Our Longest Summer series will look at the eight teams whose seasons are now officially over, and will have to wait until mid-October to make decisions on what’s next and how to proceed after falling short of the cut-off for a continued 2019-20 campaign.
The 2019-20 season wasn’t kind to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The John Beilein era ended after just 14 wins in 54 games and, while the team did perform better after making a coaching change, Cleveland’s overall performance left plenty to be desired. Defensively, it was a near-total collapse and, even with offensive sparks flying at times, the Cavs were relatively dismal on the way to the NBA’s second-worst record before the hiatus.
Now, with 22 of the league’s 30 teams heading to Orlando, the Cavaliers have an extended offseason to attempt to right the ship. Some parts of the team are seemingly in decent shape but, for others, there are real questions that the organization has to answer, leaving uncertainty in a broad sense.
2020 Free Agents
Andre Drummond (player option), Tristan Thompson (UFA), Matthew Dellavedova (UFA), Ante Zizic (UFA)
2020 Projected salary cap space (assuming $115 million salary cap)
None, per Early Bird Rights
Areas of Strength
The Cavs didn’t do much well this season, but Cleveland does have some talented pieces. Should he choose to exercise a lucrative player option, Andre Drummond remains an above-average starting center. Kevin Love isn’t the player he was in his prime but, offensively, the former All-Star brings a lot to the table. On the perimeter, Collin Sexton made considerable strides in terms of efficiency and production, developing his three-point shooting in intriguing fashion and leading the team in scoring. The Cavs also enjoyed flashes from rookies Kevin Porter Jr. and Darius Garland, with some reasonably solid supporting play from veterans like Larry Nance.
Areas of Need
While it isn’t too hard to find positives on the roster, the overall picture is grim. If not for the historic efforts of the Washington Wizards, the Cavs would get more attention for deploying a truly abhorrent defense for much of the season. The talent on that end of the floor is, well, not very good, and the team’s pieces don’t fit all that well together, especially when considering Sexton and Garland in the backcourt. It is at least possible that one (or more) of the rookies makes a leap in the future but, in a more practical sense, Cleveland needs pieces that can defend at a high level and they probably need the true No. 1 option that so many rebuilding teams are looking for along the way.
Drummond will make the decision for the Cavs in some respect and, while not impossible that he exits, most of the buzz would lean toward the veteran center opting in to his deal for nearly $30 million. Cleveland didn’t pay much in the trade for Drummond, making the risk a reasonable one, but how they navigate his one-year pact (if it happens) and pending free agency will be crucial. In addition, Love could be on the trade market once again and, with Tristan Thompson hitting free agency after a lengthy tenure, considerable turnover could happen in the frontcourt. On top of that, the Cavaliers could have a top-three pick in a draft loaded with backcourt contributors and, if fit is a consideration in any way, things could get dicey.
Overall Offseason Focus
The Cavaliers should be in asset accumulation mode. That isn’t ideal for a team that still owes quite a bit of money to Love (and Drummond), but Cleveland simply isn’t close enough to contention to worry all that much about fit and short-term gains. As an over-the-cap team, the Cavaliers have less flexibility than they’d like to, but hitting on their first-round pick this year is paramount, and if they are able to shed Love and/or Drummond with an eye toward flexibility, it might be the time to go ahead and blow it up completely.