With the 2007-08 season now officially over, it’s time for us to start doing what we always do…..look ahead to next year. Scott’s working on putting together a nice long running series that should arc throughout the initial phase of the off-season dealing with the Cavaliers roster, but for now, I thought I’d give you guys a brief look at what might be in store for the Cavaliers in this summer.
“What we have is very good, but we need to continue to get better, we know that. If that means some personnel changes that need to happen, then so be it. The teams around us in the league are continuing to get better.” – LeBron James
The Cleveland Cavaliers franchise goes as LeBron James goes. Sure, the ultimate opinion for every decision lies with Dan Gilbert, but what LeBron James wants, LeBron James gets. And why shouldn’t he? He’s done more for this franchise than any other person, from ownership to front office to coaches to players, in franchise history. You could make an argument for Gordon Gund being more important because he’s the one who bought the team from Ted Stepien and kept the team in Cleveland, but that’s a debate for another time. The point is, when LeBron speaks, this franchise listens, and those 3 seemingly simple sentences above carry the weight of the city when they come from the mouth of LeBron. King James wants help, and the onus is on Danny Ferry to accomplish that feat this summer.
What We’ve Got Coming Back
- Damon Jones (2008-09 Salary: $4,460,186)
- Eric Snow (2008-09 Salary: $7,310,000)
- Sasha Pavlovic (2008-09 Salary: $4,500,000)
- Wally Szczerbiak (2008-09 Salary: $13,000,000)
- LeBron James (2008-09 Salary: $14,410,581)
- Ben Wallace (2008-09 Salary: $14,500,000)
- Anderson Varejao (2008-09 Salary: $5,784,480)
- Joe Smith (2008-09 Salary: Unknown)
- Zydrunas Ilgauskas (2008-09 Salary: $10,841,615)
Who We No Longer Have Under Contract
- Delonte West (Restricted Free Agent – Qualifying Offer: $2,762,828)
- Daniel Gibson (Restricted Free Agent)
- Devin Brown (Unrestricted Free Agent)
- Billy Thomas (Limited Salary Protection)
- Dwayne Jones (Restricted Free Agent)
- Lance Allred (Limited Salary Protection)
First and foremost, lets not even bother looking at the free agent lists. The Cavaliers have the 4th highest committed salary in 2008-09, and they simply will not be a player on the free agent market for the Baron Davis/Gilbert Arenas/Elton Brand/Antawn Jamison/Corey Maggette/Shawn Marion types. The Cavaliers are only going to get better this off-season either by striking gold in the NBA draft or, more likely, by being able to throw around the $30 million in expiring contracts the team has to trade for a legit All-Star caliber player to be LeBron’s running mate.
Before we get there, though, the first decisions Danny Ferry has to make concern the restricted free agencies of Delonte West and Daniel Gibson. I know from recent comments that Delonte West definitely wants to return. I have not heard Daniel Gibson say much either way on the subject, but I would assume he has no reason to want to leave. Then again, I never thought Carlos Boozer would want to leave either, so you never really know. Delonte could decide to just accept the qualifying offer of $2,762,828 for next year and then become an unrestrcited free agent the following season. That might be a mutually beneficial scenario for both sides as it would give Delonte another year to develop with LeBron before his market value is determined. With that being said, though, I obviously also wouldn’t be surprised if Delonte wanted to try to get more long term security now. West has played for 3 teams in 4 seasons, and he may be ready to try to find a more permanent home.
Daniel Gibson’s situation is hard to predict. I know the Cavaliers have both their Mid-Level Exception and their Bi-Annual Exception to use, but it wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility to see Gibson seek the entire MLE be used on him. It’s hard to predict whether that is something Ferry would be interested in doing. Restricted Free Agency used to be more of a formality than anything else, but as we saw from Sasha Pavlovic and Anderson Varejao last summer, the rules are changing. Daniel Gibson could very well try holding out himself just like the two RFAs did last year.
