The Cleveland Cavaliers had a very eventful offseason a summer ago when they made a big splash by trading for Donovan Mitchell. That had the intended effect on the team in the regular season, as they earned the 4-seed in the East, but unfortunately for the Cavs they were unable to capitalize on their star power come playoff time, getting bounced in five games by the Knicks in a series that laid bare their shortcomings.
Two things stood out in that series, with the first being the need for internal improvement from their star frontcourt when things get more physical in the postseason. Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley struggled mightily to keep the Knicks less-heralded bigs off the glass, as Mitchell Robinson and Isaiah Hartenstein dominated the offensive boards to effectively swing the series in New York’s favor. While that’s something that has to be addressed internally, there was also a clear hole in their wing rotation, as they simply didn’t have a reliable fifth starter, much less a bench wing that wasn’t a liability on one end or the other. Isaac Okoro’s shooting remains an issue for him, Caris LeVert gives up size on defense, and Cedi Osman was decidedly not the answer on either end. That message was heard loud and clear by the Cavs front office, that spent the summer looking to address their wing rotation in a big way to help alleviate the pressure on their core four.
Here we’ll grade out the Cavs offseason moves in the Draft, free agency and contract extensions, and on the trade market.
The Cavs didn’t have a first round pick due to the Donovan Mitchell trade, and used their lone second rounder on Emoni Bates out of Eastern Michigan. The former highly rated prospect has had a rough past few years, struggling to find his place after a stint at Memphis and then returning home, and he simply never quite filled out physically to where he looked to be headed as a young high school prospect. Still, there’s clearly talent there as he showed in Summer League, and it’s a low-risk addition on a two-way for the Cavaliers to see if maybe they can bring the best out of him. It’s not a pick that figures to pay dividends this year (or even next), but it’s a perfectly understandable swing.
Free Agency/Contract Extensions: B+
The Cavs moved quickly to re-sign LeVert, bringing back the two-guard on a 2-year, $32 million deal. LeVert had a very solid regular season, averaging 12.1 points per game and shot 39.4 percent from distance. The playoffs were a bit rocky, but he was far from alone in struggling in that series for Cleveland. To give him some help in the wing rotation, the Cavaliers also signed Georges Niang to a 3-year, $26 million deal, poaching him from Philadelphia after a strong season as a knockdown shooter for the Sixers, shooting over 40 percent from deep, and becoming a better defender — which, again, finding guys that aren’t total liabilities on one end or the other had to be a priority for the Cavs. They also signed Ty Jerome to a minimum deal, as he comes off a strong shooting year in Golden State, providing another shooter for the regular season rotation.
Their one trade was landing Max Strus in a sign-and-trade from Miami, as the sharpshooting wing capitalized on another strong playoff showing with the Heat to get a 4-year, $63 million deal from Cleveland. The Cavs sent Cedi Osman, Lamar Stevens, and a second rounder to San Antonio, with another second going to Miami. Strus is a considerable upgrade on Osman and Stevens, particularly with an eye on the playoffs. Last year, Cleveland’s main concern was building a team that could get them to the postseason. This year, they clearly recognized the need to build a team better suited for actually winning once they get there. It’s not all that dissimilar from how the Nuggets approached their offseason a year ago, sacrificing a bit of regular season depth to build a deeper playoff rotation with players that are trustworthy on the big stage. Now, the Cavs don’t have a Nikola Jokic so I’m not saying they’ve built a title contender, but I do think they’ve addressed the biggest roster need in a very successful way with Strus and Niang. The question now is whether Allen and Mobley can take the step forward in the frontcourt they need to in order to deal with the playoff physicality inside. If so, this is a team that will be a threat in the East. If not, next summer likely brings more changes and puts Allen on the trade market.