The stakes couldn’t be much higher for the Cleveland Cavaliers this summer.
Blow it, and LeBron James might walk out the door next offseason, likely creating a domino effect regarding the futures of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Hit a home run and the Cavs may be able to close the gap on the Golden State Warriors.
While the team’s massive payroll limits what Cleveland can realistically do, that doesn’t lessen the weight of each and every decision the front office makes.
Below are the biggest tasks ahead for the Cavaliers.
Resolve the General Manager Vacancy
In defense of the Cavs, at least they didn’t fire their team president less than a week after the NBA draft, when the team selected an 18-year-old point guard to run the offense said team president espoused. While welcomed by New York Knicks fans, the timing of Phil Jackson’s departure wasn’t ideal.
Granted, Cleveland doesn’t have much room to boast. The free-agent negotiating window opens Saturday and the Cavaliers are no closer to hiring a general manager.
ESPN.com’s Jeff Goodman reported Wednesday the team is still in negotiations with Chauncey Billups and that Billups’ representatives presented a counter-offer to team owner Dan Gilbert. The Associated Press’ Tom Withers reported Tuesday that Billups is the only candidate who has met with Gilbert so far.
Firing David Griffin, who helped build a roster that reached three straight NBA Finals and win a championship, would’ve been more defensible if the Cavaliers had a cogent plan in mind to replace him.
Instead, they’re putting all of their eggs in one basket—a basket that comes with potential pitfalls of its own:
As risky as hiring Billups would be, it might be a more preferable outcome than failing to hire him. At that point, Cleveland would be left scrambling for other candidates—potentially as the free-agency moratorium period is underway.
The absence of a general manager has already hurt the Cavs this offseason. They failed to land Jimmy Butler, who instead moved on to the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears also shared this on the night of the draft:
Having a general manager surely would’ve helped the Cavs get the deal across the finish line.
Cleveland has backed itself into a corner, and hiring Billups is the best way to mitigate the damage.
Go All-In for Paul George or Carmelo Anthony
The Cavs don’t have enough cap space to sign a marquee free agent, and their trade options are limited both by their available assets and the caliber of star they’d be looking to acquire. Butler’s trade to the Timberwolves trims their choices even further.
If Cleveland fails to add Carmelo Anthony or Paul George, then it could be facing a summer in which it makes no noticeable upgrade to the roster. While the Cavs don’t necessarily need to transform their squad, they can’t afford to stand pat and hope their odds of upsetting the Warriors improve.
The door to trade for George may not be closed completely, but it’s not exactly wide open, either.
The Cavs missed a chance to get George before the draft, with ESPN.com’s Marc Stein and Chris Haynes reporting they tried to get a three-way trade involving the Indiana Pacers and Denver Nuggets completed.
Stein and Haynes added Cleveland will continue to pursue a possible George trade.
The Cavaliers have plenty of competition. The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported the Boston Celtics are attempting to get George and Gordon Hayward this summer, while ESPN.com’s Tim MacMahon reported the Houston Rockets are targeting George as well.
On Wednesday, Stein provided an update on the Anthony front:
The New York Knicks have eroded Anthony’s trade value to the point that the Cavs may not have to give up much to get him—with a buyout clearly the optimal route.
Adding Anthony won’t make the same kind of impact it would have five or six years ago, but he averaged 22.4 points and 5.9 rebounds a game and shot 35.9 percent from three-point range. And as a third or fourth scoring option for Cleveland, he may find the offensive efficiency he has lacked for much of his career.
Re-Sign Kyle Korver
The Cavaliers are at least somewhat lucky in that they don’t have to worry about losing too many key players to free agency. They have five players out of contract: Kyle Korver, Deron Williams, Derrick Williams, James Jones and Dahntay Jones.
Of the five, Korver should be Cleveland’s top priority.
The 36-year-old was very effective in his limited role. According to Basketball-Reference.com, 74.3 percent of his field-goal attempts came from beyond the arc, and he shot 48.5 percent from three-point range.
In February, Cleveland.com’s Joe Vardon noted the Cavaliers have Bird rights for Korver, so they can exceed the salary cap in order to re-sign him. That gives Cleveland some much-needed financial help to lure the sharpshooter back for next year.
Given Gilbert’s willingness to open his checkbook in the past, re-signing Korver shouldn’t be too difficult for the Cavs.
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