The NBA off-season is about to go into overdrive and the Cleveland Cavaliers are looking to turn their moribund franchise’s direction around. After four straight seasons with no more than 33 wins (all after LeBron James’ departure), the Cavaliers have failed to overcome the loss of their home state hero and franchise cornerstone.
During that same four-year period, the aforementioned James has elevated his game, leading his Miami Heat “Big Three” to four consecutive NBA Finals appearances. Witnessing such success with a player the city once considered their own has been a bitter pill to swallow; and has led the franchise to hit the “reset” button in their front office and coaching staff; jettisoning two-time head coach Mike Brown and general manager Chris Grant.
In the organizations’ quest to regain NBA relevance, here are three key areas the team will focus on this off-season, each of which contributes greatly to the team’s ultimate long term success.
Before any other moves can take place, the Cleveland Cavaliers need to decide which player to select first overall in the June 26th NBA Draft. Long considered the consensus number one selection, Joel Embid will be lost for four to six months after surgery to repair a stress fracture in his navicular bone.
Injury issues must be weighed heavily in the NBA, with a long history of potentially great players derailed. Names like Bill Walton, Sam Bowie, Brandon Roy, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Greg Oden. Had injuries not played a role in their respective careers, each could have reached far greater heights than their ravaged knees or feet prevented them from.
With a game-changing big man in Embid likely out of the mix, the team can focus on their next greatest need; a scoring wing player who would compliment Kyrie Irving as a potent offensive threat. There are two key names to consider, each with their own strengths. Between Andrew Wiggins (Kansas) and Jabari Parker (Duke), Parker is the most NBA-ready player; one capable of putting up 18-20 points per night.
Adding another key cog to their core of Irving, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson and eventually Anthony Bennett; the Cavaliers have the making of a talented team that could leapfrog many in the East and secure a playoff berth for the first time since 2010.
The Cavaliers have the potential of having three max contract players on their roster next season. This would include signing two existing free agents then re-signing All Star MVP Kyrie Irving once the prior deals are inked.
At the top of the list of players the Cavaliers will target is LeBron James should he opt out of his contract with the Miami Heat. As a former Cavalier and native of Ohio, his “Decision” departure four years ago is still painful for many Cavs fans to take. His admission that the whole production was ill-advised; the reasoning behind his defection was directly tied to the lack of supporting talent on the roster.
If you consider Kyrie Irving a solid starting point, the Cavaliers possess young developing talent along with a first overall pick (their third first overall pick in the past four years) and you have the making of a quickly ascending team in the Eastern Conference.
Other prominent players who could be command a max contract and be sought after include Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh (should he opt out) and Pau Gasol. Couple these first tier players with other notable unrestricted free agent talent like Luol Deng (played 2013-14 season with Cavs), Kyle Lowry, Lance Stephenson, Trevor Ariza and Marcin Gortat; you begin to see how a newly constituted roster could result in a playoff contender in short order.
While the Cavaliers would like to build a roster through free agency and the draft, current NBA salary cap restrictions will prevent the team from adding talent solely from these avenues. Cleveland’s front office will need to be savvy in probing the trade market to leverage existing assets for new complimentary talent. Key veterans Jarrett Jack, Luol Deng (sign and trade) or Anderson Varejao could be paired with future draft considerations or existing young talent to lure new talent to town. Of the aforementioned players, Dion Waiters offers the most upside and is currently in a position of team strength.
The most notable player likely to be traded this off-season is Minnesota Timberwolves All Star Kevin Love. While the likelihood of Cleveland offering enough existing talent and draft considerations is low, the fact that he is unlikely to resign with his acquiring team makes such a move a major gamble.
There are many days before NBA training camp begins and the Cleveland Cavaliers team that ended their 2014 season in disappointing fashion will have a very different look come the fall. A new head coach (David Blatt) with an international motion offensive style will already put forth a different look next season. But depending how Cleveland handled the aforementioned areas of focus will go a very long way in setting the franchise course for the next three to five seasons.
Scott Duhaime is a New England Sports fan and former resident, transplanted to Ohio. Despite his new address, his passion for sports hasn’t dimished, as best evidenced by his creation and continued contributions to Banner Day Boston and Banner Day Boston Radio .