The Cavaliers’ owner and son made a vow that the team didn’t want to be in the lottery again this upcoming off-season. With Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson entering their third seasons and with Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller entering their second seasons, it’s time to see what this car can do on the freeway. The growing pains aren’t necessarily over, but the lows need to stop being so low and the highs need to get a little bit higher. Obviously the Cavaliers can’t just plan on systematic organic growth of this roster. In order to do that, the Cavs will have to also make a jump on their roster this season by adding a real player or two. Whether that’s via free agency or trade is anyone’s guess, but they will need to add someone of significance that isn’t a rookie in order to ensure they’re not lottery bound again. They also need to retain flexibility for 2014 and beyond, but not merely because LeBron James might opt out of his contract in Miami.
Let’s get this out there right now. Any team that is even remotely capable of having the financial flexibility to entertain LeBron James on their roster in 2014 should do everything they can do to make it possible. Even with it being one of the largest pills for some Cavs fans to swallow, at the end of the day, you just can’t stare down the greatest player in the league – maybe of this generation – and decide not to have him on your favorite basketball team. It is the absolute definition of cutting off your nose to spite your face.
This isn’t about what he did to the city of Cleveland. My own post-Decision NBA hangover is just now coming to an end nearly three full seasons later, so I get it. This is about giving people room to make amends or make it up to you. Identifying mistakes that people make or flaws in their personality is one thing, but in anything – whether we’re talking about sports or politics – it’s really important to give people room to come to your side or change their minds. The same goes with LeBron James.
This isn’t just about LeBron James though. The Cavaliers can only get so much better year over year. Improving as a team is truly a process as younger players get older and more experienced. Rosters add pieces bits at a time. Retaining that financial flexibility is key though so that when the roster maturity is finally ready to spike the Cavaliers will be able to push it over the top with the final piece or pieces. The thought is that if LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony or fill-in-the-blank player is available and the Cavaliers have enough money available that a success-hungry player will look at a team on the rise and with flexibility to compete and want to jump on board.
According to HoopsHype the Cavaliers have just under $33 million committed to ten players for the 2013/14 season. This means the Cavaliers will have almost $26 million under the cap for this upcoming season. They’ll sign at least one draft pick in all likelihood. They’ll sign a smallish free agent or two and maybe they’ll trade for one big-time player making somewhere between $12 and $15 million per season. Just for argument’s sake, let’s say the Cavaliers commit $25 million to players on a go-forward basis this off-season.
So take the almost $33 million, add in a generic $25 million and the Cavaliers have $58 million committed to 2013/14 with a projected cap at $58.5 million. All of a sudden the 2014 off-season rolls around and LeBron and a couple other guys opt out as well as the rest of the free agents hit the open market. The Cavaliers have some percentage of that $25 million committed to the 2014/15 season, but as of right now the rest of the roster is chock full of team options. They have options on Varejao ($9.8 m,) Kyrie Irving ($7.46 m,) Tristan Thompson ($5.4 m,) Dion Waiters ($4.1 m,) Alonzo Gee ($3.25 m,) and Tyler Zeller ($1.7 m.) If the Cavaliers pick up all those options except Varejao’s that’s about $22 million plus whatever of the $25 million sticks for more than one year. The Cavaliers will have a cap number in the mid $40 million range at maximum.
Plus, the team will be however much better they get with Mike Brown’s defense, plus the organic improvement of the existing players, plus whatever improvement they get from the draft / trades / free agency. This is why it’s so frustrating when Cleveland fans reflexively despise the word “process.”
This is a process. The Cavaliers can only get so much better from one year to the next. If they blow all their cap space and flexibility, maybe they can take a team that can challenge for the eight seed and improve it to becoming a fifth seed. That will cause the team and its roster to peak too soon and much too low. By maintaining that flexibility for as long as possible a team can hopefully raise the overall ceiling of the team, and keep the contention window open longer.
That’s why I think it’s so important for the Cavaliers to maintain flexibility for 2014. Yes, the dream scenario has the best player in the NBA coming to Cleveland, but even beyond that, I think it just makes good sense to make this iteration of the Cleveland Cavaliers the best it can possibly be.