The Knicks find themselves in a familiar position this offseason. Coming off another losing season, New York will, once again, spend the summer desperately searching for a point guard.
There has been plenty of unpredictability and chaos surrounding this franchise for the better part of two decades. However, scarcity of quality point guards and an abundance of defeats have been two fairly constant themes since the turn of the century. Dating back to the start of the 2001-2002 season, the Knick are 240 games below .500 (528-768). The Minnesota Timberwolves are the only team in the NBA with a worse record over that stretch. One common denominator on most of these awful Knick teams has been the lack of a steady, solid point guard.
Just how putrid and inconsistent has the Knicks point guard play been over the last decade? Well, (via Basketball Reference) here are the franchise leaders in total assists among guards since 2006-07:
1. Raymond Felton (1,225 assists)
2. Chris Duhon (944)
3. Nate Robinson (715)
4. Jamal Crawford (705)
5. J.R. Smith (602)
6. Pablo Prigioni (568)
Over those ten years, the only New York point guard to post a PER above 17 over the course of a full season was Nate Robinson in 2008-09.
A quick look around today’s NBA serves as a reminder that quality point guard play has become virtually imperative for teams that hope to compete at the highest level. Of the eight teams that have won a playoff series in 2017, seven of them have point guards that have made an All-Star team. (George Hill of Utah is the only non-All-Star on the list.)
The last Knicks point guard to be named to an All-Star was Mark Jackson back in 1988-89.
Coming off three straight losing seasons, the Knicks roster has plenty of holes that need to be plugged. Still, no need is more pressing than finding a point guard for the present, and the future. All too frequently, the Knicks have had neither. Thus, the consistent losing. This summer, either via the draft, free agency, or even possibly a trade, New York will hopefully (finally) find a solution. Below we take a look at each possible approach:
There will be a number of top-tier point guards on the market this summer. Unfortunately, it’s extremely unlikely that any of them would consider signing with the Knicks. Not only will the Knicks likely have less than $20 million to lavish on free agents in July, but New York is also no longer the ideal destination for players it once was.
* Stephen Curry:
* Chris Paul:
At this time last year, it didn’t seem like an impossible proposition. The thinking was that the Knicks were going to have plenty of cap space in 2017 and, assuming they posted an impressive record during the 2016-17 season and made a bit of noise in the playoffs, Carmelo Anthony could conceivably convince his buddy CP3 to join Melo and Kristaps Porzingis in New York. Instead, the Knicks are a nightmare, Phil Jackson has alienated Carmelo Anthony in every way imaginable, and the chances of Chris Paul leaving L.A. for NYC have dropped from slim to none.
* Kyle Lowry:
Earlier this month, when asked about his free agent priorities, Lowry focused on only one thing.
“A ring, Lowry said. “Nothing else. I just want a ring.”
Yea, so, we’ll move on…
* George Hill:
Hill is a talented, underrated point guard and would be an undeniable upgrade for the Knicks, but the fit isn’t quite right. For starters, Hill is 31. How many more high-level seasons does he have left in the tank? The Knicks are nowhere near a competitive team right now, and likely won’t be for a while. Signing Hill would be a “win now” move for a team that should be thinking long term. In addition, Hill’s injury history is a concern. He’s missed a total of 80 games over the last three seasons.
* Jrue Holiday:
Holiday turns 27 next month, and his best basketball is ahead of him. While not a superstar, he’s above average on both ends of the floor. Holiday a reliable shooter and crafty scorer, who makes smart decisions in pick-and-roll action. Defensively, his quickness and length allow him to keep opposing point guards out of the paint. Durability issues have been a problem in the past, but Holiday only missed three games due to injury last season. The downside is that he will be expensive (well north of $20 million annually) and, as a result, likely out of Knicks price range. Nonetheless, if the Knicks don’t draft a point guard with their lottery pick, Holiday will be a target, especially if the Knicks choose to re-sign Justin Holiday and Jrue considers giving New York a bit of a discount to play alongside his brother.
* Jeff Teague:
Teague is in his prime at age 29. He’s been durable and solid, if unspectacular, since becoming a full-time starting point guard. He would make sense as an intriguing option, but Teague’s hometown team, the Pacers, will be motivated to keep him in Indianapolis to show Paul George they’re serious about remaining competitive.
