Under Contract (11): Jordan Bell (non-guaranteed), Dante Exum, Darius Garland, Kevin Love, Alfonzo McKinnie (non-guaranteed), Larry Nance Jr., Cedi Osman, Kevin Porter Jr., Collin Sexton, Dean Wade (non-guaranteed), Dylan Windler
Free Agents (5): Matthew Dellavedova (unrestricted), Andre Drummond (unrestricted – player option), Matt Mooney (unrestricted – Two-Way), Tristan Thompson (unrestricted), Ante Zizic (unrestricted)
Projected Cap Space: None. $63.2 million over
Projected Exceptions: Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level ($9.7 million), Bi-Annual ($3.8 million), Jordan Clarkson Trade Exception ($3.8 million, expires 12/24/20)
Projected First Round Draft Pick (pre-lottery): #2
Analysis: In year two post-LeBron James, the Cleveland Cavaliers are trying to speed up the rebuild. After a couple of years of eating bad salary, the Cavs could have had considerable cap space this offseason, but punted on that opportunity at the trade deadline. Koby Altman swapped a couple of expiring contracts and a second-round pick in exchange for Andre Drummond.
Drummond has a $28.7 million player option for the 20-21 season that he’s already indicated he’ll be picking up. With few teams having cap space, few of those teams in need of a center and the uncertain cap environment, Drummond opting in is the wise move. With Drummond in the fold, he essentially becomes Cleveland’s big offseason acquisition. And he might be the only big move the Cavaliers make.
The team now has the top eight players in their rotation all under contract for next season. Drummond will join Kevin Love and Cedi Osman up front. Collin Sexton and Darius Garland are the starting backcourt. Larry Nance Jr., Kevin Porter Jr., and Dante Exum are poised to fill roles off the bench.
Cleveland also locked in on J.B. Bickerstaff to man the sidelines. Bickerstaff replaced John Beilein after the All-Star break, after the long-time college coach struggled to adapt to the NBA. Rather than go through another coaching change, the Cavaliers decided to give Bickerstaff the job moving forward. Bickerstaff’s years of NBA experience should help the young Cavs.
Bickerstaff is in a bit of a tough position though. Drummond and Love are win-now veterans, but the rest of the Cavs roster needs a lot more development. It’s also unclear how much longer Love will remain with the Cavaliers. He’s consistently rumored to be on the trading block, but the $91.5 million Love is owed through 22-23 isn’t going to be easy to move. If the Cavs stay patient and are willing to eat some questionable salary in return, they could get a decent haul for Love.
Unfortunately, the acquisition of Drummond indicates the patient rebuilding days are over. While the cost to acquire Drummond was virtually nil, he’s no longer a young building block. Drummond will be 27 years old next season. That’s far from over the hill, but he’s enough older than the Cavs other young pieces that he’s aged out of being part of their core.
Drummond and Love are also a curious fit up front. On the positive side, Love’s shooting pairs well with Drummond’s inside game. Both are terrific rebounders, which means Cleveland should dominate their own glass. And both understand where to be on the floor and when.
On the other hand, neither Love nor Drummond is much of a defender. Neither has the quickness to handle perimeter-based fours. In 140 minutes over the six games they played together, Love and Drummond were -30 overall and -10.1 points/100 possessions. And Cleveland only grabbed two more rebounds than their opponents during those minutes.
For the Drummond/Love pairing to work up front, the Cavs need to have lockdown defenders on the perimeter. Unfortunately, they don’t have anyone even approaching that status. All three of the starting perimeter players in Sexton, Garland and Osman have shown little defensive potential, beyond Sexton’s competitiveness as a defender.
How does Cleveland move forward on building out this roster then? While he doesn’t exactly fit the timeline with Sexton, Garland and rookie surprise Porter, this is a basically free year to look at Drummond. If the fit proves solid enough, Altman can feel good about giving Drummond a new contract in the 2021 offseason that takes the center into his early-30s.
Beyond that, the Cavaliers need to remain open to a Love trade. Because of the uncertainty this coming season, and potentially beyond, several teams could be looking to move salary. If Cleveland can eat some bad money in exchange for a draft pick, while also moving Love, they need to do it. Love’s been a loyal soldier and was rewarded handsomely for it. But he has a contract that carries big money into his mid-30s. He, and that deal, have no place on a rebuilding team.
If the team stays together as is, Cleveland needs to lean into trying to become an offensive juggernaut that largely eschews the defensive end. If Sexton and Garland continue to develop and can start to approach the Damian Lillard/C.J. McCollum they are so often compared to, the Cavs can build a good offense. That’s the best hope moving forward, and that Portland duo comp isn’t as farfetched as it once seemed.
Sexton was one of the more improved players in his second year. He’s a fearless driver (902 drives on the season, which was 11th in the NBA) and improved his finishing at the rim, in floater range and in the mid-range. He also improved his shooting on long-twos, but the most important part is Sexton all but eliminated those shots this season. As a rookie, Sexton took a whopping 20% of his shots from long-two range. As a sophomore, he knocked that all the way down to just 6% of his field goal attempts.
Garland’s rookie year started off rough. He was playing off the ball a lot, which is clearly not his strength. Once he and Sexton flipflopped roles, Garland’s play improved. He’s got a long way to go, but all the signs are encouraging that Garland can function as a lead guard.
Cleveland’s other rookie was their most pleasant surprise. Kevin Porter Jr. gives the Cavaliers a wing that can grow with the young backcourt. After being rumored as a potential lottery pick, Porter slipped to the very end of the first round. Then Cleveland signed him for less than the rookie scale amount. None of his entry to the NBA went how Porter imagined it would.
Once he was there, despite battling some injuries, Porter made the most of his chances. He proved to be a solid scorer off the dribble, a better than expected shooter (especially at 72% from the charity stripe) and a willing passer. Porter’s backers at the draft talked up his all-around offensive game. He flashed that as a rookie.
The Cavs are still short on shooting, but are hopeful that 2019 first-rounder Dylan Windler can help in that area. Windler missed his entire rookie season due to a stress fracture in his left leg, but impressed at Summer League after a standout college career. Windler knocked down over 40 percent from deep at Belmont and that’s all Cleveland is looking for him to do in the NBA. Eventually, he should be a nice fit on the wing alongside Sexton and Garland.
This offseason, Altman needs to keep the momentum. Cleveland will have another high draft pick. Considering they don’t have a surefire All-Star locked in anywhere, they should go best player available. A big or wing would be ideal, but if a guard falls, Altman can’t pass him up for a lesser player. The Cavs can afford to double-down on positions for now and see where everything falls.
In free agency, it’s about using their limited tools to identify undervalued players with potential. They already took a shot on Jordan Bell, who has a non-guaranteed deal for 20-21. Moves like that are the best use of the team’s Non-Taxpayer MLE vs trying to land a veteran to make a playoff push.
As for their own free agents, it seems like Tristan Thompson’s run with Cleveland might be over. Thompson will find a better deal with a contender than anything the Cavs should give him to be the third big in their rotation. Matthew Dellavedova is a fan and coaching staff favorite, so he could be back on a reasonable deal behind the young guards. Ante Zizic never panned out in the NBA and has already agreed to a deal to head back overseas.
Cleveland has young building blocks worth building around. If Altman can work around some of the questionable contracts the Cavs have on the books (Love and Larry Nance Jr.) and can avoid an overpay on a long contract for Drummond in 2021, Cleveland is on their way back up. They just have to have a little more patience to get there.