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The Cleveland Cavaliers’ 2017 offseason has been very underwhelming, with one questionable move after another. Although the current roster may be good enough to make its fourth straight Finals appearance, it simply won’t be good enough to match the Warriors.
The Cavaliers are up to their old ways with no plan in place. What’s worse was since the end of the NBA Finals, there was no one in charge. In late June, the team parted ways with well-liked general manager David Griffin over a contract dispute, who, since 2010, composed a master plan to lure LeBron James back to Cleveland and surround him with a championship caliber team.
The Cavs and general manager David Griffin will part ways according to sources
— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) June 19, 2017
With the general manager spot open, Cleveland offered the position to Chauncey Billups, but reportedly lowballed him with a below-market salary of $2 million annually.
Beginning the free agency period is the worst time to have an interim general manager at the helm, but after six weeks into the offseason, the Cavaliers finally agreed to a deal with current interim GM Koby Altman to run the show.
After extended talks, the hiring of Koby Altman as Cleveland’s new GM is imminent, league sources tell ESPN. Altman was Cavs’ assistant GM.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 21, 2017
Yet during those four weeks of free agent frenzy, other elite teams in the NBA have been actively upgrading their rosters (including the Warriors), while the Cavaliers have remained relatively quiet. Standing at nearly $40 million over the cap, Cleveland has very little room to improve the team.
The problem? If they can’t improve the roster to challenge Golden State, it could lead to a breakup with LeBron. The moves they have made so far doesn’t encourage much confidence.
The biggest contract they have given out was to in-house free agent Kyle Korver, who agreed to a three-year, $22 million deal. As a three-point specialist, Korver shot a blistering 48.5 percent from three after being acquired from Atlanta at the trade deadline, but was exposed as an aging, one-dimensional player in the NBA Finals.
The Warriors defense essentially took Korver out of the game, preventing him from getting open shots; as he shot 31.1 percent from three and 36.8 percent from the field. Although Korver can create an impact in a series against most other NBA teams, but a player’s effectiveness against the Warriors should be the biggest factor for the Cavaliers to consider when making a roster move.
Outside of Korver, the Cavaliers signed Jose Calderon, Jeff Green and Derrick Rose to one-year deals. While signing Green and Rose at the minimum were decent moves, they are more of a gamble. Both players are shells of their former selves, but have a chance to salvage their careers playing with LeBron James.
Defense has been a key problem for the Cavaliers. According to NBA stats, Cleveland posted a defensive rating of 108.0, tied for 22nd in the league last season. However, the team is headed in the wrong direction based on surrounding news.
According to reports, Cleveland has been shopping Iman Shumpert to save money on the luxury tax. Shumpert, who signed a four-year, $40 million deal in 2015, is not known as an offensive-minded player, but he’s the only player on the Cavs’ roster who actually has the physical tools to play defense. He posted a defensive rating of 112 last season, spent a majority of the Finals guarding either Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant and while Shumpert didn’t necessarily stop them, others did much worse defensively.
Calderon is an odd match for the Cavaliers in this case. The 36-year-old who played for the Hawks and Lakers last season, has a track record of being one of the worst defenders in the league. According to BasketballReference.com, Calderon has a defensive rating of 112 over his 12 year career. Sure, Calderon brings a career mark of 40 percent from three to Cleveland, but with the signings of Korver, Green Rose and Calderon, they are emphasizing offense while sacrificing defense.
How does this impact the Cavs?
Although much hasn’t really changed about the Eastern Conference, it may not be the Cavs’ rivals that may give them a run for their money, but rather the team itself.
According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, Irving requested a trade and voiced his displeasure of playing in James’ shadow.
Kyrie Irving requests a trade from Cavs, sources told ESPN. LeBron James was blindsided and is disappointed: https://t.co/54afvYge9V
— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) July 21, 2017
Irving’s trade demand is another chapter in the roller coaster and brings many questions about the team’s future.
Irving is still just 25 years old – younger than the other starts that were traded over the last five months – and commands a lot of value. He is coming off a career-best season, has championship pedigree, hasn’t dealt with any major injuries and still has two years left on his team-friendly deal.
Sure, the stars that were traded led to a shakeup of their old franchises, but Irving is a trade chip that may allow the Cavaliers to restructure a team to top the Warriors.
With nearly two months until the start of the regular season, the Cavaliers are in for a wild ride. Deals involving an all-star usually take a while, but seeing that most front-office executives are taking their vacations, a deal may not take place until training camp begins, let alone the beginning of the regular season [see James Harden trade].
Yet as long as the trade rumors beat around the bushes, the drama between LeBron James, the Cavaliers organization and Kyrie Irving will continue to heat up and will not necessarily lead to a happy note between all parties.
How does this impacts other teams?
Out of all the teams in the Eastern Conference, Boston is the only team who saw major improvements with the addition of Gordon Hayward.
However, if LeBron and Kyrie stick around, the Celtics don’t have anyone who can lock down either player. Gordon Hayward is a solid defender, but he isn’t an elite perimeter defender who can stop LeBron like Kawhi Leonard, Draymond Green or Andre Iguodala.
The loss of Avery Bradley removes the most capable perimeter defender who can stop Irving.
Outside of the big guns like Isaiah Thomas, Hayward and Al Horford, Boston will need huge performances from Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Jayson Tatum to top Cleveland, which are high expectations for three players with less than five years under their belt.
Sure, Toronto, Washington and Milwaukee all brought their core players back together, but other teams such as Atlanta, Indiana and Chicago (who all made the playoffs last season), lost their stars and are looking lottery bound. With the current state of the East, there’s no telling who will round up the top eight
And by the looks of it, none of the other teams outside of Boston can stop Cleveland. Sure they may take a game or two, but can they take a series if LeBron and Kyrie are leading the team?
As crazy as the 2017 offseason has been so far, the NBA Finals is currently set for Cleveland v. Golden State Episode IV. Irving and James are still Cavaliers for now, but a fourth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals may not be enough to convince either player to stay if they are defeated on the biggest stage once more [See: Miami Heat].
Luckily, despite all the dysfunction that finally looks like the final straw on the camel’s back, the Cavaliers do have a championship ring and three straight Finals appearances to show for or things would be way more depressing for Cleveland fans than it is already.