The next era of Cleveland Cavaliers basketball must have a young core to succeed in the years to come.
The eastern conference is the easiest of the two conferences in the NBA, which is a good and bad thing. It is good for the Cleveland Cavaliers because there are not as many great players. However, it is bad because unless a team is a clear favorite in the east, they are not going to achieve much.
Knowing they are going to be without LeBron James again, general manager Koby Altman has his work cut for him. He needs to set Cleveland up in a way that they can improve player development while also adding talent gradually in the years to come to get back to the finals.
The first priority is moving on from bad deals. The worst is Tristan Thompson‘s (thanks LBJ). Thompson provides no value other than rebounding which a good number of players can do at a fraction of the cost.
Exactly how Altman moves on from him remains to be seen. Thompson’s 6.6 boards/game average is not worth $17.4 and $18.5 million respectively over the next two seasons. I have a feeling Cleveland will be forced to keep him another season before finding a taker leading into or during the 2019-2020 season but I hope I am wrong.
Other bad deals include those of George Hill and J.R. Smith. However, their contracts could be bought up for a combined total of less than $5 million. Altman could choose to move on from one or both now or wait. Or, if another team is interested in Smith or Hill and has the room to take on Thompson, then Cleveland wins twice.
Kevin Love could be listed as a bad deal given the injuries he has endured but with James gone, he can be the guy again. That is assuming he wants to stay in Cleveland. If so, then Love’s deal would not be bad and he can be a great veteran presence to their young core.
Given the number of guards, some have a future in Cleveland while others do not. Collin Sexton is the future and the present at the point but Jordan Clarkson, who has not been the player many expected (and is making $12.5 and $13.4 million the next two seasons by the way) should be on the trading block. Kyle Korver could also be worth dealing given the bigger role Cedi Osman will have.
At the moment, Cleveland is not a top contending team in the east. Instead, they have a few bright pieces for the future with multiple misplaced and overpaid pieces. Cleveland may get to .500 or a little above that but that is nothing.
The Cavaliers need to win but not in the sense of winning about half of their games. That does no service to them. Just look at the Charlotte Hornets, Detroit Pistons, Los Angeles Clippers, among others for proof. Cleveland is not the Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics, or the Toronto Raptors.
Cleveland needs to look to the future and a key reason why is because of draft picks. The Cavs owe the Atlanta Hawks their first rounder if it is 11 or later next year. If Cleveland does bad enough then that gets pushes to 2020. Ultimately, the Hawks could instead get two-second rounders instead. Therefore, Cleveland needs to prepare for three to five years down the line.
Altman has been with Cleveland long enough to know .500 basketball is pointless. It is up to him to make the Cavaliers bad enough to add a top talent for at least one season but ideally two. Combining that player(s) with Sexton, maybe Love in some way, Osman, Ante Zizic, and Larry Nance would provide a brighter future than they already are in position for.
There are only a few ways for teams to rebuild. For Cleveland, it is to tear it down and rebuild with a youth movement. If the Cavs do not do that they will end up like all of those .500-esque teams I mentioned.
Is it going to be frustrating for Cleveland to be bad again? Yes, but wouldn’t you want a few bad seasons instead of a foreseeable future of average basketball with no significant jump instead?
There really should not be a discussion given Cleveland’s circumstances as the writing is on the wall. Salary needs moved, building around those young players is a key, and doing what it takes to keep the first rounder is important. From there in a few years, Cleveland will be back in business as a perennial contender.