One year ago, the Cleveland Cavaliers looked poised to make their first playoff birth since the departure of LeBron James four years prior. GM Chris Grant had added #1 pick Anthony Bennett and everyone’s favorite Euro sleeper Sergey Karasev in the draft. He signed highly coveted free agent PG Jarrett Jack and high risk/reward C Andrew Bynum. Supposedly rehiring Mike Brown was expected to help motivate a young, talented backcourt of Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters to give better defensive effort. Expectations were high in Cleveland as owner Dan Gilbert made it clear to the team, management, and fans that it was playoffs or bust. But by the time the Cavaliers hit rock bottom after an embarrassing home loss against the pitifully shorthanded Lakers on February 5th, it was evident that the playoffs were nothing but a pipe dream. Chris Grant was made to fall on his own sword (the chemistry nightmare he created with the Andrew Bynum signing and the coaching debacle of the Mike Brown retread) when even flipping the suspended sophomoric, waste of space Bynum for the pro’s pro All-Star Luol Deng was not enough to right the ship. By the end of the season the Cavs were becoming competitive again, but it was too little too late. Mike Brown would get the axe only one season into a five-year, $20 million contract. A season that began with such high expectations and hope, imploded into a haze of confusion and disappointment.
Events left the franchise so bewildered that some sources around the league were pondering if Kyrie Irving might not receive a max extension from the Cavaliers and could even be traded away to add picks in a loaded 2014 draft. Doomsdayers were already foretelling another long, painful rebuild in Cleveland with no possible return of playoff basketball, let alone the return of their prodigal son LeBron James. But then by some 1.7% miracle, the Cleveland Cavaliers won their third draft lottery in four years netting them yet another number one selection. Suddenly the Cavs were in the drivers seat again this time with elite talent at the top of the incoming rookie class. In a flash of good karma, talk was no longer about a radical restart, rather the potential of trading for a superstar to compliment Kyrie Irving and make a run at the King. During this time, new GM David Griffin would replace Mike Brown with both top coaching candidates; European coach David Blatt and former Clippers assistant Tyronn Lue – both of whom were well respected around the league. In the end the Cavs stayed the course and took the best talent with the best fit Andrew Wiggins – an unearthly athlete with a willingness to defend and an upside for greatness. Wiggins would be the second Canadian taken number one after last year’s less than stellar pick, Anthony Bennett.
Which brings us to the forgotten piece to the Cavaliers’ puzzle. Bennett’s rookie campaign was so disastrous, that many fans and reporters alike would already label him as a bust. And while it is true Bennett showed next to nothing to warrant being selected first overall, several factors must be taken into account. Firstly, the 2013 draft class was one of the worst in recent history with no true number one talent on the board. Secondly, Bennett spent the offseason recovering from shoulder surgery keeping him out of shape and out of offseason workouts, summer league, and training camp. Lastly, while he showed an intriguing skill set in high school and college for a player his age and size, he lacked the NBA ready mental maturity and was quickly overwhelmed by the pressure of being number one and the competition at the next level. It wouldn’t be until the final stretch of the season before Anthony Bennett began to contribute to the team.
Being prematurely labeled as a bust hasn’t sit well with Bennett however, as he has reportedly been working out two or three times a day this offseason to ready himself for a redemption sophomore season. If he can find the shooting touch that he displayed in high school and college and continue to battle on the boards (skills he did show flashes of last season) he could be the perfect stretch 4 in Blatt’s offensive system.
Meanwhile, the Cavaliers wasted no time offering the max extension to Kyrie Irving and he wasted little time accepting it only a few hours after league rules allowed to do so. (Did you hear about that, Peter Vecsey?) This means that for at least the next five years, the Cavs are in control of Irving and Wiggins’ contract status, not to mention the possibility to retain the young talents of Anthony Bennett, Dion Waiters, and Tristan Thompson. Entering into free agency, the Cavaliers will have around $12-$13 million in cap room and could clear up enough to offer a player (like you know who) the max deal up to $22 million. Of course, no player has more sway over free agency than the unrestricted LeBron James. Although it is likely that he will return to the Heat for at least one more season with the big three, LeBron has been very coy about the process and is at least open to hearing from other teams through his Cleveland based agent Rich Paul. The question for Cleveland, should they wait on LeBron or strike while the iron is still hot?
According to reports (an infamous saying), the Cleveland Cavaliers are considering a near max offer for either Utah’s restricted free agent Gordon Hayward (who has already met with Cavs brass) or Houston’s restricted Chandler Parsons. Both players would fit neatly next to Kyrie and Wiggins in Blatt’s Princeton style offense which emphasizes ball movement and outside shooting. Additionally, both players are young (Hayward 24, Parsons 25) and should still have their most productive seasons ahead of them. It would also make Dion Waiters, who has clashed with Irving both on and off the court, expendable. After locking Irving up longterm, Dion is likely to see the door and could be used to add an additional big man in the middle. However, the Utah Jazz have publicly countered Cleveland’s interest by claiming they will match any offer for Gordon Hayward – a threat that has real teeth. Chandler Parsons becomes a greater likelihood if Houston is able to convince unrestricted free agent Carmelo Anthony to join them. Melo is expected to make a decision after the upcoming holiday weekend. In order to sign him however, Houston would have to find takers for Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin. Both players have expiring deals, but would teams be willing to help the Rockets add another All-Star?
Another option is for the Cavs to make a run at the Detroit Pistons’ Greg Monroe. Monroe is another young (24) restricted free agent who is on the doorstep of his prime and due a big payday. Reportedly Monroe is unhappy playing with Josh Smith and would welcome a change of scenery. The Cavs could offer him the deal he is looking for and would give them a long term solution at the center position. If division rivals Detroit Pistons match the offer, it would tie up their books for many years giving them less flexibility to change a roster that also struggled with chemistry issues a year ago.
For the Cavs, all three of these moves are a win-win by either adding an excellent piece that fits into the present and future direction of the team or forces a rival into less flexibility. If they miss out on all three players, David Griffin should limit his spending to cheaper role players like PF/C Josh McRoberts or SG Anthony Morrow and consider saving his money for next years impressive free agent crop. And there is always the possibility that a certain former Cavalier could return home.
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