Like most Cavs fans I was very happy that we were fortunate enough to get the first overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft. Now comes the hard part. What does Chris Grant do with the many assets the Cavs are fortunate enough to have acquired over the past 3 years? And I think that is the key question after this fortunate draft lottery result. This off-season for the Cavs goes far beyond “What do the Cavs do with the first pick in the draft?” As I outlined in my support of the Indian’s off-season, they put together a “package” of moves that resulted in plugging holes, securing the weakest areas of the team other than starting pitching (power, right-handed hitting, outfield), and not sacrificing the future. It was done with a combination of strategic trades, free-agent signings, and good use of their young talent. This is exactly the approach that the Cavs must take. So what they do with the first pick in the draft is just one part of the bigger puzzle.
I think that all of us need to be realistic about what can and cannot be done by the Cavs or predicted by the media and fans. Since the Cavs have won the first pick, there are even more rumors and predictions about what they might do. I have learned one thing by watching the Cavs management and Chris Grant over the past three years. No fan or media member will have any idea about what Grant will do until it is about done. All of you who are watching the rumor mills daily to get a clue about the Cavs will be terribly disappointed when none of the rumors ever sniff reality. I used to follow them until I realized that I was wasting my time with Chris Grant at the helm. For those of us who want the Cavs to succeed, that is probably a good thing.
It is also going to be a bit tough to trade out of the first pick and get full value in this draft. Without a clear number one superstar pick, the market for that pick might not be what it would be in most years. Plus, it is rare for any NBA team to trade the number one pick. I think the odds are that we keep the pick and use it. Although I will be interested to hear the many fan initiated “trades” of the first pick, don’t expect the Cavs to pull off a series of 4 draft moves that includes trading the first pick. They are fun to talk about but rarely realistic. If the Cavs do trade the pick, it will be big news.
The main thing going for the Cavs is that I think they have more flexibility and options than virtually any team in the NBA. Because of that, Grant needs to remain focused and very strategic to upgrade the roster significantly and not sacrifice the future. The cap space, multiple draft pics in this draft and beyond, our young talent pool, AND the power of having the number one pick this year all factor into what Grant can do to build the Cavs into a perennial power house. If he uses the “assets” he has acquired wisely, it will be a great future for the Cavs. If squandered, we will end up as a perennial middle of the road team with little hope of a title.
The Cavs are giving hints to everyone about their short-term and long-term objectives. Repeated references to the long three years of suffering by Cavs fans and that they don’t want to be going back to the lottery again all points to this off-season being very active and different from recent ones. Some veteran acquisitions are likely but it is not clear by what means they will accomplish that task or how far they will go to get them. Obviously, it has to be trades or free agency but the market might determine what approach they take. In my opinion, every attempt to add via free agency as opposed to trading away valuable young players should be explored. Free agency may not be a realistic possibility to add impact talent in Cleveland, but we need to explore it aggressively. If it looks impossible, then the trade route might be the only way.
There are many thoughts about how to approach free agency this off-season. Some feel we should avoid it altogether because it will limit the Cavs flexibility moving forward. Others feel we should add some “middle of the road” free agents and save most of the cap space. A few think we should go after big free agents and try to add impact talent. Most fans, in my opinion, think we should save virtually all our cap space to make a monster push for free agents in 2014. Many pointing to the possibility of LeBron using his early opt out option and returning to the Cavs. That is the thinking that bothers me the most. If the Cavs employ ANY strategy that includes counting on LeBron returning in 2014, it will end in devastation and embarrassment. Don’t misunderstand, I am not against him returning if he really wants to do so and is willing to sign a contract without another “coronation” ceremony tour of the NBA. But I think the chances of that happening are slim and none.
Since I favor free agency as the best way to add veteran talent and not trading away the young talent we have worked so hard to acquire, I think the Cavs should strongly consider trying to add one impact free agent this off-season if at all possible. Even adding two and using most of our cap flexibility would be acceptable if it were the right two. Sadly, there are few SF free agents that will be available over the next two years that will really solve our problem there. So, again, creativity will be key. I am actually opposed to adding “complementary” free agents this off-season just to make the playoffs. To me, that is wasting cap space. We tried adding a bunch of complementary free agents when LeBron was here and we all know how that worked out. Pay big and go big seems right to me.
If we take the impact free agent approach, there really are not very many other than the “gang” that could exercise their opt-out option in 2014. That is a circus I really don’t want to join. So a couple of names that might fit the bill and are not aging is Al Jefferson and Andre Iguodala. Maybe, if it is clear to both of them that we are trying to add them both, they might consider it. We would have to clear some cap space to do this, but we could do that. We still would have some cap space coming free in 2014 and would not use our mid-level exception. So complementary pieces could be added if needed later. Iguodala would solve our SF problem and improve our defensive presence. Jefferson would be a great starter along side Andy and our rotation of Thompson/Zeller/Jefferson/Varejao would be solid and potentially championship caliber. We would still have Miles and Gee to back up Iggy this year but, eventually, we will need to let them go and add a young backup SF to develop. I am fully aware that this would likely not be possible as Iguodala probably will not exercise his early termination option. If he does not, we could still clear enough cap space for making a run at Deng in 2014. And, yes, there is always that other guy.
If the Cavs could take that approach, they would still have all of their picks this year and not trade Waiters or Thompson. They could afford to take McLemore with the first pick and the rotation of McLemore, Waiters, Irving and Ellington would be solid and possibly spectacular. Waiters would need to play the backup point guard minutes, but I think he could do that effectively. Of course, that is an 11 deep rotation so one or two of those names would not be playing regularly.
The Cavs could use the other picks to move up and pick up a developmental Center who has great potential. There are a ton of them in this draft. Or maybe we find that small forward to develop. Or a back-up point guard. If we take this approach, we actually can draft to develop a few players instead of depending on them.
This is only one way to accomplish our goal of making the playoffs in 2013-14 and not mortgage the future. There are dozens of other, probably better, options to consider going forward. Strategic trades with teams needing to clear cap space and having players that fit our needs are also possible. I personally favor strategies that do not include trading any of our four top draft picks in the last two drafts. If we could get Jefferson for only money with a PER of 20.99 last year instead of trading a ton to get Aldridge with a PER of 20.45, it just makes sense to me. Both are very good players. Jefferson is just a bit below Aldridge in my view. The critical variable in all of that is if no impact free agent will sign with us. That is a variable that I can not accurately weigh before the Cavs actually try.
So let’s buckle up and enjoy the ride. I have a distinct feeling that Grant will start to push hard to fill the Cavs holes and secure the Cavs future. I only hope that he makes the right moves and saves whatever he needs to for 2014. Not with the idea of signing back the one who left but with the idea of making the Cavs a championship caliber team for years to come.
Follow me at @cwins_jim on twitter and we will keep an eye on this together. I am looking forward to it and welcome your comments and questions.