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It’s shaping up to be quite the summer for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
As you may have heard, LeBron James can opt out of his player option and become a free agent. After a sweep in the NBA Finals at the hands of the Golden State Warriors, anything and anyone can be on the table.
Outside of James, the Cavs don’t have to make a lot of free-agent decisions. Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, JR Smith, Kyle Korver, George Hill, Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson are all still under contract.
Cleveland’s next order of business will be the NBA draft on June 21, where the Cavs hold the No. 8 overall pick. Unfortunately, they’ll have to make that pick likely before they know what James will do this summer.
Heading into one of the most important offseasons in franchise history, here’s some of the biggest issues the Cavaliers will face.
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Everything starts and ends with this.
Cleveland should get a meeting with James and his representatives, should he choose to go that route. A sweep from the Finals still stings, and the overall supporting cast isn’t great, but staying in Northeast Ohio does carry its advantages.
“The one thing that I’ve always done is considered, obviously, my family,” James said after the conclusion of the Finals.
“Understanding especially where my boys are at this point in their age. They were a lot younger the last time I made a decision like this four years ago. I’ve got a teenage boy, a pre-teen and a little girl that wasn’t around as well. So sitting down and considering everything, my family is a huge part of whatever I’ll decide to do in my career, and it will continue to be that.”
The Cavs don’t need to make a family pitch to James, he’s already well aware of the advantages of staying put. LeBron James Jr. is now just one year away from potentially playing at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, just a 15 minute drive from the James household in Bath Township outside Akron.
Cleveland can offer the most money of any team, a maximum five-year, $ 209 million deal that would take James to age 38. Others can only hope to lure James with a four-year, $ 157 million offer.
There’s a legacy play that the Cavaliers can make as well. Playing with only two teams in his entire career keeps James equal with Michael Jordan. Leave to go ring chasing, and some might view him in a similar light as Kevin Durant, who still faces backlash from some for joining a 73-win Warriors team.
At this point anything James wants should be on the table. A $ 200 million deal? No problem. A statue of “The Block”? Pick the location. Moving the Cavaliers to downtown Akron so James has a shorter commute? Start drawing up the blueprints.
There will be no greater player or era in Cavs history. Both should be preserved for as long as possible.
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Tyronn Lue has lasted two-and-a-half seasons as head coach of the Cavaliers, which is about the average term under owner Dan Gilbert. The contracts of the last two coaches, David Blatt and Mike Brown, are still being paid until the new league year in July.
Lue faced a series of health problems during the regular season, causing him to miss nine games. He’s since hired a personal chef but admits he probably came back to the sidelines too early so as not to miss the playoffs.
When asked after Game 4 of the Finals if he thought he’d be back as head coach, Lue said: “From my standpoint? Yeah, I do. I had some tough problems going on throughout the course of the season, and like you said, I probably could have folded myself, but I wasn’t going to do that.”
Lue is still owed roughly $ 15 million over the next two years, meaning most owners wouldn’t even consider firing him. This is Gilbert we’re talking about, however, who fired Brown and Blatt with three and two-and-a-half years to go on their contracts, respectively.
The last time James was a free agent in Cleveland in 2010, Gilbert fired Brown (for the first time) in a desperation move and hired Byron Scott. Gilbert, a Michigan State graduate, recruited Tom Izzo hard but had no luck when he couldn’t get a commitment from James.
The Cavaliers can always use Lue’s future as a pitch to James, giving him the power to decide if they should switch leaders. James has never been part of a coaching search, and the list of names who may leave good jobs for the chance to work with the best player in the world every day could be interesting.
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Tony Dejak/Associated Press
Outside of James, Hood is Cleveland’s biggest free agent.
Coming off his rookie deal, Hood is restricted, which gives the Cavaliers the right to match any offer he receives.
So how big will they be willing to go?
Hood was a huge part of their midseason roster shakeup and was supposed to take the reins of starting shooting guard from JR Smith. He averaged 10.8 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 25.3 minutes, starting 11 of his 21 games with the Cavs.
While it was somewhat of a disappointing regular season, there was hope the 6’8″ wing would take on a more prominent offensive role in the playoffs next to James and Kevin Love. Instead, Hood was so awful he got dropped out of the rotation.
“At times when I may lose a little bit of confidence because of playing time or whatever, I look back to my Utah highlights a lot on YouTube just to remind myself that that was this [season] when I did those things,” Hood told Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated.
Hood spent his first 15 playoff games averaging just 4.4 points on 41.8 percent shooting. In his final two against the Warriors, he chipped in 25 total points and 14 rebounds.
This is the story of Hood’s career: so terrible at times with his shot selection and turnovers that he gets booted from a rotation; so offensively gifted at others that he can nearly help win a Finals game.
Losing Hood for nothing would be tough, but don’t expect Cleveland to match any huge offers with $ 139 million in salary already committed for next season if James returns.
