The Cavs are a lot like a newborn. They have a lot of needs that need attended to in order to survive — especially if they’re serious about being a playoff team next season. But, it doesn’t mean that they also shouldn’t be looking towards the future as well. While there are a few options in this year’s draft class with players like Isaac Okoro or Deni Avdija that provide upside for the Cavs, that’s more so gambling on their potential further down the line. If the Cavs are looking for a more immediate answer now that can provide potential later, they should look towards this offseason’s free agency group.
Well, that is before the Cavs traded for former All-Star center Andre Drummond at the annual trade deadline. When Cleveland first traded for Drummond, it was for two expiring contracts and a fairly worthless second rounder, they were hoping to take the remainder of the season to evaluate his fit with the roster and see what his upside is for the team going forward. Well, along came severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, more colloquially known as as COVID-19, and shut down life as we know it and the Cavs’ season for the last sixth months.
But, during the shutdown, Drummond has more or less made his intentions clear that he will be picking up his $28.7 million player option for the 2020-21 season. This is kind of like the Cavs signing up for a Netflix trial on a different email address, albeit an expensive one. Now, the Cavs can take the time to evaluate Drummond for the 2020-21 season. If they see a good fit long term, then an extension makes sense. But if things go horribly wrong, then Cleveland should have an easy time flipping his mammoth expiring contract at next season’s trade deadline.
With Drummond picking up his option, it also removes the Cavs from being major players in free agency. Sure, they can sign players to a $9.8 million mid-level exception and minimum contract deals but players with tangible upside probably aren’t available at that price. So, Drummond is the lone free agent possible for Cleveland this offseason that presents any semblance of upside. And that in itself presents an interesting dilemma for the Cavs.
The thing is, the Drummond Cleveland got at the trade deadline should make them worry a bit. At his core, Drummond would fit beautifully with all 30 teams in the NBA. He has shown throughout his career potential as an elite rim protector, posting a career defensive block plus/minus of 0.5 — which makes him a top -0 defender in the NBA. Drummond is also a truly elite rebounder, averaging 13.8 total rebounds per game for his career. He also is sound offensively when he plays to his strengths as an athletic rim runner. The problem is, everything else that has come with Drummond on top of the promising glimmers in his career.
By that, I mean Drummond more or less freelancing to be an imitation of Milwaukee Bucks big man Brook Lopez as a floor stretching, drop coverage big. Which is fine if it was able to work towards Drummond’s strengths — but it isn’t. As much as he wants to act as a primary facilitator or take step back threes, Drummond is causing more harm than good to the Cavs. That, in turn, falls squarely on the collective shoulders of Cleveland head coach J.B. Bickerstaff and his coaching staff. They need to discourage the bad behavior Drummond has exhibited so that he can play to his full potential, and continue to develop any upside that can possibly remain.
If Bickerstaff and company are successful in this endeavor, then Cleveland general manager Koby Altman and his staff should be arrested for robbing the Detroit Pistons blind. As mentioned before, Drummond is a player that would fit beautifully with every team in the league if he played to his strengths. It’s understandable why Drummond is trying to do so much at this juncture of his career, players of his archetype are a dying breed and aren’t paid nearly as much compared to what his player option commands. But, it still doesn’t mean Drummond will go broke. If he plays to his strengths, he has the upside to be truly elite and will be paid comfortably.