Two years ago, the Cleveland Cavaliers had one of the best backup point guards in the league in Matthew Dellavedova. He could soak up minutes, hit spot up threes and he didn’t need the ball in his hands. He was the perfect guard to spell Kyrie Irving, and he was the perfect guard to play off LeBron James. Delly accepted a lot of a money to go play for the Milwaukee Bucks, and is one of the great success stories of the league.
He had a rough first year playing for the Bucks, but he already got his payday. It’s still a win for him. The Cavs selected Kay Felder out of Oakland University in the second round of the draft a year ago to replace him, but otherwise didn’t do much to fulfill the void left by Dellavedova’s departure. Jordan McRae and DeAndre Liggins weren’t quite what the doctor ordered, even if both flashed some ability. The problem was finally fixed, it seemed, when the Cavs were able to add Deron Williams in the buy-out market. Williams is well beyond his prime at this point, but Williams was another solid locker-room guy, and had the respect of the players around him. He could also dribble and shoot a little bit. At 15-18 regular season minutes a night, it was fine.
It was fine until the NBA Finals. Williams struggled to shoot, and he just couldn’t move enough to defend. If you’re going to score a little, that can help offset poor defense. If you’re not, well, then it’s just unhelpful. It makes sense that the Cavs (and perhaps Williams himself) were ready to split up. So where does that leave the team? Felder didn’t show you enough to really bank on him moving forward. At the same time, he probably deserves a full offseason and chance to come back better accustomed to the size of the league. So he’ll be back.
But what else? Derrick Rose is a free agent. Brandon Jennings, Ty Lawson, Rajon Rondo are big names that were or are available. I don’t know if those guys are actually good at playing basketball. The Cavs had the taxpayer’s mid-level exception or minimum contracts to offer. They were planning on, and did, sign Cedi Osman to a deal, so they didn’t have a whole lot more than the veteran’s minimum to go shopping with.
In such a situation, the prudent move may have been to wait out the market and wait until teams around the league ran out of money. Once they did so, the Cavs become a pretty appealing market for veterans. The pitch is basically: so you didn’t get the money you wanted. We’re sorry about that. Come try and win a championship and play with LeBron. They probably went this route with Jeff Green, though you could argue whether or not that was worth it.
In this case, though, the Cavs had a wrinkle to think about. Jose Calderon was interested in playing for the Cavs on a minimum deal. And he was ready to do it from the get-go. Now, this is because he probably wasn’t going to get a whole lot more elsewhere. But if he was interested, and the Cavs were telling him to hold off and check back in later, maybe he wouldn’t have hung around on the market. So if you’re the Cavs, do you sign the flawed point guard you know you can grab for the minimum, or do you let yourself deal with the market as a passive observer, hoping another guy is still available.
The Cavs chose Calderon. I’m not sure this was the right move. Calderon isn’t very good, after all. He had a really nice career, but is just old now. He’ll be 36 this season. He won’t have lateral quickness or strength. He is a career 41 percenf three-point shooter and will spot up around LeBron. He can handle the ball and initiate offense. He will be a sieve defensively. He won’t cause problems in the locker room and will have the respect of his teammates.
Was there a better strategy? Probably. But it’s a veteran’s minimum contract and the Cavs needed something. They acted quickly, and they may or may not have been right to do so. It’s probably just not that big of a deal. If he gets hurt or looks too old, the team can be active at the trade deadline or once buy-out contract season begins.
Calderon isn’t the best signing in the world, but he isn’t the end of it either.