* Derrick Rose:
The experiment simply didn’t work. Rose’s 2016-17 stats (18.0 ppg, 4.4 apg and 3.8 rpg) look good on paper, but he was often a net negative, due primarily to his lethargic, subpar defense. He ranked near the very bottom of the league in Real Plus/Minus. While his skill set would fit with some teams, his ball-dominant style doesn’t mesh with Kristaps Porzingis, who should be the focus of the franchise going forward. Bringing back Rose, who tore his meniscus in April, would make very little sense.
* Milos Teodosic:
The Knicks have had plenty of success unearthing gems via international scouting, but the 30-year old Teodosic is not a player that has flown under the radar. Last summer, in a poll of NBA general managers, Teodosic was voted the best player not currently playing in the league. He’ll have plenty of interested suitors come July, with the Nets, Kings and Nuggets at the top of the list. Although he’s one of the best passers in the world, he’s a sieve on the defensive end. Teodosic would bring plenty of excitement and flair to MSG, and it’d be fun to watch him work with Porzingis, but considering his age and defensive issues, he’s not an ideal fit in New York.
* Patty Mills:
Mills has come off the bench his entire career and may be looking to land a starting gig this summer. If the Knicks strike out on their primary targets, Mills, age 28, might make sense as a placeholder for a few years.
Some other free agents that will be up for consideration: Tyreke Evans, Shaun Livingston, Darren Collison, Deron Williams, Sergio Rodriguez, Langston Galloway (player option), Brian Roberts, Shelvin Mack, Trey Burke (restricted), Ramon Sessions (team option), Michael Carter-Williams, (restricted), Raymond Felton, Tyler Ennis, Ty Lawson.
With the Knicks failing to jump up into the top-three via the lottery drawing, we can effectively take Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball off the board, as they are expected to be the first two players selected.
* De’Aaron Fox:
Unfortunately for the Knicks, it is extremely unlikely that Fox falls out of the top-five, let alone slides all the way down to No. 8. It’s unfortunate for New York because Fox has the type of superstar upside that could potentially turn around a franchise. He is lighting quick with remarkable athleticism and length for the position. Fox is hands-down the best defender among all point guards in the draft. And while concerns about his shooting ability are legitimate, it should be pointed that out that over his final ten games at the University of Kentucky (including the SEC and NCAA tournaments), Fox averaged 19.6 points while shooting 52.3 percent from the floor and 47.4 percent from 3-point territory. Pairing him with KP would put the franchise on a path towards success, but the Knicks will likely have to trade up in the draft in order to have a shot at selecting him.
* Dennis Smith Jr.:
It most other years, Smith would be arguably the best available point guard prospect in the draft. However, because the Class of 2017 features so many supremely talented playmakers, it’s quite possible Smith is still on the board when the Knicks are on the clock. Smith’s remarkable explosiveness allows him to blow past helpless defenders. He averaged 18.1 ppg as a freshman at N.C. State, due in part to his ability to get to the basket at will. He is strong enough to either finish at the rim or draw contact and get to the charity stripe. Smith posted a free throw rate (the number of free throws per 100 field goal attempts) of 48.6 percent last season. That’s tops among all guards in this draft. He’s also terrific in transition (averaging 1.18 points per possession). He isn’t a world-class passer, but he is certainly unselfish and willing to find open teammates. Smith led the ACC in total assists (197), assists per game (6.2), and assist percentage (34.2) in 2016-17. The main knocks on Smith were his lack of defensive intensity (he took plays off from time to time) and his below-average wingspan. He also tore his ACL back in 2015, so an injury concern exists. Still, considering the massive upside this kid brings to the table (as evidenced by his dominant performance at Duke), it would be difficult for the Knicks to pass on him if he’s available.
