Cleveland Cavaliers are still reeling from an embarrassing loss in the finals to Golden State Warriors not because the team didn’t put up a good fight but because of how different the series could have gone and where its future lie.
Cavaliers future is in serious doubt as the team awaits Forward LeBron James decision this offseason. The Cavs had Game One’s win in hand before a slew of mistakes and bad luck came flying in with just four seconds remaining to give away the win.
James will be looking into all of that and decide what his next step will be either staying put and trusting management to get better players around him or leaving town.
Just like his first departure from Cleveland, Cavs are among the 15 year veteran player’s suitors same with Miami Heat and New York Knicks. New and more ambitious prospective teams have joined the list including Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets and Philadelphia Sixers.
That is for James to deal with but for Cavs management, the group has to do business irrespective what happens with LeBron.
Like any other team in the NBA, Cavs must decide to rebuild or make moves to remain in contention for a title. Making moves include sticking with the current roster sans LeBron and adding a few pieces while the former takes Cleveland fans down a path they became used to after LeBron departed in 2010.
As bad as those years were, a full on rebuild represents the best chance for Cleveland to return to the top.
Though he just got swept for the second time in the finals for the second time in his career, LeBron earned the respect of many by willing the average Cavs roster to four seconds of potentially taking down Golden State for the second time in the finals. At best, Cleveland ‘s roster is a first round candidate in the Eastern Conference and a fringe playoff contender in the much better Western Conference.
Without LeBron, Kevin Love becomes the top guy in the locker room just like he was at Minnesota Timberwolves early in his career. Before joining Cavs in 2015, Love had not tasted postseason competition as Minnesota failed to make the playoffs in seven years of his time with the team. Competition is tougher in the West and that is why Cleveland stands a chance of sneaking into the postseason in the East but that is just about it in terms of positive trajectory for the side.
Looking at the conference, there is major improvement coming next season as Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving return to Boston Celtics roster, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons work in tandem for another season and Mike Budenholzer unlocks Milwaukee Bucks immense potential with his San Antonio Spurs- like ball movement plays. Despite the absence of Dwane Casey, Toronto Raptors look to remain in the top four and Washington Wizards and Indiana Pacers are not too far off either.
This should make a tough run for playoff slots for Cleveland who wouldn’t be worthy of over $85 million in salary. Next season, the Cavaliers have Love, JR Smith, Tristan Thompson, Jordan Clarkson, George Hill and Kyle Korver, Cedi Osman and Ante Zizic as on the books. The remaining members are either restricted free agents like Rodney Hood or unrestricted free agents like Jose Calderon and Jeff Green. The first group will be paid little over $90 million next season and Love has a player option after the 2018-2019 season.
Cleveland has the eighth pick in this year’s Draft and can add one or two high draft picks should it trade Love. Moving Korver and Hill should go smoothly too but moving Thompson, Smith and Clarkson is sure to be a challenge given their low production and high salaries. Thompson will be paid $16.4 million, Smith will be paid $13.7 million and Clarkson will be paid $12 million next season. Cavs should trade their best pieces to grab picks from this year’s talent laden draft and ride this season out with an aggressive plan for 2019-2020 since the final year of Smith’s deal has the Shooting Guard with $3 million guaranteed on his deal.
Thompson and Clarkson’s contract will be expiring in that year and makes them trade baits for young low salaried talent to open up space on the salary sheet giving the team a chance to make a splash in free agency. Should Cavs make the right picks, they should have ready talent and ample cap space to woo free agents to aid their quest back to the top.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter