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NBA PM: Where do the Cavaliers Go From Here?

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Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and the rest of the Golden State Warriors earned their second NBA championship in three seasons on Monday night. To honor the team, the city of Oakland will host a parade on Thursday.

While some roster decisions will need to be made this summer, the future of the Warriors appears to be in great shape moving forward. With so much firepower on the roster, the Warriors will likely be in contention for the title for years to come.

Meanwhile, the Cleveland Cavaliers are clearly a step or two behind the Warriors at this point following a 4-1 series loss in the Finals. Though they proved to be dominant in the Eastern Conference during the playoffs, it’s obvious that they don’t stack up quite as well against the Warriors.

Following the conclusion of the Finals, many are now wondering where the Cavaliers go from here. While the Cavaliers’ starting unit held their own against the Warriors, their glaring weakness throughout the series was their bench. In fact, the Cavaliers’ starters outscored the Warriors’ starters by 19 points (482-463) in the series, but their bench unit was outscored by 53 points.

As things currently stand for the Cavaliers, only eight players are on guaranteed contracts for the 2017-18 season: LeBron James, Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Channing Frye and Richard Jefferson. Kay Felder and Edy Tavares are signed to non-guaranteed deals for next season, while Kyle Korver, James Jones, Deron Williams, Derrick Williams and Dahntay Jones are unrestricted free agents this summer.

Given the players currently on the books for next season, the Cavaliers are not projected to have any available cap space. The eight players on guaranteed contracts amount to roughly $125.6 million in salary with a projected $101 million salary cap for next season. Put simply: the Cavaliers have extremely limited flexibility this summer.

Prior to even figuring out which players the team may look to sign this summer, the front office must decide who will be in charge. General manager David Griffin is in the final year of his contract and the team has not yet offered him a new deal. Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert is reportedly set to meet with Griffin in the coming days to discuss Griffin’s future with the team.

While a new contract offer has yet to be offered to Griffin, it appears likely that he will be retained. Griffin gained interest from teams like the Orlando Magic, Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks for their vacant general manager positions, but were denied permission by the Cavaliers to interview him. Those teams have since filled their vacancies.

Given the team’s cap restrictions, it’s clear that the candidate chosen as the next general manager will have their hands full trying to fill out the remaining roster spots. To make matters worse, the Cavaliers are one of a few teams that do not currently own a pick in next week’s draft, although the argument can be made that a potential draft pick doesn’t figure to receive much playing time given how the team is positioned for a championship.

The trade market may not be a viable option for the Cavaliers, either. What could the Cavaliers realistically offer a team that would bring back real value? LeBron James isn’t being traded; neither is Kyrie Irving. It seems like each offseason that Kevin Love’s name is brought up in trade rumors, but what would he return the Cavaliers? Love just turned in his best season in Cleveland, but even that may not net the team enough quality role players to make a deal worthwhile.

Outside of those three players, the rest of the roster just doesn’t give the front office valuable trade assets. Carmelo Anthony’s future with the New York Knicks is in question, but would Anthony be the piece that puts the Cavaliers over the top? He would give the team another proven scoring option, but scoring wasn’t exactly the team’s weakness against the Warriors. The Cavaliers need another wing defender and a better backup point guard. Adding ‘Melo doesn’t give the Cavaliers either of those things.

The Cavaliers’ best strategy might be to continue to convince veteran players to sign contracts worth the minimum for a chance to compete for a championship. Barring the Boston Celtics configuring the next super team over the summer, it doesn’t appear likely that any team in the East would have the firepower to compete with the Cavaliers. Would a quality free agent be open to signing for the minimum to compete for a title?

Looking at the list of potential free agents this summer, the market for another wing defender that might take the minimum is rather thin. Perhaps the best name available is Thabo Sefolosha, but in a time where each free agent is aiming to sign for top dollar, would he take a pay cut to join a contender? Maybe not.

The market for backup point guards has much more to offer than wing defenders. Realistic options like Ramon Sessions, Darren Collison, Ty Lawson, Norris Cole, Brandon Jennings and Aaron Brooks could be available through free agency. Regardless of which player they could add, the backup point guard position was perhaps the team’s biggest weakness and should be a priority this summer.

In the case of the Cavaliers, there is no magic wand they can wave to miraculously add the missing pieces needed to inch closer to the Warriors. The argument can even be made that the Finals should have been tied heading into Game 5 after the Cavaliers blew a six-point lead in the final three minutes of Game 3. So, they may not be all that far off to begin with, but it’s certain the front office will be looking to make improvements.

After all, the legacy of LeBron James hangs in the balance and he may not be willing to wait around too much longer.

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About Cody Taylor

Cody Taylor

Cody Taylor is an NBA writer in his fourth season with Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and NCAA out of Orlando and Miami.