* Frank Ntilikina:
Two years ago, Phil Jackson made the most important and single-best decision of his Knicks tenure by drafting Kristaps Porzingis with the fourth pick in the 2015 draft. Might Phil decide to spend this year’s lottery pick on another international man of mystery? Just 18 years old, Frank Ntilikina (pronounced nee-lee-KEE-na) is a highly enticing prospect. He’s 6-foot-5 with a mammoth wingspan (nearly seven feet). Due to his combination of length and athleticism, Ntilikina projects as one of the most versatile and capable perimeter defenders in the draft. Playing sparingly off the bench in France, it’s difficult to make determinations based on Ntilikina’s stats and game tape from last season. However, he was phenomenal at the FIBA U18 European Championships last December, averaging 22.7 points and 6.7 assists, while shooting 58.6 percent from three-point range, over the final three games of the tournament. He shot 42 percent on 1.6 threes per game this year. If the Knicks are drafting solely on who fits best in the “The Triangle” (which is something they should not do), then Ntilikina may very well be the pick. He is taller, and a superior defender, and is a better long-range shooter than Smith at this point in their respective developments. On the other hand, Smith is more suited to excel playing the type of pick-and-roll game featured by the vast majority of successful teams in today’s NBA. Non-triangle-centric teams may ultimately prefer Ntilikina to Smith as well; it’s just that Ntilikina happens to check most of the boxes in regards to Triangle requirements. Ideally, the Knicks will make a decision based on which player they feel fits best alongside Porzingis.
If the Knicks don’t land their point guard of the future on draft day and then strike out in free agency as well, they may choose to explore some trade possibilities to address the point guard position. Keep in mind, these aren’t ideal solutions, as there is a reason each player may be on the block. Here are a handful of potential trade targets that may pique the Knicks interest.
* Emmanuel Mudiay:
Mudiay has not lived up to the hype since being selected with the seventh overall pick (three spots behind Porzingis) in the 2015 draft. After an understandably rocky rookie season adjusting to the NBA, Mudiay surprisingly saw his playing time and production decrease in his sophomore season. He lost his starting spot and was banished from the rotation in January. Mudiay saw only spot minutes for the remainder of the season until injuries allowed him to get back in the lineup in April. Meanwhile, Jamal Murray, the Nuggets first-round pick in the 2016 draft, stepped in and stepped up. Murray exceeded expectations and appears to be a franchise cornerstone in Denver, which mean Mudiay would likely be available for the right price.
* Reggie Jackson:
As I discussed earlier this month, the Pistons may be motivated to make a major move this summer after a terribly disappointing 2016-17 campaign. Jackson is coming off an injury-plagued season and is set to earn $51 million over the next three years. Meanwhile, Detroit often played better with backup point guard Ish Smith running the show, and Smith is owed just $12 million through 2019.
* Ricky Rubio:
The Knicks and Wolves were purportedly close to swapping Derrick Rose for Rubio at the trade deadline back in February, before that deal dissolved. Despite, Rubio’s relative struggles at the time, it would have been a phenomenal acquisition for the Knicks. First and foremost, Rubio is locked into a very affordable contract. He is set to make $14.3 million next season and $14.9 million in 2018-19. Considering the current market for point guards, that’s a terrific value. Unfortunately for New York, they weren’t able to pull the trigger. Over the second half of last season, Rubio played some of the best basketball of his career. In 24 games after the All-Star break, Rubio averaged 16.0 points, 10.5 assists and 4.6 rebounds. (Only two other players, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, averaged at least 15 points, 10 dimes and four boards per game over the season’s second half.) There was a report this week from ESPN’s Ian Begley that the Knicks are still interested in trading for Rubio, but with New York no longer able to include Rose in the deal, it doesn’t appear the Knicks would have the requisite pieces to pry Rubio from Minnesota. That ship has sailed.
* One of the many point guards on the Phoenix Suns roster:
The Suns currently have Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight and Tyler Ulis under contract. They also have a player option on Leandro Barbosa. In addition, Phoenix has the fourth overall pick in this year’s draft. Some have speculated that despite their depth at the position, the Suns may be tempted to nab another a point guard if they feel De’Aaron Fox or Dennis Smith is undoubtedly the best player available when they are on the clock. Even if they draft a wing as expected, Phoenix may still be willing to deal. Regardless of what happens next month, they would love to dump Knight’s contract (he’s owed a total $34 million over the next three seasons), but will find it extremely difficult to find any team willing to take on that deal. Knight is coming off the worst season of his career, as he averaged 11 points per game (on 39 percent shooting) and 2.2 assists. The coaching staff benched him after the All-Star break and he didn’t play another minute the rest of the year. Eric Bledsoe is one of the most athletically gifted guards in the NBA and averaged a career-high 21.1 points and 6.3 assists per game last season. The issue with Bledsoe is that he has had trouble staying healthy. In addition, the Suns would likely want more than the Knicks have to offer. Phoenix snagged Ulis in the second round last summer and he was buried on the bench for most of the year until injuries allowed him to crack the rotation. Once he got a chance to play, he proved he belonged. Over Phoenix’s final 15 games, Ulis averaged 16.1 points, 8.5 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 1.2 steals.
