After LeBron James left for Los Angles in the summer of 2018, the Cavaliers were the NBA’s worst team over the following three seasons, going a combined 60-159 (.274 win percentage). In 2021/22, Cleveland got off to a great start, sitting at 35-21 — just one game back of the top seed in the East — on February 11.
Unfortunately, season-ending knee injuries to Collin Sexton and Ricky Rubio had limited the Cavs’ backcourt depth, which was further tested when Darius Garland and Caris LeVert (whom the team acquired at last year’s trade deadline) battled their own health problems. Lauri Markkanen and Jarrett Allen missed significant time as well, and the Cavs went just 9-17 to close the season, ultimately losing both of their play-in games.
By all accounts, it was still a wildly successful season, but the way it ended understandably left a sour taste in the Cavs’ mouths. They likely would have made the playoffs had they been healthy, but injuries are part of the game.
Instead of returning the same group, the Cavs wanted to accelerate their timeline. It seemed like a foregone conclusion last summer that Donovan Mitchell would eventually end up with his native New York, but instead the Jazz shocked the NBA world by sending him to Cleveland in exchange for Markkanen, Sexton (via sign-and-trade), No. 14 overall pick Ochai Agbaji, the Cavaliers’ unprotected first-round picks in 2025, 2027 and 2029, and the right to swap first-round picks with the Cavaliers in both 2026 and 2028.
Mitchell had an excellent debut season with the Cavs, averaging a career-high 28.3 points per game while scoring more efficiently than ever before, ultimately finishing sixth in MVP voting and earning an All-NBA (Second Team) spot for the first time in his career. Behind the league’s top-ranked defense and an improved offense, the Cavs increased their win total by seven games, going 51-31 and entering the playoffs as the East’s No. 4 seed.
However, Cleveland was thoroughly outplayed in its first-round series against New York, losing in five games. The Cavs actually still hold the best postseason defensive rating out of 16 playoff teams despite the series being lopsided, but a playoff-worst offense and defensive rebounding were major issues.
The Cavaliers’ Offseason Plan
Cleveland doesn’t control its 2023 first-round pick (No. 26 overall), which will be sent to Indiana as part of the trade for LeVert. In fact, the Cavs don’t currently have any future tradable first-round picks due to the Mitchell deal, though they technically could give up swap rights in 2024.
As such, the players on the Cavs’ roster are the primary assets the team controls. The team’s four best players — Mitchell, Garland, Mobley and Allen — are unlikely to be on the move, as they were the core of the team’s first 50-win season without James since ’92/93.
It’s noteworthy that Allen and Mobley struggled in the postseason, getting outplayed by the Knicks’ frontcourt. It turned out to be a bad matchup for the Cavs.
As previously mentioned, one weakness the Cavs had throughout the season was defensive rebounding. They ranked 20th in the league with a 71.5% defensive rebounding percentage. That figure dropped to 60.6% in the playoffs — a figure 7.9% lower than Indiana’s bottom mark during the regular season. The Knicks, meanwhile, held a 31.8% offensive rebounding percentage in the regular season, the second-best rate in the NBA — that number rose to 34.8% in the playoffs, the top mark among the 16 postseason teams.
Of course, not all of that is on Allen and Mobley. Rebounding is a team effort, and wing Josh Hart was a wrecking ball on the offensive glass for New York. It did expose Cleveland’s lack of depth up front (and in general) as an issue though, with Allen and Mobley looking worn down from playing more minutes against a stronger, deeper and more physical Knicks frontline.
President of basketball operations Koby Altman said the Cavs have no intention of overreacting to the playoff loss by breaking up their frontcourt duo, which makes sense, as they were the anchors of the defense. But I do wonder about the long-term fit of Mobley and Allen on offense.
Neither Mobley nor Allen is a threat to shoot from behind the arc at this point, which hurts the team’s spacing. The lane being constantly congested was a major issue in the playoffs, as Mitchell Robinson could just patrol the paint, which is what he prefers to do and is very good at.
That said, the biggest question mark facing the Cavs entering the 2023 offseason is the same as it was entering the 2022/23 season: Finding the right fit at small forward. Caris LeVert filled in at multiple positions throughout the season, including small forward, and he is the team’s biggest free agent. But forward isn’t his natural position, and the Cavs need more depth at other spots as well.
My expectation is the Cavs will look to either extend or re-sign LeVert to a contract perhaps in the range of $45MM over three years. He has said he “absolutely” wants to return and Altman called retaining LeVert a priority.
