The Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA draft lottery. Again. For the third time in four years, no team will draft before the Cavs. Unless they trade the pick. And they might. Kevin Love might be available. Another star that no one is talking about might be available. In all likelihood, though, the team will select Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, or Joel Embiid. This is great.
But the things David Griffin said last week haven't changed. The Cavs are in win-now mode, and Griffin doesn't think the pieces on the roster at the moment quite fit. Trades remain likely, and while it's possible the Cavs' choice at number one overall helps immediately, I think we have enough experience watching 19 and 20 year olds that we can't necessarily expect that. Even in a loaded class.
So what does this mean? The Cavs have an incredibly valuable asset with the number one pick that I don't want to move, but don't necessarily think moves the needle on wins next season. We also no longer have what we thought would be the 9th pick to dangle in trades. I don't mean to present this as a problem. It's obviously a fantastic opportunity. But it's worth thinking over. But let's look at what the Cavs have, what they might be worth, and how they might be used to improve the team.
The Untouchables, basically
Kyrie Irving and the 2014 first overall pick
The Cavs could very well have the opportunity to pair up Irving and Wiggins or Parker or Embiid for at least the next six years. All Irving has to do is accept a max contract offer for the Cavaliers when it is offered in July. Say all you want about him regressing, but after mid-December he was fantastic, even while the Cavaliers went through trials and tribulations and added and discarded various pieces.
His future remains exceptionally bright. If, for some reason, Irving balks at signing the rookie max, you consider trading him, but I'm not even sure you do it then. He's under contract for at least two more years. Calling his bluff wouldn't be the worst thing. Maybe. Even so, you have to think the Cavs lottery success makes it even more likely Irving remains in Cleveland. He tweeted that he was very excited when the Cavs won. In short, you better be offered a world class talent to move someone like Irving. You want to build around Irving and whoever David Griffin can pair with him. The ceiling of the Cavs just got significantly higher, even if it might take another year or two to reach it.
In the meantime, David Griffin should be looking to complement these two assets.
The future picks
Despite dealing what looks like a potential future first to Chicago in the Luol Deng trade, the Cavaliers still have quite a few future first round picks that they can move. They don't have to, of course. David Griffin mentioned in his interview with Fred McLeod that the Memphis pick in particular could be a way for the team to stay young and talented even as their own pick falls in the 20's, provided future success. Here is how I would rank them in terms of attractiveness.
I think to some GM's these picks are more valuable than Dion Waiters or Tristan Thompson would be. First round picks allow for future flexibility, offer the promise of the unknown, and give the GM the power to pick their player. For a team not looking to win right away next year like, say, the Denver Nuggets, Orlando Magic, or Milwaukee Bucks, giving up a player that fits in with what the Cavs want to do for the promise of one of these future selections might make sense.
1) The Memphis pick - 1st round pick to Cleveland protected for selections 1-5 and 15-30 in 2015, 1-5 and 15-30 in 2016, 1-5 in 2017 or 1-5 in 2018 or unprotected in 2019
2) The Cavaliers' 2015 first (gets swapped with Chicago's if it falls outside of the lottery and the Cavs pick is higher)
3) The Miami Heat's 2015 first, top 10 protected.
The former fourth overall selections
Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson
I'm not going to break down the strengths and weaknesses of these two players. I think one has more upside than the other, but I think the other has a higher floor and is more likely to accept a complementary or even backup role. Both are young and could improve a lot. One might be more valuable to one GM than the other. I'd be open to moving either. I'd be open to keeping either. A team like Washington desperate for a third big with a flexible contract and upside might give up quite a bit for Thompson. A team like Utah that needs a dynamic scorer might be intrigued by Dion. I have no clue.
There are probably some General Managers that have Anthony Bennett in this tier of assets. My guess is the view on him is split. My guess is the view on Waiters and Thompson varies pretty significantly as well. I know it does on Fear the Sword.
The flexible veterans
These guys are due to make $14.1 million next season. Unless they aren't. Only $4 million is guaranteed to Anderson Varejao. If the Cavaliers cut him, that money counts against the cap. These contracts are valuable to the Cavaliers, as they can help the team open up cap space for free agents.
They also might be valuable to other teams. A team nestled up against the luxury tax might give up a functional player for Gee and Hopson with the express purpose of waiving them and saving the money. Varejao is valuable in that he is a pretty productive player, but can also be cut. A team that knows they aren't contending might be in cost-saving mode. A team without cap space that wants cap space might give up a guaranteed contract for these pieces to free up that room.
Once the Cavaliers renounce Luol Deng and Spencer Hawes and waive Gee and Hopson, I have the Cavaliers at a little under $48 million committed next season to Kyrie Irving, Anderson Varejao, Anthony Bennett, Tristan Thompson, Jarrett Jack, Dion Waiters, Tyler Zeller, Sergey Karasev, Matthew Dellavedova, Carrick Felix, and the cap hold for the number one overall pick. They can cut Varejao and subtract about $5.7 million from that total.
The salary cap is projected at $63.2 million. This means that the Cavaliers are looking at $15 million, and potentially over $20 million if Varejao is cut, in cap space. This can be used to entice free agents, but it can also be used to absorb contracts back in trades. Let's say the Houston Rockets are interested in moving Omer Asik. The Cavs could offer Miami's 2015 first and nothing else and Asik's $8 million cap hit will just slide right in. Same goes for a player like Danilo Gallinari.
The rest of the young guys
Anthony Bennett, Tyler Zeller, Sergey Karasev, Matthew Dellavedova
Obviously Bennett is the headliner here. He's just a year removed from being a top prospect. As noted previously, I have no doubt there are some GM's around the league that love him. He wasn't a consensus top 10 pick last year, even in a bad draft, without being talented, and we've all seen the flashes.
All of these guys have value, but it's hard to pinpoint. Karasev was reportedly a favorite of many teams last year, and I doubt a disappointing age 20 season while he adapted to a new country would dissuade his fans in front offices of his value. Delly probably opened some eyes last year. Zeller feasted on backups and looks like he could be a credible third big sooner rather than later. These guys might be late in the article, but I really believe some GM's buy into these guys and might give up more than we think.
The Cavaliers have two top notch assets in the number one pick and Kyrie Irving. But that's clearly not all Griffin has to work with. 1st round picks, guys on rookie contracts that have shown promise ... the assets are there to surround Irving and his running mate in this draft with pieces that help them develop and grow and win games. Let's do it.