* Tim Frazier:
If the Pelicans ink Jrue Holiday to a max contract, might they consider trading Frazier? Unlikely, as Frazier is set to make only $2 million next season and was near the top of the league in assist-to-turnover ratio.
* Matthew Dellavedova:
It is probably safe to assume the Bucks would be happy to move Dellavedova. Milwaukee signed him to a four-year, $38 million contract last summer; however, Malcolm Brogdon surprisingly wrestled the starting job away from Delly in late December and never looked back. Brogdon, who is a candidate to win the Rookie of the Year award, is clearly the Bucks’ point guard of the future.
NBA Daily: What’s Next For Chris Paul
Left in the lurch, there are few feasible options for Chris Paul headed into the 2019-20 season, writes Shane Rhodes.
It’s official, we have hit the dog days of the NBA offseason.
What began at such a frenetic pace has inevitably sputtered and slowed, as deals have been made, unmade and some of the biggest names in the NBA have moved house. Everything that could have happened seems to have and now, with Summer League over, basketball is left with almost nothing to occupy the seemingly infinite amount of time between today and training camp.
And, unfortunately for Chris Paul, it may feel even longer than that.
Despite the Houston Rockets’ declaration to the contrary, Paul has since been traded, stranded on an Oklahoma City roster that has no business competing in a stacked Western Conference next season.
Between his contract – more than $124 million over the next three seasons – and his regression a season ago, Paul’s removal from the Rockets’ roster was a necessity; it’s a business, and the point guard was a hinderance to Houston’s championship aspirations.
But the situation hasn’t changed for Paul – he is still unwanted, a (very) pricy veteran miscast on his current roster.
So, where does that leave him? There are but a few teams that could afford to take on the massive amount of money owed to Paul and even fewer that would want to. There is no doubt that, given a clean bill of health, Paul could recapture some of his prior form next season but, still, would it be worth his price tag?
Probably not. And that should only limit Paul’s options further.
The Thunder reportedly want to get a deal done “as soon as they can” according to Adrian Wojnarowski, but discussions are “parked” for now. They could always opt to retain him; who better to serve as a mentor for the young Shai Gilgeous-Alexander than the Point God himself?
But would Paul want to serve in that role? There would be a clear opportunity to rebuild some value and open up potential landing spots. But, Paul, 34, is a soon-to-be 15-year veteran with a single Conference Finals appearance to his name. Surely, if he were to step back into a secondary role, he would rather do so for a contender.
And, of course, the money would be an issue as the Thunder, despite the recent roster reconstruction, are still expected to pay a heavy luxury tax penalty next season. Given their current situation, it should be obvious that keeping Paul on his current deal isn’t the best move.
The Lakers serve as another potential destination — don’t forget, Los Angeles tried to acquire Paul back in 2011, but the deal was subsequently nixed by then-commissioner David Stern.
While there is almost no connection between that iteration of the Lakers and the current one, it is still an interesting option. Los Angeles is an obvious fit because, for lack of a better option, the Lakers are set to start LeBron James at point guard next season. With Paul in the fold, James could serve in his normal role and reduce his workload with time off the ball.
The prior relationship between James and Paul could also serve to benefit the Lakers’ chemistry and may allow for an easier roster transition.
But, again, Paul’s contract looms large. The Lakers opened a max-slot in their salary cap earlier this summer, hoping to land recently-minted champion Kawhi Leonard. When Leonard spurned them for their in-house neighbor, the Clippers, they made use of that space to fill out the rest of the roster with complementary players.
Now, a buyout would be necessary to facilitate any deal before the start of the season. Otherwise, the Lakers would have to wait until December, when those players that signed new contracts would become eligible to be traded.