Which begs the question, if the Cavaliers can only bring one of the two back, which should they bring back? I’m sure for a lot of Cavs fans, they will immediately say ‘Daniel Gibson’ without hesitation. Heck, Gibson is a bit of a folk hero in Cleveland. He has hit BIG shots for the Cavaliers in the post season and has shown himself to be a player that LeBron will trust. But I wouldn’t be so quick to think that Delonte West isn’t the bigger priority. As huge as it is to have the steady shooting of Gibson, there isn’t really anything else that Gibson does well on the basketball court. He’s an average defender, doesn’t handle the point well, and struggles to create his own shot most of the time. He averages 7.5 ppg in his career and his PER last season was 11.77. Delonte West, on the other hand, does a lot of small things really well. Sure, his ball handling and turnovers is an issue, and his shooting is much more streaky than Gibson’s. But West has shown that he can run the offense from the point, he developed a pretty good rapport with LeBron in the playoffs, he is able to create his own shot (something I frankly wish he would do a bit more often), he’s a very solid defender, can dish out assists, and gets rebounds. He averages 9.8 ppg in his career and his PER last season was 12.13. When you further add in injury factors, I feel that a legit argument can be made that Delonte West could be the more valuable guy to the team overall.
In a perfect world, this won’t be a question. In a perfect world, the Cavaliers can have both guys back. Neither guy is capable of being being a true#2 option to LeBron, but I feel that both are excellent role players who can come off the bench (or possibly even start, especially in West’s case) and be a great contributing factor on a championship team. As of right now, looking into my crystal ball, I am fairly confident that in the end both guys will be back with the Cavaliers next season.
Which leaves us with Devin Brown, the lone unrestricted free agent this year. We all liked Devin’s contributions to the team this year. He was a key player for almost all of the regular season. Why he lost his starting job and playing time in the playoffs is a question we may never find out the true answer for, but I think its safe to assume Devin Brown will have little interest in returning to a team on which he was seemingly benched for absolutely no reason. My guess is that Devin Brown will be playing for a different team next year.
Danny Ferry may look to the unrestricted free agent pool for a role player to pick up, particularly with the Bi-Annual Exception at his disposal, but only time will tell on that. The 2 big things we will all be watching this summer is the NBA Draft, where Cleveland finally gets to pick in the first round again (can we PLEASE do better than Shannon Brown this time??) and the off-season trade market. Cleveland will have around $31 million in expiring contracts to try to entice a struggling team to send over their superstar in exchange for a fresh start. Expiring contracts tend to be a lot more attractive once the season is already underway, but I would expect Danny Ferry to still see what he can do in this off-season market.
The biggest needs facing the Cavaliers as they move forward are an elite point guard, a versatile shooting guard who can knock down shots and is also capable of creating his own shot, and a big man capable of being the team’s center of the future. The 3 most likely candidates to be dealt are Wally Szczerbiak, Eric Snow (unless the team is able to buy him out of his contract), and Damon Jones. I would be quite surprised if any of those 3 players are on the roster after the trade deadline next season. I wouldn’t be surprised, either, though, if Anderson Varejao or Daniel Gibson were traded as well. The fact of the matter is, the Cavaliers options for their future are actually pretty wide open. There are so many scenarios that could play out in so many different ways, that it’s tough to predict what this team will look like next year. None of us had ever heard Ben Wallace’s name in trade rumors until about an hour prior to last year’s deadline. That’s how quick and out of left field these trades can happen, and that’s why it’s hard to sit here and say exactly what we think Danny Ferry will do next season.
At the end of the day, though, the only thing that matters is that this team continues to get better. This year was a step backwards for the franchise. I wrote before the season even started that I felt like this year was going to have to be a step back before the team could take three steps forward, and that’s precisely what happened. Along the way, Danny Ferry was able to make the team marginally better by pulling off the trade that got rid of deadweight like Larry Hughes and Donyell Marshall and brought back key playoff performers in Delonte West and Joe Smith, and to an extent even Ben Wallace. This team is better now than they were at the beginning of the season, and now it’s up to Danny Ferry to make the next move to allow LeBron to take this franchise to the next level. It’s been long enough, it’s time for the Cleveland Cavaliers to join the NBA’s elite teams. Mr. Ferry, the ball is in your hands now. Don’t let us down.