The Cleveland Cavaliers’ 2022 draft haul leaves the team with some work to do.
Picking Ochai Agbaji at No. 14 overall makes sense, even if it’s not sexy. They needed wings to defend and shoot. He’ll do that even if he’s not providing much else.
Otherwise, the Cavs didn’t do much that will matter for the 2022-23 season. None of Khalifa Diop, Isaiah Mobley and Luke Travers are going to play real minutes. Two of them (Diop and Travers) won’t even be on the roster. Instead, they’ll play overseas for now as they continue developing. Players Cleveland could have taken in the second round (say, Ohio State product E.J. Liddell or Toledo’s Ryan Rollins) aren’t even locks to be better NBA players, but there was at least some chance they could fill a push for minutes now. The way the Cavs drafted, they opted entirely out of a non-Agbaji rookie contributing and finding needed minutes via the draft.
For now, this leaves the Cavs with largely the same roster and rotation as last year in the lead-up to free agency. With the understanding the roster will likely change somewhat after free agency opens on June 30, here’s where the rotation currently stands.
The starting five
Perhaps Agbaji pushes for a starting spot as a rookie — his shooting certainly makes it possible. Maybe Isaac Okoro gets another crack at it. Maybe Collin Sexton is back and starts. A creation leap from Evan Mobley could lessen the need for another traditional ball handler at a guard spot.
But pree agency, what the Cavs’ starting five looks like for the 2022-23 season is hard to peg right now. So, for now, it seems likely the Cavs run it back. Darius Garland, Mobley and Jarrett Allen are all locks. There’s not a compelling Lauri Markannen alternative on the roster right now, so he remains slotted in as the starting three. Caris LeVert gets the starting spot by a hair over Okoro simply due to his offensive value and the need to give Garland help.
Current best guess: Darius Garland, Caris LeVert, Lauri Markannen, Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen
Key bench pieces
Based on last year, Kevin Love is the headliner of this position group. He provides real offensive pop the team can’t get from anywhere, even if he’s limited to 20ish minutes a game on average at this stage in his career. His shooting and passing are necessary, provided he can sustain his play from last season again and avoid injury. Seventy-four games played for Love last year as a big, big coup for Cleveland. It feels like they’ll need him to do it again barring other moves.
LeVert could co-headline this group, but let’s have Okoro and Agbaji in this group together for now. Both provide defense on the wing and at the point of attack, something J.B. Bickerstaff demands from his wings and needs to play the way it wants to. This isn’t a team that trusts anyone as defensive pulse.
Okoro’s offense in year three will be one of the team’s biggest storylines to watch. If the end of year bump and finishing 35% overall from three is real, then maybe this is heading in the right direction. If it’s not and teams still stay socially distant from Okoro whenever he’s on the floor, then the Cavs have a problem.
Sexton probably slots into this group if he re-signs. For the sake of this exercise, let’s assume he does. That takes the Cavs to nine guys in the rotation, but room to upgrade if the right fit can be found in a free agency or via trade. This group isn’t good enough to be run back with only Agbaji added.
Fringe bench pieces
Lamar Stevens and Dean Wade are the names to zone in on here. Wade is unspectacular, but solid, competes and can slot into the Love or Markannen roles based on the night. He’s a good player to have if you’re trying to have depth. Stevens is good too. He’s really the only wing the Cavs have that can defend up to defend threes and fours. If he was a better shooter, he’d be a rotation lock.
The other two Cavs under contract now — Cedi Osman and Dylan Windler — feel on the outside looking in. Osman’s numbers largely bounced back last year after a dreadful 2021-22 season, but he still wasn’t fully trusted by Bickerstaff. He is also functionally on an expiring contract since the last year of his deal is non-guaranteed. If there’s a trade to be made without sending Sexton out, Osman at $7.35 million next year is the logical contract to start with.
Windler, meanwhile, just hasn’t worked out. He’s played 51 games over three season, one of which was lost entirely to injury. His roughly $4 million salary is another one that makes sense to include in a deal to match a bigger individual salary. Osman plus Windler gets the Cavs over $10 million in expiring deals. They are also the players most likely to be squeezed by other moves if they are made.
Free agency opens for the NBA this week, and the Cavs have work to do. The Sexton situation will dominate the summer, but they have other work to do in free agency if they want to improve the roster for next season. With how the draft went, this is how it has to be done. There are currently four open roster spots, three if Sexton returns.
Specifically, there’s a few spots to look at. Wing is still the biggest need, so maybe they try to use their mid-level exception to pursue a wing like Bruce Brown or Gary Harris or T.J. Warren or Taurean Prince or Kyle Anderson. All of them have pros and cons, but the Cavs probably need one. Even if it’s just for a year, a veteran free agent signing could over up holes that Agbaji can’t cover up on his own. Better minutes from LeVert would help too, but that’s also probably not enough.
Harris arguably feels like the best fit because of his shooting, but he’s also perhaps not big enough to be the kind of wing Cleveland doesn’t currently have. Brown is solid and shot better last year, but isn’t spacing at volume that really fits Cleveland’s need. Warren would make a lot of sense provided his Achilles checks out after not playing last year. Maybe Jarrett Culver works as a buy-low option.
Backup point guard is also a possible need, particularly if the team doesn’t re-sign Sexton. Delon Wright, Tyus Jones and others could make sense if they want to use the MLE on a guard and not a wing. Otherwise, they are probably looking for someone on a minimum deal. A third string center (maybe Moses Brown brought back, maybe a veteran, maybe it’s just second-round pick Isaiah Mobley on a standard contract or two-way) is a need too.