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Mailbag: Do the Cavs actually need cap space to improve?

The short answer is no.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers-Press Conference David Dermer-USA TODAY Sports

Question, from Cols714: Given the amount of money the Cavs have tied up in bad players like Nance, Drummond, and Cedi, how will they have enough cap space to improve next year?

To answer this question, I’m going to reject the premise on two fronts.

For starters, none of Larry Nance Jr., Cedi Osman and Andre Drummond are bad. In Nance and Osman’s case, I think they are both solid players who should look better as the team gets better. Neither are making an insane amount of money either and have team-friendly deals. Nance’s deal declines year-over-year; Osman show has a non-guaranteed final year of his deal.

If you want balk at Drummond’s salary for next season, I wouldn’t blame you. For what the league is, and what he is, it’s too much. But a) it’s one year and prevents the Cavs from spending poorly this summer and b) doesn’t limit their cap space going forward. Right now, I’d also be surprised if the Cavs sign him to a new deal that is anywhere close to what he’s making now, if he re-signs at all. And remember: Drummond was acquired for nothing of real value. I get why Koby Altman did that trade.

Secondly, cap space is not how the Cavs are going to improve and get themselves out of the NBA’s lower class. Because of what Cleveland is as a market — not one that star players are to flock to — having cap space isn’t a guarantee of success. The way the Cavs area going to improve is by Kevin Porter Jr. hitting his potential, by Collin Sexton continuing to shine, by Darius Garland turning it up a notch in year two and by nailing draft picks.

Cap space can help, to be sure. A free agent signing at the right time (and at the right value) can help. Who that is isn’t clear — it’s certainly not going to be this summer — but it’s also not going to be a max or near-max player. It’s going to be something more in line with the mid-level exception or slightly above it. In fact, it’s in line with what Nance Jr. — a good defender who improved as a shooter and passer last season — is making.

Having cap space could also help in acquiring assets. If the Cavs have space, they could eat some bad money that other teams want off of. They could do that now by moving on from Drummond, but cap space would allow them to directly absorb a bad deal. That’s just not the case right now. But for 2021 — a summer when Drummond, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, Brad Beal and a lot of other good players all are likely to hit the market — the Cavs could nab picks to help teams clear space to spend on free agents that aren’t coming to Cleveland anyway.

So, would cap space help? Sure. Is it essential to the Cavs improving? No. I’d also argue that it’s not at all what will drive success.

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