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Sitting at No. 8 overall, Cleveland isn’t going to get a Deandre Ayton or a Luka Doncic, and that’s OK. There should still be at least one high-upside player available when the Cavs are on the clock.
That could be Oklahoma point guard Trae Young, Duke forward Wendell Carter Jr. or Missouri forward Michael Porter Jr.
If there’s no deal already in place to trade the pick, Cleveland can throw positions out the window and just take the best player available.
The Cavs should do this for two reasons: If James leaves, they need talent more than anything, as a rebuild is likely forthcoming. If he stays, teams are far more likely to trade an established star for a player with high upside rather one that would simply fit their roster.
Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman has the Cavs taking Carter Jr. in his latest mock draft:
“Without knowing how the roster will look after free agency, the Cleveland Cavaliers won’t be trying to plug any specific holes in the draft. They’ll take the best player who falls to them, and in this case, it’s Wendell Carter Jr.
Strong, long and skilled, Carter is highly effective around the basket as a scorer and rebounder, but he also has promising shooting mechanics and enough range, having made 19 of 46 three-pointers.
Long term, Carter could ultimately give the Cavaliers a major offensive upgrade over Tristan Thompson at center.”
Cleveland shouldn’t get cute here. Draft for talent and wait to see what James does next.
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The Cavaliers have three bad contracts they should be looking to shed this offseason.
No, this doesn’t count Kevin Love’s deal of $ 24.1 million or LeBron James’ opt-in value of $ 35.6 million. Those are pricey numbers but well worth it in today’s NBA. It also doesn’t count the $ 37 million remaining on George Hill’s contract, given only $ 1 million of his $ 18 million for 2019-20 is guaranteed. Cleveland should be able to use Hill’s deal in a trade to match up money, given that the team getting him would only have to worry about one year.
Instead, Cleveland’s awful salary-cap situation comes down to Tristan Thompson, JR Smith and Jordan Clarkson.
All of those deals were signed during the 2015 and 2016 offseasons when every front office temporarily lost their collective minds as the salary cap jumped. Hell, even Luol Deng got $ 72 million from the Los Angeles Lakers. That actually happened.
Thompson is the worst of the three, owed $ 17.5 million in 2018-19 and $ 18.5 million in 2019-2020. He enjoyed a mini resurgence in the playoffs but is still an undersized center who doesn’t shoot threes or protect the rim. His backup, Larry Nance Jr., is a better player on a $ 2.2 million rookie deal next season.
To get Nance from the Lakers, the Cavs had to ship out their 2018 first-round pick and take on Clarkson’s contract, valued at $ 12.5 million this coming season and $ 13.4 million the year after. Having just turned 26, there’s some upside still, but his dreadful playoff performances will have Cleveland looking for takers.
Smith’s deal is the best of the worst, with $ 14.7 million coming his way this fall but only $ 3.9 million of his $ 15.7 million guaranteed in 2019-2020. It almost serves as an expiring deal.
While no team with cap space is going to take any of these three for free, the Cavs should look for a swap of bad deals that could at least get them out earlier. Carmelo Anthony and his expiring $ 27.9 million for Smith and Thompson, anyone?
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Even with his family rooted in Northeast Ohio, it’s hard to imagine James would commit to returning to the Cavaliers with Kevin Love as the second-best player.
That’s not meant to be a knock on Love, who’s made two straight All-Star Games with the Cavs and averaged an impressive 19.0 points and 11.3 rebounds in the Finals. Clearly, however, he’s not enough.
The Golden State Warriors (and probably Boston Celtics) are going to be too much to overcome next season for James and this Cavs roster as currently constructed. They need help.
Some possible names to keep en eye on include Charlotte Hornets point guard Kemba Walker, Portland Trail Blazers shooting guard CJ McCollum, Washington Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal, Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George and San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard.
Walker is probably the most attainable, as Hornets majority owner Michael Jordan openly talked about trading him at the deadline this past winter. McCollum and Beal are the Robins in their respective backcourts on teams that both lost in the opening round of the playoffs.
This leaves Cleveland’s dream targets, George and Leonard. George, like James, has a player option he can either opt into and be traded or decline and become an unrestricted free agent. While the pair could team up with the Los Angeles Lakers, it would likely mean having to go through both the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors just to get to the Finals. That’s a tough pill to swallow for James, who has enjoyed a much easier path through the East the past eight years.
Leonard’s future with the Spurs is uncertain. A top-five player in the NBA when healthy, Leonard would likely command a king’s ransom from Cleveland, including future unprotected first-round picks. That’s not something the Cavaliers should part with lightly, as the Brooklyn Nets can certainly attest to.
But James needs another running mate, someone who can put up 20 points a night and take the pressure off him as he heads into season No. 16.