The Cleveland Cavaliers have become adept at turning in-season failures into offseason optimism over the last four years thanks to Dan Gilbert’s virtual monopoly on top-five picks.
So it’s not surprising that the selection of Andrew Wiggins June 26 stirred up all the familiar front-office talk about fresh starts and brighter futures that comes standard after the draft.
“[We’re] really, really excited about what we were able to do with the first pick,” GM David Griffin said on draft night.
“This is a night where the Cavaliers got appreciably better — the kind of night that you really look forward to in our business when you can go home and know things are going to get a lot brighter from here.”
The optimism is understandable. When you get the No. 1 pick in one of the most loaded drafts ever, who also happens to have the size and athleticism of a NBA 2K14 video game creation, there should be hope.
But while the No.1 pick is always going to dominate the headlines, the it’s-a-new-day enthusiasm can’t overshadow the on-court realities the team faces going into next year. Most notably, at the present moment, the roster fits together about as well as Johnny Manziel at a Mormon retreat.
The 2013-14 Cavaliers were the anti-Spurs: No cohesion, no chemistry, no camaraderie and certainly no championship aspirations.
Even Andrew Wiggins can’t change that by himself, and David Griffin knows as much.
Which is why despite Griffin’s rose-colored optimism after the draft, his comments at a post-season press conference announcing the firing of Mike Brown are more telling of the type of roster makeover the Cavaliers are looking to accomplish this offseason.
“I think the fit of our roster needs to be pieces that make sense. We’ve got ball-dominant, drive-and-kick creators; we need to be able to open the floor for them,” Griffin said May 13. “We also probably need a little bit more ability to play inside-out to make our team a little bit more balanced. … I think we have very, very good talent — I think we have all of the assets necessary to acquire other talents that might be more high-value to us at this time.
“If I gave you the impression that this mix is the right mix, that’s not what I intend to say,” Griffin continued. “I believe we have the right assets to find the right mix. We have everything we’re going to need to make a run at the pieces we do need. There certainly are some pieces that don’t fit on this roster, and there are some things we need to add to our roster.”
Translation: If we don’t clean out some of the dead weight on the roster before next year and bring in some complementary pieces, Dan Gilbert might have to start using his Quicken Loans’ money to become an annual NBA draft lottery sponsor.
The addition of Wiggins is a good start, but does little to help the Cavs find the elusive shooter Griffin wants. If anything, the slashing Kansas guard gives opposing defenses all the more reason to congest the already crowded paint thanks to the team’s lack of outside shooters.
And after losing Spencer Hawes to the Clippers this past week, the Cavs’ need to add playmaking front-court players who can command attention from opposing defenses has only been amplified.
There are a handful of players who make sense for the Cavs to go after in free agency, maybe you’ve heard of one of them.
LeBron James is the obvious crown jewel of the free-agent class. And in an almost too-good-to-be-true turn of events over the past 48 hours, it looks as though Cleveland has somehow jumped from also-ran to frontrunner in the LeBron Sweepstakes. Will James turn down joining a more experienced, championship-ready team in order to fulfill the homecoming narrative in Cleveland with a team that hasn’t sniffed the playoffs since he left? According to everyone from top ESPN sources, to personal trainers, to amateur private investigators tracking anything that moves in South Beach and Cleveland, the answer might be yes.
Regardless, the 24/7 LeBron James rumor mill will be running rampant until he makes The Decision 2.0.
If James does sign elsewhere, and if the city of Cleveland hasn’t burned down by that point, the Cavs could try hedging their bets with consolation prizes like Gordon Hayward.
Hayward, a historically solid shooter who had a disappointing 2014, visited the Cavs Wednesday, but left without the max salary offer sheet many anticipated.
Players like Greg Monroe and Chandler Parsons could be fallback options if James and Hayward sign elsewhere, but as they’re restricted free agents, it’s hard to imagine their respective teams not matching whatever the Cavs might offer.
Pau Gasol would be another possible big-name target that could shore up the Cavs thin front court, but it is unlikely Gasol would come to Cleveland over other contenders who are more suited to winning now.
If the Cavs lose out on all of the above, they could still look to unrestricted free agents like Trevor Ariza and Channing Frye to help out at the forward spots, but at this point, signing either one would feel like a punch in the gut for Cavs fans.
In this stage of the game in free agency, you either get James or you get disappointment —there’s really no in-between.
The Cavs only have a couple days to try to out-maneuver Pat Riley and the rest of the NBA before the July 10 free-agent signing day.
The only question now is if the front office will be bringing in brand new faces, or a familiar old one.