The Cleveland Cavaliers didn't really address many of their needs with the NBA Draft. When we're talking about a team in a market like Cleveland, we often point to the draft as the place to get the necessary talent. Well, with the selections of Anthony Bennett and Sergey Karasev in the first round, the Cavs seemed to opt for talent over need. I have no problem with that, in theory. It just means that you have to turn to free agency to fill in some of the gaps.
Biggest area of need: Defense
The Cavaliers have been a terrible defensive team for the last three seasons. Although the rosters haven't been filled with talent, I also don't think it's a coincidence that their defensive shortcomings have overlapped with the time that Mike Brown was not coaching the team. Fortunately, Mike Brown is back. He has vowed to reinstalled a heavy emphasis on defense and his mere presence on the sidelines and in practices assures that the Cavs will see improvement on that side of the ball. However, they still need more defensive talent. By drafting Karasev and Bennett, it doesn't seem like Chris Grant intended to get that defensive talent in the draft. Carrick Felix could be a nice defensive specialist off the bench, but you never want to expect too much from 2nd round picks. That's just setting yourself up for disappointment. Because the Cavs want to build a defensive identity, I think that any free agent they sign needs to be fairly adept on that end of the court. This doesn't mean that they are only defensive players, but I simply don't see the Cavs signing players that promise to be offense-only contributors. All of that said, here's the biggest positions of need for the Cavs in free agency, and some cheap solutions to fill those voids.
Ever since LeBron James left, Cavs fans have had small forward envy. Every year, I hear about how the Cavs absolutely must get a small forward to fill the spot left by the 4-time MVP. And I get it. The Cavs have been pretty abysmal at that position for the past three seasons. I guess I just don't place the same importance on it as everybody else. I believe that if you're strong at several other positions, you can get away with a simple "3 and D" guy at the small forward slot. This means I think we can pass on Andre Iguodala and aim our sights a little bit lower and save some cash. This section is going to have the longest list of names, so prepare yourselves.
Dorell Wright, unrestricted free agent
Wright is a very good shooter and offers great size at 6-7. He can hold his own against most small forwards, although he isn't a spectacular defender. I think he'll be highly sought after by several teams, but still won't command that much money.
Matt Barnes, unrestricted free agent
Barnes actually be a little pricy. He was fantastic for the Clippers last year, but I'm not sure if he's a priority for them to re-sign. He can shoot adequately from corner threes and, again, has great size to defend multiple positions. He's one of the best off-ball cutters in the league and could be a viable solution for the Cavs at the 3.
Andrei Kirilenko, unrestricted free agent
Kirilenko recently opted out of a 1-year, $10 million deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves. I understand wanting more guaranteed money, but I doubt that he gets more than $10 million annually. I'd suspect that Kirilenko gets somewhere around 3 or 4 years at 7 or 8 million dollars a year. That might be more than the Cavs are willing to spend, but if you're looking for a defensive presence all over the court, Kirilenko is your guy.
Earl Clark, unrestricted free agent
The Cavs have reportedly already set up a meeting with Clark to discuss the prospects of him coming to Cleveland. Mike Brown coached him in Los Angeles briefly, and I suspect that the push for Clark is rooted in Brown's interest. If he believes that Clark's tremendous length and blossoming shooting ability can be beneficial to the Cavs, then I'm all for it. I doubt Clark commands that much cash in free agency.
Martell Webster, unrestricted free agent
Webster might be the odd man out in Washington, thanks to the drafting of Otto Porter with the 3rd overall pick. Webster, however, had a great year for the Wizards in 2012-13. He's finally healthy, still pretty young (26 years old), and shot over 42% from behind the arc while specializing in corner threes. If I'm the Cavs, Webster is one of my primary free agent targets.
