CLEVELAND, Ohio – I started writing, “Now comes the hard part for Koby Altman …”
Then I stopped.
For the Cavs president, this offseason is difficult. He enters the draft with just the 49th pick. He has limited salary cap space – the main tool for signing free agents is the $12.2 million mid-level exception.
More salary cap space can be made by trading Cedi Osman or not picking up his $6.7 million non-guaranteed player option for 2023-24. I’m not an Osman fan. The Cavs can move on from him.
The Cavs already have Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland on max contracts. Evan Mobley is eligible for a max contract in the summer of 2024 and they want to sign him to a mega deal.
Yes, the Cavs are in a tough spot.
But much of the hard work has already been done by Altman and GM Mike Gassey. Based on my emails, too many fans believe the 51-31 regular season record was all but wiped out by being ousted from the playoffs by New York in five games.
Tired of hearing that the Cavs have an excellent core group of young players? Probably.
IT’S A GREAT SITUATION
Any coach looking for an NBA job now would love to inherit a roster with Mobley, Mitchell, Garland and Jarrett Allen. Those same coaches would jump at a chance to work for a front office that assembled this roster without the benefits of a No. 1 overall draft pick or a major free-agent acquisition.
Despite all the gnashing of teeth and grumbling surrounding the Cavs, I love how they are positioned heading into the draft and upcoming free agency.
It’s not the Cavs of summer 2010 or 2018 – after LeBron James left both times.
Back then, the Cavs played for lottery ping-pong balls. They had no stars. They couldn’t find a coach. From the summer of 2018 through the 2020 All-Star break, they ran through Tyronn Lue, John Drew and John Beilein before JB Bickerstaff took over.
In the last three seasons, the Cavs have gone from 22 to 44 to 51 wins. The regular season counts. It’s the door to the playoffs. The Cavs finally got there, the first time since 1997 without James on the roster. That’s why I like Bickerstaff, despite my criticism of his problems developing and managing his bench.
I remain wedded to the “Stability Makes Sense” school for the Cavs.
This isn’t an ideal list, but it’s a good one. It’s a young one. It’s a roster with a defensive-minded head coach in Bickerstaff, whose teams are relatively drama-free in the NBA’s age of entitlement and whining. That speaks volumes for his leadership and communication skills – two essential qualities needed to coach in the modern NBA.
WHAT ABOUT THE DRAFT?
Before we discuss what the Cavs need to do, I went through what They did so there is context to this discussion.
A year ago at this time, no one had a clue they were going to trade for Mitchell. As the 2020 trade deadline approached, no one knew they were going to make a deal for Allen. Rarely are Cavs moves discussed at length in the media before they happen.
We can talk about rumors about the 49th election. I hear the name Emoni Bates associated with the Cavs and keep my head.
The two MAC teams I know best are Akron and Kent State. I respect their coaching staff. They play a tough defense. When Bates played for Eastern Michigan, I wondered how he would fare against those opponents through four games into the 2022-23 season.
Before I reveal those stats, the best performance last season for Bates was probably his opening game. He scored 30 points on 12-of-19 shooting in an 88-83 loss to Michigan.
In those four games against Akron and Kent State, Bates shot 17 of 57 (30%) and 4 of 28 (14%) on 3-pointers. He had 24 points (8 of 15) in a game against Kent State. But even with that added in the four-game sample, the stats are disheartening.
Bates is a 6-foot-10, 170-pound sophomore whose pre-college hype has greatly exceeded his accomplishments at Memphis and then Eastern Michigan. In the old days, he stayed in school another year, focused, worked on his game. He also had some off-field concerns.
I much prefer Hunter Tyson, the 6-8, 215-pound forward mentioned by cleveland.com’s Chris Fedor. Tyson played five years at Clemson (extra pandemic season included). He averaged 15.3 points, 9.6 rebounds, shot 48% overall and 40% on 3-pointers while being a first-team All-ACC player.
More mature, more NBA ready.
The same goes for Julian Strawther, a player I like best for the Cavs in this area of the draft. The 6-7, 209-pound junior from Gonzaga is a classic catch-and-shoot guy Cleveland needs. He shot 48% overall, 41% on 3-pointers for one of the nation’s best programs.
THE REAL WORK
For Altman, the real challenge will be free agency and/or trades.
This is where the Cavs need to make upgrades at guard. There is reports Atlanta is considering trade De’Andre Hunter. The veteran small forward would be ideal for the Cavs. He averaged 15.4 points and shot 46% from the field, 35% on 3-pointers.
But he has four years and $95 million left on his contract. No idea how the Cavs could make that happen.
I trust Altman and his staff to upgrade the roster. As free agency looms, we’ll hear the same names over and over again: Grant Williams, Harrison Barnes, Max Strus, Kelly Oubre, Donnie DiVincenzo and Caris LeVert (Cavs free agent).
But the place where Altman can make an impact is via a trade. His track record is strong in that area, so I trust him to keep the team moving in the right direction.
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