And then, of course, there are the HEAT. Miami is almost always mentioned when a big-name is available, whether as a free agent or via trade, and the rumors proved true this offseason in the case of Jimmy Butler.
Despite the awkward fit in Philadelphia alongside other stars such as Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris, Butler proved his worth and, at times, looked like the 76ers’ best player during the postseason.
Now in Miami, Butler should almost certainly bolster their future outlook, but they are far from done with the roster. Without a subsequent move, they aren’t a championship contender — could Paul be the one to take them a step further?
The reported mutual interest, according to Brian Windhorst, should only fuel the flames, but a deal involving Paul could be as much of a necessity for Miami as it was for Houston.
The HEAT were the 10th seed in the Eastern Conference a season ago and Butler is a major upgrade, but the rest of the roster is underwhelming at best. While Butler and Paul could prove an awkward fit basketball-wise, there is no doubt that the two of them together would significantly elevate the HEAT’s ceiling above that level. Miami, unlike many of his other potential suitors, would also have the salary to match Paul’s incoming deal.
But a dispute over draft compensation seems to have tabled discussions until further notice.
Beyond those scenarios, it’s hard to imagine Paul anywhere else next season.
In fact, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Paul is anywhere other than Oklahoma City to start next season, barring a change of heart (either from Paul regarding a buyout or the HEAT and Thunder regarding potential compensation), anyway.
And so, the long wait for Paul will continue. It would be foolish to doubt him now, after 14 seasons in the NBA, but it’s hard to imagine that Paul will come close to providing adequate value relative to his contract. Ultimately, a potential move may be out of his hands, left up to the teams to determine whether or not Paul is an asset worth acquiring.
So far, it would seem the NBA has deemed him not worth it.
But, it is the NBA and if the offseason thus far is anything to go by, anything could happen.
NBA Daily: Grading The Offseason – Chicago Bulls
David Yapkowitz continues Basketball Insiders’ “Grading The Offseason” series by taking a look at the Chicago Bulls.
With summer league over and the big name free agents all signed, we’re now approaching the doldrums of the NBA offseason. Most big moves have all been made, and we shouldn’t expect to too much movement between now and the start of training camp.
Most teams probably have an idea already of what the bulk of their roster will look like come training camp, and as such, we’re starting a new series here at Basketball Insiders taking a look at each team’s offseason to this point.
Next up in our series is the Chicago Bulls.
The Bulls are a team clearly in rebuilding mode. After this offseason, they’ve done a pretty solid job at filling out the roster with young talent at every position. It’s obvious now that they were clear winners of their trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves two years ago that netted them Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn.
LaVine continued his ascent to stardom this past season. There may have been initial concerns when he was traded to Chicago as to how he would respond after his torn ACL, but since then, he’s showed no lingering limitations. He’s well on his way to becoming one of the elite shooting guards in the league. Few can match his scoring prowess whether he’s slashing to the rim or shooting 37.4 percent from the three-point line.
Markkanen has emerged as one of the top young big men in the NBA. He made some strong steps forward in his second year in the league. He’s moving closer to becoming a double-double threat every night. He’s exceeded projections from when he was drafted that pegged him as little more than a three-point shooting big. He has shown a lot more versatility to his game.
One major addition the Bulls made last season was the trade deadline acquisition of Otto Porter Jr. When he arrived in Chicago, he quickly played some of the best basketball of his career, fitting in seamlessly with the team and solidifying himself as part of their future core.
They’ve also got Wendell Carter Jr. in the fold. Their top draft pick last offseason, Carter quickly established himself a great defensive complement to Markkanen. An injury cut his rookie season shorter than expected, but he still showed flashes of being a capable around the rim scorer.
They do have some other decent rotation guys in Antonio Blakeney, Chandler Hutchinson and Ryan Arcidiacono. Blakeney is an instant offense scoring guard for the second unit, and Hutchinson was showing flashes of his talent before he too went down with an injury during his rookie season. Arcidiacono was re-signed by the Bulls after being one of their most consistent outside shooters last season.
The Bulls came into draft night with the seventh overall pick. It might have seemed like a disappointment seeing as how the Bulls probably had a shot at a top three pick considering their record. But ultimately, Chicago might have gotten what it wanted in the end. Point guard has been an area of need for the Bulls for quite some time, and they used their pick on North Carolina’s Coby White.