Other potential small forwards: Carlos Delfino, Corey Brewer, Chase Budinger, Mike Dunleavy, James Johnson
After the Cavs drafting Anthony Bennett over Nerlens Noel, the discussion immediately shifted to how Tristan Thompson and Bennett would play together. The obvious question turned to Tristan's ability to guard centers. While I believe that Tristan can guard most centers, if you look at the conference finals this year, you'll still see some pretty big dudes. Guys like Roy Hibbert, Marc Gasol, and Tim Duncan will pose significant problems for Tristan in the post. The good thing is that Tristan can still get a lot better and stronger defensively (and even grow a little bit). Furthermore, the types of centers that would overpower Tristan are not typically the guys that are going to go off for 30 points a game. You have Duncan, Dwight Howard, and Andrew Bynum that could dominate a game with their scoring. Hibbert and Gasol impact the game significantly, but don't tend to have huge scoring explosions. That can change when presented with the proper mismatch, but that's where this next free agent comes into play. If the Cavs are intent on playing Bennett and Thompson together (which they should be if they are two of the Cavs' best players), then they probably need a safety valve for when Cleveland matches up against the aforementioned giant centers. How do we go about doing this? By simply signing a big bodied, veteran center that can hold his own in the post against the likes of Gasol, Howard, Hibbert, and Duncan. These guys are great centers for a reason, so they will never be completely shut down, but they can be slowed down. I'd rather not throw Tristan (or even Anderson Varejao) to the wolves for 40 minutes a game and that's where these guys come in.
Jason Collins, unrestricted free agent
Collins was once known as the "Dwight Stopper." It seemed like the Atlanta Hawks kept him on their roster simply to match up with Dwight Howard. He gave D12 fits in the playoffs and this strategy proved to be pretty effective. He'd be quite cheap and would provide a tremendous veteran presence in the locker room. He's all about playing defense, setting screens, and grabbing rebounds. With his ability to match up physically against the biggest of NBA centers, I think a guy like Collins would be ideal for this young Cavs team. (I like Collins' fit on this team so much that I might have to write an individual article for him.)
Zaza Pachulia, unrestricted free agent
Zaza is another enormous dude. He'll come pretty cheap and can play that "bruiser" role off the bench when he's healthy. Plus, there's this:
Elton Brand, unrestricted free agent Nearing agreement with the Knicks
Brand is only 6-9, but he's got a huge wingspan and offers that old man strength to battle down in the post. He's not an ideal rim protector, but he still blocked over 2 shots per 36 minutes last year. He's made a ton of money in his career, so he might be looking to play for a contender. But if he's willing, the Cavs could be a nice fit for the veteran big man.
Jermaine O'Neal, unrestricted free agent
Somehow, O'Neal was shockingly effective for the Phoenix Suns last year. He could probably be had for the veteran's minimum and has the necessary size to guard big centers. The question is always his health, but if you want a guy for the minimum, there's not a whole lot of risk involved.
Nikola Pekovic, restricted free agent
Just kidding. We're not getting Pekovic. Stop pretending that we are.
Other potential backup centers: Timofy Mozgov, Samuel Dalembert, Chris Andersen, Hamed Haddadi
Backup point guard
The Cavaliers need a backup point guard for Kyrie Irving. Although Dion Waiters can take over point guard duties from time to time, I think the team would be better off with a legitimate veteran point guard backing up our superstar. Things I want from a backup point guard: I want him to be a veteran, I want him to be able to shoot, I want him to have some pretty good size, and I want him to be an above average defender. I'm willing to budge on a few of these requirements, but not many. I definitely think he needs to be a veteran. That one is non-negotiable. With Kyrie on the bench, you want an experienced guy to come in and keep the offense from going to hell, AKA the Donald Sloan Effect.
C.J. Watson, unrestricted free agent Reached 2-year agreement with Indiana Pacers
Fortunately, the Cavaliers have already expressed interested in Watson. He's a veteran, he plays pretty good defense, and he's a solid three point shooter. This is my ideal target for the Cavs.
Shaun Livingston, unrestricted free agent
Livingston was surprisingly good for the Cavs last year. The offense was crisp when he was on the floor and he managed to stay healthy. He has the tremendous size at the point guard position that I like, but isn't a great defender. I think in the right scheme, Mike Brown could utilize his length to make him a nice defensive option though. With his injury history, he'll likely be looking for multiple years of guaranteed money and I'm not sure the Cavs will do that.
Darren Collison, unrestricted free agent
The Cavs are also interested in Collison. He provides more upside than either of the previous two names, but isn't a steady veteran or a consistent shooter. He's been extremely inconsistent throughout his career and I'm not sure that's a guy that I want backing up Kyrie.
Jarrett Jack, unrestricted free agent
He was pretty great in lineups with Stephen Curry this year and could be a really nice contributor. Unfortunately, he's going to cost a bit more than I'm willing to spend on this position.
Other potential backup point guards: Devin Harris, Nate Robinson, Mo Williams
So there you have it. That's my guide to potential bargain free agents to fill some of the Cavaliers' most pressing needs. If Chris Grant plays his cards right, I believe that Cleveland can fill the their roster holes while maintaining cap flexibility for 2014 and beyond.
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