Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James (23) points to Cleveland Cavaliers’ JR Smith (5) against the Golden State Warriors in final seconds of the fourth quarter of Game 1 of the NBA Finals at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., on Thursday, May 31, 2018. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

A few months to the start of the 2018-2019 NBA season, Cleveland Cavaliers are middling over choices born in the aftermath of LeBron James departure to Los Angeles Lakers.

The team’s top hierarchy should have expected the move looking at the manner Cavs lost for the second straight time against Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals.

For James, a player who is chasing a “ghost” in Chicago’s title count, JR Smith’s odd decision not to shoot in the final seconds eventually costing them Game One, had the bearings of another move out of town for LeBron. Looking the situation heading to the offseason, Cavaliers Management was bound to have a clear idea on what to do in the second phase of the Post LeBron James era in Cleveland.

However, the results thus far mirror one of near confusion as the team’s moves stretch between a rebuild and contention. The NBA Draft gave an indication on the team’s path for the foreseeable future by not trading the eighth overall pick and using it to draft Point Guard Collin Sexton.

Due to consistent trading of draft picks to facilitate trades to keep a competitive roster around James, Cavs had no other pick in the draft. However, getting the ultra quick Sexton is the start of a new era with the team’s future sorted out at the Point and Power Forward positions with Kevin Love staying long term. Love signed a four year extension worth $120 million keeping him for the next five seasons.

Signing Love to an extension means Cleveland plans to stay in the hunt for a playoff spot. A few weeks prior to the extension announcement, management signed 35 year old Channing Frye back to the roster after letting him go in a January trade. Per the structure of the Cavs, they are too good to lose a lot of games to increase its chances of landing a top spot in the draft.

But the Cavs are not good enough to make the playoffs even in the easier Eastern Conference. Should they make it, only a long streak of luck and freak injuries to opposing teams would see them progress beyond the post season first round. So why not gut it out?

Starting from scratch seems the best path for a non contending, non rebuilding team to take even if it means trading away the recently extended Love. Giving Sexton and other young players -Larry Nance Jnr, Ante Zizic, Cedi Osman, Jordan Clarkson and Rodney Hood- extended minutes to grow more on the court represents the best way to reach higher draft positions.

Following Lebron’s first departure to Miami Heat, Cleveland adopted this system and lost a ton of games which eventually got them Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins. Irving and Thompson were instrumental on the 2016 Championship winning team and as bad as Bennett was, he and Wiggins were needed to facilitate the trade for Love from Minnesota Timberwolves.


Cleveland needs to trade away expensive veteran contracts on the roster to tear last season’s Conference Champions roster down. Smith is owed $14 million, Thompson is owed $17 million and George Hill is owed $19 million and all three had below par production in the past season to make them attractive in trade packages. The team stands to gain measly picks in return for offloading such hefty contracts; the picks are likely to be latter first round and second round picks.


However, letting this season play out irrespective of the results at the end of the regular season clears the path for a major rebuild or retool to continue contending for a title. In season 2019-2020, only three of Smith’s $14 million will be guaranteed, only one of $19 million on Hill’s contract will be guaranteed and Thompson will be left with just a season before heading to free agency as an unrestricted agent. The nature of these contracts will be attractive then to land high draft picks to build around Love and Sexton.

Golden State Warriors’ Klay Thompson (11) drives the ball away from San Antonio Spurs’ Patty Mills, right, during the first quarter in Game 2 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series Monday, April 16, 2018, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Love and Kyle Korver’s three point shooting stroke are highly coveted around the league and will fetch a king’s ransom of draft picks and young talented players on rookie scale contracts in return. Should Cleveland management let go of hefty contracts, the team could open up over $30 million on the pay sheet to lure Kevin Love’s sharp shooting buddy Klay Thompson who is an unrestricted free agent after this season. Cleveland could end getting Kyrie Irving to make a return of his own given his friendly relationship with Love.

The Cavaliers path to late postseason run looks murky at the moment but once the upcoming season ends, things will look very clear.

By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter


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