I also think they’ll guarantee Cedi Osman‘s $6.7MM salary for ’23/24 and pick up their $1.9MM team option on Lamar Stevens. That would give the Cavs 10 players under standard contracts for a total of about $140MM (assuming a $15MM cap hit for LeVert), pushing them over the projected $134MM salary cap.
As long as LeVert’s first-year salary isn’t too expensive, the Cavs could renounce their other cap holds and have the ability to sign a free agent (or two) using their mid-level exception and fill out the roster with minimum contracts without going into the luxury tax, which is projected to be $162MM. They could possibly use their $4.5MM bi-annual exception as well, but it would be a tight squeeze.
If the Cavs can’t shore up their wing depth with the mid-level — there aren’t a ton of great options at that price — I wonder if they might pivot and look to improve their depth at guard or center. Dennis Schröder and Gabe Vincent are unrestricted free agent point guards, while Naz Reid could be an interesting addition at backup center. Reid would bring some floor spacing and a pump-and-drive element that Mobley and Allen don’t currently possess.
In addition to external help, the Cavs will look for internal development, including from wing Isaac Okoro, who will be eligible for a rookie scale extension. They’ll also be hoping for a bounce-back season and better health from forward Dean Wade, who never looked right after injuring his shoulder in December and was limited to 44 regular season games.
Veteran guard Rubio was another player who didn’t look like his old self in ’22/23 as he returned from a torn ACL. He’ll be several more months removed from that surgery by the time next season rolls around, so the Cavs will be hoping he’ll be able to find the form he displayed in his first year with the team in ’21/22.
Salary Cap Situation
- Darius Garland ($33,500,000)
- Note: Garland’s salary will be 25% of the 2023/24 salary cap. This is a projection based on a $134MM cap.
- Donovan Mitchell ($33,162,030)
- Jarrett Allen ($20,000,000)
- Isaac Okoro ($8,920,795)
- Evan Mobley ($8,882,640)
- Ricky Rubio ($6,146,342)
- Dean Wade ($5,709,877)
- Total: $116,321,684
- Lamar Stevens ($1,930,681): Bird rights
- Note: Stevens’ salary would remain non-guaranteed even if his option is exercised.
- Total: $1,930,681
- Cedi Osman ($6,718,842)
- Note: Osman’s salary would become fully guaranteed if he’s not waived on or before June 29.
- Note: Osman’s salary would become fully guaranteed if he’s not waived on or before June 29.
- Sam Merrill ($1,997,238)
- Total: $8,716,080
Restricted Free Agents
- Dylan Windler ($5,959,022 qualifying offer / $12,111,834 cap hold): Bird rights
- Total (cap holds): $12,111,834
Two-Way Free Agents
- No. 49 overall (no cap hold)
- Caris LeVert (veteran)
- Donovan Mitchell (veteran)
- Cedi Osman (veteran)
- Lamar Stevens (veteran)
- Isaac Okoro (rookie scale)
Note: These are players who are either already eligible for an extension or will become eligible before the 2023/24 season begins. LeVert is only eligible until June 30.
Unrestricted Free Agents / Other Cap Holds
- Caris LeVert ($28,194,444 cap hold): Bird rights
- Danny Green ($2,400,000 cap hold): Non-Bird rights
- Robin Lopez ($1,989,698 cap hold): Non-Bird rights
- Raul Neto ($1,989,698 cap hold): Non-Bird rights
- Ed Davis ($1,989,698 cap hold): Early Bird rights
- Rajon Rondo ($1,989,698 cap hold): Non-Bird rights
- Brandon Goodwin ($1,774,999 cap hold): Non-Bird rights
- Total: $40,328,235
Note: The cap holds for Davis, Rondo, and Goodwin remain on the Cavaliers’ books from prior seasons because they haven’t been renounced. They can’t be used in a sign-and-trade deal.
Cap Exceptions Available
- Mid-level exception: $12,220,600
- Bi-annual exception: $4,448,000
- Trade exception: $3,918,360
- Note: Expires on September 4.
Note: The Cavaliers would lose access to the full mid-level exception and the bi-annual exception if their team salary surpasses the tax apron.
16 thoughts on “2023 NBA Offseason Preview: Cleveland Cavaliers”
The Cavs need a cheap defensive wing than can shoot a little as does everybody and continued development from Mobley.
Troy Brown, he won’t impress 2k but there isn’t anyone Avail that will
I’d prefer Yuta Watanabe because of his length and hustle. Cavs need a little grit after flailing so much in the postseason.
I’d prefer Yuta also but Troy is likely a vet minimum guy where as we don’t know where Yuta will be salary wise. Yuta imo is worth more than the Bi Annual and then they would have to split up the MLE.
Yuta and Cedi together is chaos. I’d like to see it.
Browns floor is probably bi – annual ( 4.5 )
Think he beats that tho relatively easily
The sf market is horrific this year
Most will scream overpay, abbd they may be right, but his market should be pretty active and that always turns a good end game number for the player
Mobley needs to make dramatic improvements offensively. He’s got great footwork and handle for a big but it’s wasted as he’s missed a lot of easy facing the basket buckets. He seems so rushed that he doesn’t seem to square his body enough to properly shoot. Also, he’s so thin he’s easily disrupted with a bump to the body. He needs to add weight to be effective in the paint.
I really question the underuse and ultimate buyout of Love. His veteran leadership, outside shooting, ability to draw defenders out to the perimeter and outlet passes off of defensive rebounds could’ve been of use especially against the Knicks. I doubt he’ll comeback because he didn’t get much playing time once D. Wade came off the injured list.
Unless there’s a great 3 and D top talent that slides down to the 2nd round OR if they can get a second 2nd pick I would love for them to take a shot on Purdue’s 7’4 center Zach Edey. He’s not going to space the floor but I think the team needs a guy that in situations you can put in for an easy bucket alternative in the paint. He could easily be a .65% shooter around the rim on offensive rebounds, lobs, put backs and he barely needs to jump to dunk the ball. And he’s also a decent 70% FT shooter. Too many times the perimeter shooting falters and the defense sags on Mobley/Allen around the rim. But a guy like Edey could be unstoppable in the paint 5ft in on the basket. He could be an EXCELLENT back up center and IF he takes to the game could make Allen more expendable to perhaps get a better 3 and D guy than the options we have. I could see him being a better version of Hartenstein with real upside. Instead of carrying a similar plodding player like Robin Lopez why not bring in Edey? He played baseball and hockey most of hood teen years and didn’t commit to basketball until the last 5 years or so. I see zero risk and the Cavs can probably get an additional 2nd round pick for nothing, especially from good teams not looking to take on a roster spot for a “fringy” prospect that probably won’t make the team.
I like the idea of Naz Reid on the Cavs roster. Even if it means losing LeVert. Reid could easily fill both the sixth-man role and also be the true backup big the Cavs desperately need. It would also give Mobley more leeway to develop.
Also, I really wish they’d trade Osman or drop him like a hot potato. He’s good when he’s on, but when he’s not he’s literally a walking Benny Hill theme. He either needs more time to sort himself out, which the Cavs can’t give him, or zero time. Think they could flip him to Brooklyn as part of a package for Royce O’Neale?
No late 1st, no Royce O’neale. Cavs have tried.
Osman gets a bad wrap. He is the only Cab that pushes pace and creates transition out of non and semi transition possessions. It’s why he was positive in almost any line up and had the highest plus minus per minute on the team.
I don’t pretend to understand salary cap rules, but that hold of $12M for Windler looks crazy. I assume the only reason they haven’t renounced it yet is because they’re over the cap so it won’t make any difference. I assume, of course, that there is no way they exercise their option to pay him $6M. When they renounce him, are they able to re-sign him for the minimum, or does some other team get to do that?
Yeah, when we list restricted free agents here, it doesn’t necessarily mean the team WILL make that player restricted by offering the listed QO — just that they can.
There’s obviously no way Windler is getting his QO, so he’ll be made an unrestricted free agent. In that scenario, he’s free to sign outright with the Cavs or any other team for any amount they can offer.
CLE is in a good situation. They have young stars in place under team control.
But, in making the DM trade, they did leave themselves with any quality trade assets for a few years. So, upgrading the team from here won’t be as straight forward as acquiring desirable veterans from other teams via trade. They have to be creative and look for opportunities. Good news is that (unlike most of the league) they’re not looking for stars, or at least don’t need to find any.
They are looking for a dirt cheap 3 & D wing. Bad news for them is the entire NBA is searching for that exact same thing, and I’m not sure living in Cleveland and playing for a team that got bounced in the 1st round is going to be enough to convince anyone worth signing
Not really. No reason they can’t get a quality 2 way wing player (12 mm per year) with their MLE, and then pick up a vet or two. Key is they don’t need much beyond a starter at 3, and some filler.
S&T LeVert for Royce O’Neale.
Think Danny Green has more left in tank?
18 mpg x 50 games ?