agents July 1st, and none more prominent than James. Love, Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Matthew Dellavedova were the other rotation players from last season who hit the market. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t cheap, but the Cavs re-signed every one of them. The first of the deals came with the player whose future in Cleveland appeared most in doubt.

Love always insisted that he was committed to the Cavs for the long term from the time he arrived via trade, but rumors persisted all season. The Lakers and, at times, the Celtics were the teams most prominently mentioned in connection with the power forward from UCLA whose performance fell off in his first season with Cleveland. Doubts even surfaced about Cleveland’s own willingness to re-sign Love for the max. James and Love didn’t immediately hit it off on the court or off, with James going so far as to send social media messages, like his “fit-out”/”fit-in” tweet, that spoke to the issues between them. The two nonetheless resolved whatever differences they had in an offseason meeting, and on July 1st, the opening day of free agency, Love and the Cavs reached agreement on a five-year max deal.

The same day, the Cavs were reportedly close to a deal with another talented power forward, but the team’s back-and-forth with Thompson proved to be the most persistent offseason storyline in the NBA. Love’s five-year deal gave the Cavs more leverage than they otherwise would have had, and their power to match all offers also loomed large. Initial reports indicated that James wouldn’t talk about re-signing until Thompson did, but James quietly re-signed shortly after the July Moratorium on another two-year max deal with a player option — giving him the continued opportunity to influence the Cavs’ decision-making and catch the wave of the rising salary cap.

Thompson’s options dwindled along with the number of teams with cap room to give him the max offer he sought, but with agent Rich Paul reportedly having heard that he would have multiple max offers to choose from if Thompson were to hit unrestricted free agency next season, it seemed like Thompson would sign his qualifying offer to go that route, particularly given the rise in the salary cap that made it less of a sacrifice than such a move normally is. However, Thompson and Paul stunned the NBA when they let the qualifying offer expire on October 1st, and while Thompson said he was prepared to hold out all season, it seemingly took only a slight concession from the Cavs to reel him in shortly before opening night.

Thompson’s negotiation wasn’t the only one that took an unusually long time. Smith languished in free agency until striking a deal in late August that will give him a salary of about $1.4MM less than what he would have made if he’d picked up his player option. Again, the Cavs had more leverage the longer Smith waited, as the pool of suitors with cap flexibility shrunk, and the team’s deals with Shumpert, in particular, along with Dellavedova, Mo Williams and Richard Jefferson gave Cleveland plenty of other options on the wing. Smith did guarantee himself about $800K more over the life of his two-year deal than he would have seen in one season had he exercised his option, but that did little to help him save face, and the Cavs wound up with some much-needed tax relief as Smith signed for less than what he surely intended.

The Cavs wisely back-loaded their deal with Shumpert, so even though he’s making $40MM over four years, his salary is slightly less than $9MM this season. Cleveland is in line to pay more than $170MM combined in taxes and payroll, a figure that the team’s decision to keep camp invitee Jared Cunningham into the regular season exacerbates. It explains why the Cavs essentially punted on Brendan Haywood‘s unusually valuable contract, flipping it to Portland for little more than the power to create a trade exception. That exception still allows the Cavs to acquire an eight-figure salary at some point between now and the end of next July, though it’s not quite as powerful a trade chip as the Haywood contract was. The Cavs, with their soaring tax penalties in mind, would prefer not to use the exception until the summer, when a higher salary cap and tax line kick in, but it remains an insurance policy should the team hit a bumpy patch, as Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group and the Cleveland Plain Dealer explained to us.

The Cavs explored bargain options to fill out the roster, as the lure of playing with LeBron and competing for a championship proved attractive to free agents. Williams suggested that he essentially allowed the Cavs to name their price for his return, ultimately signing for the majority of the taxpayer’s mid-level exception. The rest of that exception went to longtime draft-and-stash prospect Sasha Kaun, the only rookie on this year’s Cavs. Cleveland, with near-term success the top priority, traded out of the first round, shipped the rights to second-rounder Rakeem Christmas to the Pacers, and decided against signing second-rounders Cedi Osman or Sir’Dominic Pointer.

Still, the team’s core is young enough that essentially skipping a draft shouldn’t be a problem, as David Zavac of SB Nation’s Fear the Sword suggested to us. One recent draft pick, Dellavedova, impressed in the Finals, but he came back at the value of his qualifying offer, with the Cavs again benefiting from the power of restricted free agency, a power they won’t have if they continue to focus almost exclusively on the present.

Minimum-salary veterans Jefferson and James Jones help populate a bench that coach David Blatt was reluctant to turn to in the playoffs last season, but depth will be a key as LeBron ages and with Shumpert and Kyrie Irving still out with injury. A revamped bench won’t make up for major injuries come postseason time, like the ones to Irving and Love last spring, but as the Spurs have shown in recent years, minutes management can help limit the risk of injury and exhaustion for top players. Proper management of the well-stocked roster is seemingly the last hurdle for these Cavs, and for as much as Griffin has done in the past year and a half, it falls on Blatt and the players to deliver a title.

Eddie Scarito contributed to this post. The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of it.

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