White is a little more in the mold of a scoring guard, but if you could take away one thing from his performance in summer league, it’s that he can thrive as a playmaker as well. It’s unlikely that White will get to start right away, but he’s got the makings of developing into the Bulls eventual starter at the point.
Chicago also picked up Daniel Gafford in the second round. The Bulls needed frontcourt depth after losing Robin Lopez in free agency, and they may very well have found their answer with Gafford. Summer League isn’t always a great indicator of how a player will translate to the NBA, but Gafford was solid as a finisher around the rim and a shot blocker in the paint. He may end up becoming one of the steals of the draft.
In free agency, the Bulls made some rather solid moves. On a team full of young players, it’s necessary to have a couple of key veterans for the young guys to lean on and to provide leadership and stability in the locker room. Thaddeus Young certainly fits that bill. Entering his 13th year in the league, Young played in 81 games last season and was a key guy on a Pacers team that made the playoffs. He’ll provide the Bulls with consistency on and off the court.
They also made a big step to addressing their point guard woes. They acquired Tomas Satoransky in a sign and trade with the Washington Wizards. He’ll provide a perfect stop-gap as the starting point guard while White develops. He proved himself as a facilitator with the Wizards, and he’s one of the better three-point shooters in the league, He’s a versatile guy who can play and defend multiple positions.
The Bulls also picked up Luke Kornet who spent last season with the New York Knicks. Kornet is relatively young and gives the Bulls a solid stretch big man on a decent contract. He’s also a solid shot blocker and should compete with Gafford for minutes off the bench.
Chicago also picked up an intriguing prospect in Adam Mokoka. The French combo guard initially declared for the draft a year ago but ultimately withdrew. He re-entered the draft this summer but went undrafted. In summer league, he showed flashes of playing both wing positions and being a capable defender who can shoot from three. He’ll be on a two-way contract so he’ll see significant time with the Windy City Bulls, Chicago’s G League affiliate.
PLAYERS IN: Adam Mokoka (two-way), Coby White, Daniel Gafford, Luke Kornet, Thaddeus Young, Tomas Satoransky
PLAYERS OUT: Brandon Sampson, Rawle Alkins, Robin Lopez, Shaquille Harrison, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Walt Lemon Jr., Wayne Selden
The Bulls roster currently stands at 15 guaranteed contracts and one two-way contract. They’re likely done with any roster additions unless they find someone to take that second two-way contract slot. They’d most likely move Cristiano Felicio if they could find a taker for his contract, but it’s probably unlikely.
With the additions of Satoransky and White, that likely spells the end of the Kris Dunn experiment in Chicago. If Dunn remains on the roster through the season, and the Bulls aren’t able to move him, it’s highly unlikely Chicago tenders him a qualifying offer. In all likelihood, this is his final season in the Windy City.
The Bulls have done a decent job at filling the roster out with good, young talent. Making the playoffs, even in the Eastern Conference, is still likely a few seasons away. But there is reason for optimism for the Bulls future.
OFFSEASON GRADE: B
NBA Daily: Grading The Offseason – Cleveland Cavaliers
Spencer Davies opens Basketball Insiders team-by-team “Grading The Offseason” series with an overview of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
On Monday night in Las Vegas, the 2019 NBA Summer League champions will be crowned. The Minnesota Timberwolves and Memphis Grizzlies are set to square off at the Thomas & Mack Center as the last teams standing over the course of the 10-day period.
Once that winner is determined, the world will be without NBA basketball for quite some time. Though the FIBA World Cup will be fun to watch, it’s not until late September that the association returns for training camp.
In order to hold you over until that date, Basketball Insiders has begun a “Grading The Offseason” series, featuring in-depth analysis on how each franchise has done during this wild summer.
To start things off, we’re going to break down arguably the quietest team of them all regarding roster turnover—the Cleveland Cavaliers.
It’s no secret that, on the floor, the season didn’t go quite as expected. Following the second departure of LeBron James, the organization felt it had enough remnants of the conference championship team to move forward and compete while developing young talent under head coach Tyronn Lue. A detrimental injury to Kevin Love changed that quickly.
