Where Does Cleveland Go From Here?
The Cleveland Cavaliers got off to a better start this season than anyone could have reasonably anticipated, but challenging for the playoffs this early during the rebuilding process was never really in the plan. No team “tanked” more successfully after the trade deadline while continuing to develop and evaluate their young prospects than Cleveland.
In what has been described as one of the strongest draft classes in years, the Cavaliers have two first round draft picks and two early second round picks with which to bolster their roster. The team also heads into next season with only five players on guaranteed contracts and has maximized their flexibility to go after free agents or make unbalanced trades.
Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, and Omri Casspi will all be returning on their rookie contracts and the 29-year-old Anderson Varejao will be back to plug the whole in the middle and provide a veteran presence. Luke Walton has another year on his deal and was the price the Cavaliers paid to get a second first round pick.
The Cavaliers can make Alonzo Gee a restricted free agent and Gee is probably their only young player on an expiring deal that they will stop another team from taking off their hands. Samardo Samuels and Daniel Gibson’s contracts are not guaranteed for next season and it shouldn’t be a surprise if they don’t return. Over the past month, Lester Hudson has earned a shot to try and make this team next season.
2012 NBA Draft
The Cavaliers began the rebuilding process with two first round picks in 2011 and they will continue it with two more firsts in 2012. Normally, two second round picks would not generate much excitement, but the Cavaliers picks are early and there should be some solid prospects available.
Sitting in fifth heading towards the draft lottery, Cleveland is about to add another player with star potential to their roster. Although it is very unlikely they will win the first pick in the draft two years in a row, the prospects available on either side of five will generate a lot of excitement. The Cavaliers need help on the wing, at forward and at center and this draft will help meet those needs. Andre Drummond, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, or Bradley Beal would be solid additions, but in Cleveland, no one would generate more excitement than Ohio State star Jared Sullinger.
Cleveland owns the Lakers first draft pick which will be in the late twenties, but the Cavaliers should find another solid addition here as well. Kentucky shooting guard Doron Lamb or Indiana point guard Marquis Teague could fall here and center prospects Festus Ezeli and Fab Melo should be available.
In the second round, some NBA ready seniors like William Buford, Draymond Green, or Darius Miller could fall to Cleveland and these players could help fill roster spots on the Cavaliers or help facilitate trades to acquire some veteran talent.
The Cavaliers are primarily rebuilding through the draft and who they select will impact the players they target in free agency or by way of trades.
At this point, the Cavaliers have $31.6 million in salaries committed to next season and will not want to field a team comprised almost totally of players on their rookie deals. The positive impact of veterans like Antawn Jamison and Anthony Parker on young players cannot be overstated and even the loss of a young veteran like Ramon Sessions at the trade deadline was felt almost immediately.
While it is very unlikely Parker or Jamison return, the addition of some veteran talent is important for the Cavaliers to continue to progress and even though the team has the salary cap space, going after a big star does not meet the team’s needs at this time.
A backup point guard like the Bulls 29-year-old John Lucas would provide some experience and fit in comfortably behind Irving and a young veteran like Houston shooting guard Courtney Lee would help solidify the wing. A team-oriented veteran like Reggie Evans would provide a good example of hustle and hard work in limited minutes. The Cavaliers will have plenty of options to fill their last few roster spots with players who can help the team develop.
The Cleveland Cavaliers successfully kicked off their rebuilding plan through the draft last year and hold four picks in 2012. Without a doubt, the Cavaliers have chosen to draft their next star players. Next season will be like this season, with two more first round draft picks added to the rotation. Nothing will be more important than the development of Irving, Thompson, and the two or more rookies added to the roster.
Where do the Cavaliers go from here? They follow the road map set out by the Oklahoma City Thunder.