The Cleveland Cavaliers are doing a much better job than you think.
Sure, this year’s Cavs have been straight-up awful – they hold a record of 11-43, better than only the Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks. But it’s all part of the plan. Not only are the Cavaliers putting themselves in position to get a top draft pick this summer, they’ve also made some great trades along the way which have really set them up for the future. Let’s dive into GM Koby Altman’s plan for the future, and how the Cavaliers could be winners in only two years.
We’ll start with the great trades the Cavaliers have made this year. Through a total of four trades, the Cavaliers have managed to pull off this overall swap:
- Kyle Korver
- Sam Dekker
- George Hill
- Rodney Hood
- Alec Burks
- Six second round picks
- Two first round picks
- Brandon Knight
- John Henson
- Matthew Dellavedova
- Marquese Chriss
That’s four players who either were expiring and either meant nothing to the Cavaliers in the future (Dekker, Hood) or were veterans on bad contracts (Hill, Korver). In return, you got 8 total draft selections, a good young player (while expiring) in Chriss, and four players who are expiring after the 2019-20 season. That’s a great value for the Cavs, and it really puts the team in a good position going forward, as we’ll get into in a second.
The way the Cavaliers roster is constructed, there are 6 expiring contracts after the 2019-20 season. This is everyone expiring, along with how much they’re making in their final season:
- Tristan Thompson ($18.54M)
- J.R. Smith ($15.68M)
- Jordan Clarkson ($13.44M)
- John Henson ($9.73M)
- Matthew Dellavedova ($9.61M)
- Brandon Knight ($15.64M)
What Koby Altman is doing is really rather genius.
Take on bad contracts, but make sure they all expire at once – so that the Cavs can have a LOT of cap space at that time. If everything goes as planned and the Cavs don’t sign any free agents, they’re set up to have somewhere around $60M in cap space in 2020-21. That takes in the players still under contract at that time (Love, Sexton, Nance, Zizic), adds in around $16M for the two first round picks the Cavs have in 2019 and their first round pick in 2020, and takes into account the projected salary cap that year.
$60M is enough to sign one max contract, and spend the rest on a very good/borderline elite player or multiple good players. Will it be hard to get a max-level player to come to Cleveland? For sure. However, the Cavs could have a very attractive young team at that time and getting a max player to come isn’t totally out of the question.
Now that we’ve tackled all that, let’s go into a completely hypothetical world. We’re going to build one possible edition of this Cavs team over the next couple years. There are infinite situations, here’s a sample one where most things go right for Cleveland.
Building the Cavs Superteam
We’ll begin assuming that the Cavaliers finish off this season as horribly as they started it and get a top-2 or -3 pick. While Zion Williamson is commonly seen as the top prospect in this class, I personally like R.J. Barrett and think he’s both the safer pick and fits better with our team. In this example scenario, the Cavaliers draft R.J. Barrett, and with our first round pick from Houston (which is currently #21), I have the SG/SF Kevin Porter going to the Cavs. Porter is an explosive athlete who can score on all three levels and has a high ceiling.
If the draft goes as I’ve projected, this could be the Cavaliers team going into 2020-21:
|Collin Sexton||Cedi Osman||R.J. Barrett||Kevin Love||Tristan Thompson|
|Matthew Dellavedova||Jordan Clarkson||Kevin Porter||Larry Nance Jr.||John Henson|
|Brandon Knight||Ante Zizic|
Sexton-Barrett-Porter is a really good young core, and I see Kevin Love as a really good piece for now and the future if he can stay healthy (which is possibly the biggest “if” for the Cavaliers going forward). You add in that Nance is under contract and Osman is a restricted free agent after ’20-21 and we really, really nice core here.
Not only is that a nice team, but we’re set up for the future. While that team has the potential to make a run at the playoffs, I see them as a middle-lottery team.
Where to next?
Thompson is among the expiring players, so I can see the Cavaliers drafting a center. I don’t want to dive too deep into the 2020 draft class, but I’ll say that there are 3 good centers in the 4-10 range, in the current mocks. Draft a big there and you’re still staring at $60M in cap space heading into the offseason.
You could use some of it to resign Osman and/or Clarkson, go out and get a max player, and pick up some talented bench help… and all of a sudden, you’re a very scary team. With the Sexton-Barrett-Porter-Love-(drafted center) core, Nance and Osman off the bench, and $60M in cap space… Koby Altman will have done his job and that’s one of the best situations to be in any team could ask for.
To conclude, I’d say that Koby Altman has a really good plan up his sleeve. In just two or three years, the Cavaliers could be back in contending form is everything goes even close to right. We didn’t even mention the pile of second round picks he’s accumulated, and at least a few of those will probably turn out to be something.
Don’t worry, Cavs fans. Our time is coming.