Cavaliers Reset

February 21st, 2013 by Colin McGowan

Unsurprisingly, not much happened for the Cavaliers on trade deadline day. There were a few rumors about a possible Mo Speights-for-a-pick swap, but nothing concrete enough to get excited about. All is placid here at C:TB HQ. Kevin is conked out in an armchair, and Mallory’s half-heartedly trying to beat a difficult Super Meat Boy level. Cavs: The Cat is asleep by my feet as I type this. But before we join Kevin in dreamland, let’s examine what the Cavs have going forward, since we now know what the roster is going to look like for the rest of the season.

Starting Backcourt:

Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters aren’t going anywhere. Saint Weirdo is in the first season of a four-year rookie deal, and Chris Grant will likely extend a max contract offer to Kyrie in the middle of next season that’ll make him a Cavalier until his mid-20s. The children are our future, etc.

Starting Frontcourt:

Alonzo Gee is on the books for $3.25M next year and has a $3.25M team option for the 2014-15 season. Hopefully, the Cavs will make a signing or draft selection that relegates him to the bench sooner rather than later. I think nearly every Cleveland fan has a soft spot in their heart for AG, but he isn’t much more than a decent substitute. After showing considerable growth in his first two seasons with the team, he’s revealing this season that he’s just not good enough to run with your average starting NBA wing.

After this breakout year, I feel terrific about Tristan Thompson as the Cavs’ starting power forward for the next decade. Like Waiters and Irving, he’s still on his rookie deal, though he obviously won’t get a max extension offer like Irving will, so it remains to be seen if the Cavs will lock him up long-term during next season or wait until he becomes a restricted free agent. At any rate, unless he gets a phenomenally stupid contract offer from another team in the summer of 2015, he’ll be a Cavalier alongside Kyrie and Dion for a long time.

Anderson Varejao’s future with the team is precarious, though perhaps not as precarious as it was a few months ago. Cavs fans have always seemed split down the middle on this issue, but I was in favor of trading Varejao before he got hurt, even if it meant doing so for eighty cents on the dollar. I’ve reformed my position, though: I think this last injury drove down his value to the point that the Cavs are better off rolling the dice that he’ll stay healthy than shipping him out for a pittance. Regardless of whether Varejao can stay healthy, the team needs to start grooming a future starting center. (Unless you think Tyler Zeller is that guy; I don’t think he is.) Wild Thing will be 31 by the start of next season, when the Cavs will pay him $9.1M. That’s a bargain if he plays his best for 70 games; it’s a sunk cost if he ends up sitting out two-thirds of the season again. If he does stay healthy, he also has a $9.8M team option for the 2014-15 season.

Rotation Players:

Tyler Zeller is a backup center. That’s a fine thing to be. You can do worse with the 18th pick in the draft. I look forward to a future in which T-Zell steps off the bench for 18 minutes a game, knocks down a couple open jumpers, draws a charge, and grabs a few rebounds. Watching him have to match up against starting NBA centers for 30 minutes every night is rough. I feel for him. He’s on a rookie deal, obviously, so he’ll be a cheap bench player for the Cavs through the 2015-16 season.

Marreese Speights has a player option he can pick up this summer that will pay him $4.5M next season, but the conventional wisdom dictates that he’ll probably turn that down to become an unrestricted free agent and guarantee himself more money. It’s hard to know what the Cavs will do with Speights now that they’ve elected not to flip him for an asset. Is keeping him an indication that they intend to sign him in the offseason or did they just get lowballed when shopping him? How you feel about Speights going forward probably hinges around what sort of contract he’s on. Is two years and $12M palatable? Is four years and $21M a deal-breaker? It all depends on how much you value a bench big with a nice jumper and a nasty streak.

The Wayne Ellington situation is less complicated. I don’t see much reason why the Cavs wouldn’t match any reasonable offer Ellington receives in restricted free agency. They could use a spot-up shooter off the bench, and as much as I would like Boobie Gibson to be that player, Ellington is a taller, less frequently injured version of Gibson. I think unless an opposing GM confuses Ellington for O.J. Mayo, Ellington will be in wine and gold for the next couple of seasons.

C.J. Miles will likely be back next season at $2.25M. Do you really want me to break down C.J. Miles? I refuse. You can’t make me. (Fine: he shoots too much, and I kind of hate him. Moving on.)

Shaun Livingston has been a revelation at the backup point guard spot. After picking through the scrap heap—Donald Sloan, Jeremy Pargo—it appears that Cavs have found their man. What I like best about Livingston is how well he complements the rest of the backcourt because of his versatility. He’s a nice defensive player who can guard multiple positions, and he’s happy to play off the ball or run the point. You can put him in three-guard lineups if you want. He just fits in well on this team, and he rarely makes mistakes. He’s like a guard version of Nick Collison, which is high praise. I hope the Cavs lock him up this offseason.

The Scrap Heap:

Omri Casspi is a restricted free agent but for whatever reason hasn’t been able to crack the rotation. (Okay, I’m being coy: he’s not very good, but the Cavs had the worst bench in the league before Speights and Ellington showed up.) I would imagine he’ll ply his trade elsewhere when the season’s over.

Everyone in Cleveland’s heart sings for Boobie Gibson, I’m sure. He’s overpaid at $4.5M this season simply because he can’t stay on the court. If he wants to sign a one-year or two-year deal at a discount, I’m all for it, but it’s hard to be optimistic about player who has a habit of missing big swaths of seasons.

Luke Walton, friend of Flemish Renaissance painter Pieter Breugel until Breugel passed away in 1569, is a free man after this season. If you put his brain in Andray Blatche’s body, he’d be a borderline all-star, but unfortunately Walton has the body of a particularly athletic gym teacher. I don’t know if he’ll try to prolong his NBA career (perhaps even with the Cavs), go to Europe, or retire, but I’ve noticed that he genuinely seems to get a kick out of playing with this young Cavs team.  If I were Byron Scott or Chris Grant, I would ask if he wants to take up a coaching role in the organization whenever he decides to stop playing basketball.

* * * * *

So that’s more or less where the Cavs stand heading into the final third of this season. The obvious holes are at the starting center and small forward slots, but you knew that. What do you think the Cavs should do to patch those deficiencies? What sort of price would you pay for Marreese Speights? Was Sartre right when he argued that a text is not a concrete object, but something produced only through a dialogue between reader and language? Answer in the form of a sonnet.