Solving Problems: Cavaliers Rebuilding
The Cleveland Cavaliers began their rebuilding process last season when they traded Maurice Williams and Jamario Moon for the bloated contract of Baron Davis and an unprotected first round pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. The pick turned into the number one overall pick in the draft and gave the Cavs two picks inside the top four.
Cleveland drafted point guard Kyrie Irving with the first overall selection and Tristan Thompson with the fourth. The Cavs believe these two players can be the anchors of their rebuilding project and the fans have to hope this is the beginning of an eventual run to the playoffs.
Moving forward, the Cavs need to improve their talent pool by adding young players through the draft, trade or free agency. The team needs to focus on setting themselves up for the future and not on making one last ditch run to the playoffs this upcoming season.
This is where the Cavs need to make a big splash, especially next year. They’ve already found their point guard in Irving and hopefully one of their bigs in Thompson. The next step is surrounding them with players who compliment their skill set.
The 2012 NBA Draft promises to be top heavy with potential franchise players like Harrison Barnes, Andre Drummond and Anthony Davis, who will most likely be headlining a deep class. Even if the Cavaliers miss out on the top two or three in the draft, they still need to land a potential starter. What the Cavs do in next year’s draft could dictate whether they make a quick return to the playoffs or are lottery bound for the foreseeable future.
As terrible as it is to say, the best option for Cleveland is to struggle for at least another year. The Cavs shouldn’t be thinking about the playoffs, in fact they should be thinking about giving their young guys as many minutes as possible and making sure they land a top five pick in the draft.
Losing is never easy for an organization, especially after the Cavs were so close to a championship during the ‘LeBron Era,’ but another tough season would be a good thing for the long-term future of the franchise.
The Cavaliers should have plenty of trade options available to them this year (if there is a season of course). Antawn Jamison is a large expiring contract that can still contribute to a contending team. He can play both forward spots and last season managed to average 18 points a game.
The Cavs would be wise to consider trading Jamison to a team that is in need of long-term cap relief or is on the brink of competing for a title. Teams that need to shed salary will often give up unprotected first round picks in order to get out from under a long-term deal and teams looking to compete for a championship almost always want veterans over young players.
The Orlando Magic might be willing to give up J.J. Redick and a first round pick for Jamison. The Phoenix Suns are capped out and might consider trading next year’s first round pick, which is likely to be in the lottery, for Jamison if the Cavs are also willing to take back a long-term contract or two.
Anderson Varejao is probably the Cavs best trade asset. He is a true center who turns 29 at the end of September and is in the second year of a modest five-year deal. The Cavs have gone on record as saying they aren’t interested in moving Varejao, but he is the one player that is certain to return a high first round draft pick or a young player Cleveland could add to its core.
If the Cavs put Varejao on the block there are a number of teams that will likely be interested in him. Teams like the Miami HEAT, Atlanta Hawks, Golden State Warriors, or Houston Rockets would all be interested in a defensive center like Varejao.
Perhaps the Rockets would be willing to trade Courtney Lee and an unprotected 2012 first rounder for him. If the Rockets believe Varejao is the missing piece to Houston getting back to the playoffs, then this trade makes sense for both teams.
Golden State has been in need of a defensive presence for years. Would they be willing to part with Monta Ellis? Ownership has said no in the past, but if Stephen Curry and Ellis struggle playing together next season then anything is possible. The Warriors have other assets as well. Former lottery pick Ekpe Udoh and a future first rounder would be a deal full of potential for the Cavs.
The point of this is the Cavs should have options via trade, and should be looking to improve the future of their team. They need to focus on either shedding salary or adding young players and draft picks. The last thing the Cavs want to do is add a big salary player who crushes their cap space for the next three or four years without getting another asset in return.
The Cavs will most likely exceed whatever cap is set once the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) is reached. The only options the Cavs will have in free agency will be if the exceptions survive in the new CBA. It’s possible the Cavs could pursue someone using the mid-level exception. Players such as Shane Battier, Grant Hill or Jason Richardson may be available for the mid-level, but all of those players will be looking for a long-term deal.
The Cavs however, should be looking for only short-term deals. Cleveland would be making a mistake if they handed out four or five year deals that could cripple their flexibility moving forward. They would be better suited saving their cap space for trades that could bring back draft picks or young players that are still on their rookie contracts.
Unless the Cavs believe they could pry a restricted free agent like Marc Gasol or Thaddeus Young away from their current team with a max mid-level deal, which is highly unlikely, it’s probably in Cleveland’s best interest to sit out this year’s free agent market and focus on trades and the draft.
The Cavaliers have a long way to go before they will be competing for a playoff spot, but they made some significant strides last season when they added an extra lottery pick. The next step is to shed salary giving the team more financial flexibility, which should allow them to add more young players via trade or the draft.
It’s going to take years for Cleveland to remove the stain that LeBron James left when he bolted for the HEAT, but if the Cavs can stay patient, draft well, and use their trade assets correctly, they could be setting themselves up to be the next young up-and-coming team in the NBA.
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