The Cleveland Cavaliers are still celebrating their NBA championship, but the time for thinking about the immediate and long term future has arrived. With free agency just around the corner, general manager David Griffin is thinking about keeping the title-winning squad together.
The Cavaliers had the same kind of “problem” after losing in the NBA finals last season, although the main goal was different. LeBron James was in a similar position – an opt out or stay, with the whole new salary cap peaking on the horizon. Tristan Thompson was the problematic deal that they managed to complete, and one a championship with. Kevin Love signed a max deal that some think is a waste of money, but he played his part in the title. Iman Shumpert was re-signed, so was J.R. Smith, and Matthew Dellavedova,
The Cavaliers have six free agents: James, who’ll opt out of his deal, and the question will be whether he signs a five-year deal now or goes for another 1+1 and wait for another salary cap rise. Besides James, the other are role players: Smith, Dellavedova, Timofey Mozgov, James Jones and Dahntay Jones. Richard Jefferson isn’t sure whether he wants to retire or not. He’s leaning towards quitting, but that’s not certain. Not yet.
James has confirmed he’s staying, and he’s not going to hold the Cavaliers hostage for a while like he did last season. The Knicks and Lakers might be dreaming of signing him, but it’s not going to happen. Not now. As for the other players? Smith looked for more money last season and couldn’t find it, so he came back to Cleveland for less than his player option. It won’t be too surprising if it happens again. He was due to make $5 million in 2016-2017.
Dellavedova wasn’t very meaningful in the NBA Finals, but was part of a successful second unit during the regular season. He made only $1.1 million in 2015-2016, and will surely be looking to upgrade his financial status. James Jones, the shadow of LeBron James during his six consecutive Finals run, means to the team in ways that can’t be seen on the box score sheets. He won’t get more than the veteran’s minimum. Dahntay Jones isn’t really necessary, but Cavs players say they like him. But for the regular season, can he actually help them? Probably not. Mozgov is gone after a bad season and playoffs.
One thing worth remembering: While some players underperformed or were hardly used during the Finals, they do mean something during the long, 82-game regular season. When you build a team, you don’t think about four-to-seven games in June. You think about the whole 100 games (mas o menos) journey. And the Cavaliers, who got very little outside a seven man rotation in the final, need to think about improving and adding, not just maintaining what worked. Their cap situation (will be deep into luxury tax) makes it complicated, and calls for some creative decision making.