The Cavaliers 2019-20 season is figuratively and possibly literally over. If that was it, this past year will be one marked with small incremental developmental strides and managerial lows. The upcoming 2020-21 season will be another developmental one for the ‘post-LeBron era’. Despite the All-Star frontcourt with the newly acquire Andre Drummond and veteran Kevin Love, they’ll need their young guards, Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, and Kevin Porter Jr., to keep making strides before they can aim to be an over .500 team.
CURRANT 2020-21 PAYROLL
The Cavaliers are entering the offseason with $108.8 million dedicated to ten players, assuming Drummond opts into his $28.6 million player option. Depending on the pick they get, they will be between $20-24 million below the currently projected $139 million luxury tax. They have plenty of flexibility to fill out the rest of their roster unlike 2019-20 where they were up against the luxury tax throughout the season.
WHERE THEY STAND AGAINST THE SALARY CAP
The Cavaliers were projected to have around $27 million in cap space before acquiring Drummond. They are now projected to be slightly above the current projected salary cap, which may decrease further. They can still generate cap space if they reduce their payroll via trade or if Drummond opts out, but it’s possible that he was their primary free agency target for 2020. If so, then they essentially already used their cap space on him.
If they remain over the cap, they’re looking at the nontaxpayer mid-level exception (NT-MLE) as their largest means to add talent via free agency. They’ve barely used the NT-MLE in the past two seasons due to tax concerns, but that may change this year as they have plenty of breathing room below the luxury tax for the first time since LeBron James left. They can use a high-quality scoring veteran who can come off the bench and provide a spark for them.
After parting ways with John Beilein halfway through the first year of a four-year deal, the Cavaliers are now looking at their fourth head coach between the last two seasons. The intense turnover has less to do with the quality of their coaches and more about priorities and style. Former head coach Tyronn Lue was fired in 2018-19 due to his desire to play veterans over management’s desire to develop young players. Current head coach JB Bickerstaff has been extended through 2023-24, although that shouldn’t inspire too much confidence as all their previous recent coaches had three-to-four year deals and were fired early on. The coaching carousel begs the question if changes in the front office need to be addressed.
TOP 6 PICK
If the rest of the regular season is canceled, their 19-46 record would have them finish with the second-worst record in the league. This would guarantee them a Top 6 pick in the 2020 draft. The Cavaliers selected two undersized guards in the last two drafts. The selections were criticized because of possible overlap but in today’s increasingly positionless and smaller NBA, there is a timeline where the Sexton-Garland starting backcourt can be a success. If the Cavaliers are looking at a positional need, they can use a wing such as Anthony Edwards, LaMelo Ball, Kilian Hayes, or Deni Avdija. They can all start at small forward for the Cavaliers but possibly play up or down a position for special lineups. Regardless of needs, look for the Cavaliers to continue to select the best player available.
KEVIN LOVE TRADE?
It’s been no secret that Love would like to find a new home. The Cavaliers were hoping to increase his trade value when they signed him to a four-year extension worth $120 million but so far it has backfired. That isn’t to say he is untradeable, but if they were hoping to acquire several young players and first-round picks, they may need to lower their asking price. With big men slowly getting pushed out, Love could prosper as a small-ball center offensively. Defensively he is a liability, and because of his $31.3 million salary, it is no wonder some teams are asking the Cavaliers for a pick in order to trade for Love.
According to Jason Quick of The Athletic, the Portland Trail Blazers offered Hassan Whiteside and Kent Bazemore for Love. That offer is reminiscent of what the Cavaliers traded to get Drummond. At his age-31 season, he is putting up identical production to every other season he’s played in Cleveland. His skill isn’t going anywhere, but it is hard for a team like Portland who was on the edge of making the playoffs to consider trading a first-round pick now that the lottery odds are much more evened-out. The Cavaliers are right to hold onto Love and hope for offers to improve, but it won’t be by much. They should take the first offer that contains a first-round pick or young player they value.
ANDRE DRUMMOND EXTENSION
The Cavaliers didn’t give up anything of value for Drummond, so if he were to leave them at some point it shouldn’t set them back. At the same time, their best shot at keeping him may be via an extension. If Drummond opts in, he will become eligible to sign an extension with the Cavaliers starting on August 7. He can extend for up to a maximum of $153.6 million over four years which would give him an average salary of $38.4 million per season. It’s extremely unlikely in today’s climate that Cleveland or any team commit to him for that much, but perhaps both parties can meet somewhere in the middle. The summer of 2021 is expected to be an offseason closer to the 2019 offseason in terms of teams with cap space. With more money available then, the Cavaliers can lose Drummond if he hits the open market. If both parties are interested in an extension it will be fascinating to see what his number is with the value of centers declining each season.
TRISTAN THOMPSON’S FREE AGENCY
Tristan Thompson is Cleveland’s most significant free agent. According to Joe Vardon of The Athletic, Thompson was interested in an extension with the Cavaliers but both sides were far apart. He was hoping for a trade by February’s deadline and when he did not get one he chose not to get a contract buyout. Thompson clearly values his Bird rights and would rather bet on getting a lucrative new deal with them than lose them to play out the season for a contender.
If Thompson leaves the Cavaliers, there is a good chance that his market is the room mid-level exception (R-MLE). That is what most backup centers signed for in the 2019 offseason. By remaining with the Cavaliers, he could still sign an extension with them ahead of June 30th for more than the R-MLE. If Thompson gets an idea of what his market is ahead of time, that could push both sides to get a deal done. Thompson can also get more via a sign-and-trade. The 2019 offseason saw a record number of sign-and-trades, and it could be the way for him to get to a good team that is over the cap.