The Cavaliers will need to address a number of roster needs to keep pace with the Warriors.
In the summer of 2014, fresh off a lopsided defeat to the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals, Miami Heat President Pat Riley addressed the media on the eve of the NBA’s impending free agency period. To complicate matters, there were rumblings that the franchise’s marquee player, LeBron James was looking to return home to Cleveland.
Riley, ever confident and immensely prideful, presented his philosophy on how the Heat would bounce back without naming James directly. “You gotta stay together, if you’ve got the guts,” Riley said at the time. “You don’t find the first door and run out of it.”
Riley’s point, besides the obvious shot at James’ intestinal fortitude, was that the Heat were not prepared to blow up the team because they lost in the Finals. They would retool and adjust but, in Riley’s mind, said adjustments would be made easier by keeping his core of star players intact. The statement did not persuade LeBron to stay in South Beach at the time, but James’ current team would be wise to follow Riley’s advice this summer.
Fresh off a 4-1 series loss to the Golden State Warriors in this year’s Finals, the Cavaliers are in the same position as the rest of the league, which is trying to catch up with the bay area basketball juggernaut. Conventional wisdom says the Cavs need to blow up the team and trade either Kyrie Irving or Kevin Love in exchange for more fire power. But that wisdom may be wrong for a few reasons.
First, as has been widely reported, the Cavs are pretty cash strapped heading into the summer. They are currently incurring the luxury tax and are slated to pay even more in repeat offender penalties, making any chance of a blockbuster deal more of a pipedream than an actual option. To facilitate such a deal, Cleveland would have to part ways with either Love or Irving to acquire the services of players like Paul George and Jimmy Butler, which would defeat the purpose of such a move. They would literally be robbing Peter to pay Paul (or Jimmy, as it were). Even if a general manager were willing to trade his superstar without receiving one of the Cavs’ Big 3 in return, Cleveland does not have the assets, via draft picks or young talent, to broker such a deal.
Second, the Cavs are really not that far behind the Warriors. Admittedly, this sounds ridiculous because 1) we all just watched the Finals and 2) according to Warriors owner Joe Lacob, the Warriors are light years ahead of the competition. But the gap is not as wide as it seemed in Games 1 and 2 of the Finals.
The Cavs were plagued by turnovers, defensive breakdowns, and an inability to generate any offense when LeBron went to the bench. These mistakes equal a loss against any team, let alone a team featuring three of the league’s best shooters.
And third if the Cavs are to have any shot at defeating the Warriors in the near future, they need Love and Irving. Neither were as consistent as the Cavs needed them to be during the Finals, but each had moments where he proved his worth. Irving is a fearless shot maker who can take over a game offensively. Love seems to finally be comfortable in the system and is morphing into the 20 and 10 banger he was back in Minnesota, but with three-point range. Love and Irving give Cleveland something that most teams don’t have – two all-star caliber players in their primes. Whatever the solution for beating Golden State, Love and Irving need to be a part of the equation.
So, what are Cleveland’s needs and more importantly, how does management address them on the cheap?
The Cavs should begin this summer by trying to sign New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony. Usually, whenever there is talk about signing a member of the “banana boat” crew, it is Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul, not Anthony, who is mentioned. But Anthony makes sense for a few reasons. He is still one of the best scorers in the NBA and an underrated playmaker. One of the noticeable positives of Kevin Durant joining the Warriors this season was how much easier it was for him to get shots playing with teammates who would keep defenses honest. Playing with LeBron would afford Anthony some of the same opportunities. The burden of creating his own shot would be lifted and Carmelo would get some of easiest looks of his career. He also has the skillset to transition to the power forward position where he could play a role similar to that of Warriors forward Draymond Green. Anthony does not have Green’s defensive range but is not as bad as people make him out to be on the defensive end either. Plus, when James goes to the bench for some much-needed rest, Anthony can manage the offense at the small forward position.
Perhaps the best part of this deal is that the Cavs wouldn’t have to give up much to get Anthony. In April, Knicks President Phil Jackson made it clear during his bizarre press conference that Anthony would be better somewhere else, all but guaranteeing that the Knicks will receive lowball offers for Anthony’s services next season. What’s more, Anthony has a no-trade clause meaning he has veto power over any trade. Ideally, Anthony could negotiate a buyout with the Knicks and sign with Cleveland, thus saving the Cavs some money and retaining key championship pieces.
Defensively, Cleveland needs more help on the wing. LeBron is not the shutdown on-ball defender he once was, so adding some defensive specialists who can knock down open shots will help his transition into more of a free safety rover on the perimeter. Raptors forward P.J. Tucker and Atlanta’s Thabo Sefolosha are two possibilities. Both are hard nosed defenders who can pick up the defensive slack on the perimeter and have the ability to hit open looks. Sefolosha is probably the better scorer of the two but either choice is an upgrade from Iman Shumpert.
The back-up point guard position needs a face lift as well, both to run the offense when Irving goes to the bench or play a more traditional point guard role with Irving slotted as the shooting guard in certain match-ups. Knicks guard Derrick Rose had a productive year, and his attacking style at the guard position has proven effective against the Warriors. But Rose may be looking for a final megadeal this summer, so the price may be too high. Spurs guard Patty Mills seems is another option and a better fit. He has experience as a starter and is a capable scorer and defender. Mills doesn’t bring the same attacking style as Rose, but he can keep the offense running effectively while Irving and James catch a blow. However, he too may be looking for a payday this offseason, which is something the Cavs cannot afford. Given their lack of cap flexibility, Cleveland may need to hit the bargain bin and take a flyer on Ty Lawson or former Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams.
Golden State is ahead of Cleveland and the rest of the league. But unlike other teams, the Cavs have two perennial all-stars and arguably the best player in the world on its roster. A major overhaul of talent is not necessary to compete with the Warriors, but Cleveland will need to get creative this offseason to address its needs if it hopes to keep the Warriors in its sight.