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NBA Free Agency: Who will back up Tristan Thompson at power forward for Cavs next season?

With Luke Walton likely on the way out, and Marreese Speights' future with the Cleveland Cavaliers in doubt, a reliable power forward to back up the emerging Tristan Thompson will likely be a priority for Chris Grant this summer. What are some of his options?


Tristan Thompson played more minutes, 2564, than any other Cleveland Cavalier last season. He played in and started all 82 games. He isn't an all-star, and may never be, but he looks like he will be a solid NBA starting power forward for a long time. He can't play all 48 minutes, though, and the Cavaliers need to do a better job of having someone who can provide 16-20 minutes of competent play behind him. Cleveland won't want to break the bank on a backup power forward, but it remains an important task for Grant. Similar to my thoughts on Alonzo Gee, the Cavaliers don't need a star to back up Thompson, but they need to stop giving minutes to guys who are bad at basketball.

Last season, a mix of Luke Walton, Kevin Jones, and Marreese Speights soaked up the majority of minutes behind Thompson, and on the whole, it was a disaster. Walton and Jones played a combined 1191 minutes last season, or 14.5 minutes per game, despite the fact that each missed significant time (through injury for Walton, stints in Canton for Jones). That is a lot of minutes for guys who are fringe NBA players. Walton actually had spent most of his career at small forward before his renaissance in Cleveland. He over achieved in the Wine & Gold last season as a decent facilitator who couldn't rebound or defend or shoot or, earning himself a Player Efficiency Rating of 11.3. Yes, I know what it means to over achieve. Jones was an undrafted rookie free agent forced into the rotation at times because of injury. He looks like he could be decent end of the bench option who can rebound a bit. He is undersized and lacks athleticism, which makes it hard for him to defend. If he develops a jump shot he will stay in the NBA.

Eventually the Cavaliers brought in Marreese Speights in the Jon Leuer trade. He performed pretty well, on the whole. His effort level fluctuates, he takes too many jumpers, he is a ball-stopper, only defends when he chooses to, and has been given up on by multiple teams. Still, if he picks up his player option of $4.6 million for next season, he could provide a season of solid play. He rebounds very well, is capable of scoring the ball really well, and is big enough to give the Cavs some minutes playing center as well. I don't have very strong feelings about him, frankly. If he opts for free agency, I wish him the best. If he comes back, the Cavaliers could do much worse.

Options if Speights opts out

The first option, and my preference, would be to sign Golden State Warriors Carl Landry. The Warriors were a team that surprised a lot of the NBA this season, and Landry was a big part of it. Despite only starting two games, he played over 1700 minutes, and achieved a PER of 17.5. His true shooting percentage was over 60%. He is a really valuable offensive player off the bench, and he is a decent enough rebounder. He isn't a good defender, but if he spends most of his time playing against other teams' second unit he would be just fine. At 29 years old he would be a solid locker room presence who has been around a young team that showed substantial improvement. I see this as being close to a perfect match.

Another possible option would be a trade for Thomas Robinson, the 5th overall pick in an NBA Draft that happened 11 months ago. If he could be obtained for the Cavaliers 31st and 33rd picks, and maybe a heavily protected future first, this would be a pretty good option. Because Houston wants to give him up without taking back any salary (our 19th pick would have a cap hold that they aren't interested in) this might actually be possible. The biggest problem is that I don't think Robinson is very good. I didn't like him before the draft, and he didn't show me anything this season that makes me think he will be in the future. Still, if you ignore his draft position, he is 22 years old, rebounds capably, and has excellent size to become a capable defender. That could make for a fine backup power forward. Offensively, he has a lot of work to do, and maybe he improves and maybe he doesn't. Could be a good risk for Cleveland to take.

Earl Clark might be a good option, though his NBA career prior to this season wasn't particularly impressive. Pressed into an important role for the Lakers this season, Clark played a mix of small and power forward. He has 3 point range, making 34% from distance, and is a versatile defender. He had never gotten serious minutes in his first three NBA seasons, so it hard to know how good he really is. I wouldn't break the bank for Clark and his PER of 12.4, but it wouldn't be hard for me to talk myself into him. He is young, has improved his shooting, and could be a really good defender for a team that badly needs it.

Some final thoughts

When I brought up this topic on twitter, multiple people suggested that Anderson Varejao take role over. For better or worse, I think the Cavaliers will head into the fall with Varejao penciled in as the starting center. When healthy, his is great. While he hasn't played a lot of minutes, he has lost some lateral quickness. With stretch and athletic power forwards taking over the NBA, I don't believe he can adequately guard them like he once could. As he gets older, this is likely to get worse. There are certain match-ups that are still favorable for him, and I think he is a very good center when he plays, but the idea that Varejao is a power forward is antiquated, in my opinion. Positions may matter less in the NBA than they did in the past, but it does matter who you can guard.

I only covered three options outside of Speights, so if you guys have other thoughts or ideas let me know in the comments who I left out and why they would work in Cleveland.