Lue was fired six games into the 2018-19 campaign and then the wheels fell off pretty quickly. Top assistant Larry Drew pushed for a raise to take the interim role, due to the mixed bag inside of the locker room, and he was granted one. But as the losses piled up, the internal battle between the veterans and the younger players grew. Most of the criticism shaded toward upstart rookie Collin Sexton, yet he later proved what he was capable of to some of those teammates later down the road.
There were bright spots when Love re-entered the picture around February and played until late March, as he helped steer the inexperienced youngsters like Sexton, Cedi Osman and Ante Zizic in the direction of winning basketball. When all was said and done, the final record was ugly. However, the energy surrounding the group was clearly in a much more positive light than it had been beforehand.
What shouldn’t be lost in the shuffle is the job Cavaliers’ general manager Koby Altman and his staff did to revamp the team’s salary cap situation. Entering the year with inflated contracts, via veterans that didn’t want to sit through a rebuild, moves had to be made to tighten up the locker room and lower the cap a significant amount. Ultimately, they were successful in doing so.
Cleveland was able to move Kyle Korver, George Hill, Sam Dekker, Rodney Hood and Alec Burks (acquired in the Korver trade) and turned that into Brandon Knight, Matthew Dellavedova, John Henson, Nik Stauskas and a boatload of future draft picks. Altman’s been in asset accumulation mode since he took over during LeBron’s last season, and he’s done wonders with the opportunity to chop down those loud figures on the cap sheet, even adding future capital in the process.
Not only has Altman done a great job in obtaining that, but he’s also turned “good” into “great” often—i.e. turning Korver into Burks which he then flipped for a 2019 first-round pick, using the second-rounders to acquire another first-round pick. Even landing Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson at the 2018 trade deadline to kickstart a new direction was impressive.
After parting ways with Drew at season’s end, the Cavaliers set a new course with the hiring of John Beilein in mid-May. Over the span of these past few months, he’s constructed a fresh coaching staff with former Memphis Grizzlies head coach J.B. Bickerstaff as his associate, University of California women’s head coach Lindsay Gottlieb and five-year Utah Jazz assistant Antonio Lang in complementary roles.
Beilein’s graduate assistant at Michigan, Jay Shunnar, is also a part of the staff. Team favorites Mike Gerrity and Dan Geriot are staying on as well to continue developing the players they’ve worked with.
All in all, the people assembled to take on this task of changing a culture are entrenched in teaching and doing hands-on work. It’s the on-court product with an extremely inexperienced group of coaches—three of which are coming from the collegiate level—that could be a challenge. Luckily, the process seems to be about a collective group with an open-mindedness that won’t allow for egos to get in the way.
Despite the lottery results going south (Cleveland had the second-best odds in the top three and dropped to five), draft night was a smashing success for the organization. The wine and gold came out with a trio of highly touted rookies—Darius Garland, Dylan Windler and, after trades were officially cleared, Kevin Porter Jr. Adding talents to the roster was the top priority for the front office — today, that stands as the most noise from what’s been a mostly silent offseason.
With a lack of roster spots and an understanding that there would be little money to spend in a chaotic, competitive free-agent market, the Cavaliers have had to stand pat with what they have. JR Smith’s contract had reportedly fielded some offers between NBA Draft Combine time and around the draft, but the team didn’t like the idea of taking back a bad contract. Instead, they found an easier way to get a third pick in the 2019 first round by using the plethora of second-rounders acquired in the past to flip for Porter.
Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com reported Monday that Cleveland plans on waiving and stretching Smith’s contract for $1.4 million each over the next three years. The move will allow the team to stay under the luxury tax, avoid the repeater tax penalty and also provides a full mid-level exception amount at its disposal. Fedor does mention the front office won’t likely use it heading into the season to remain flexible financially and to keep a roster spot open.
Smith not being traded came as a surprise to many, especially knowing the salary relief his previously-grandfathered CBA deal offered to a team searching to clear space for a big free agency offer. The summer moved fast, though, and other franchises with similar predicaments acted quickly. The Cavaliers could’ve facilitated a few trades to get more future draft assets in return, but they didn’t feel like taking on an albatross contract that would’ve been worth paying the extra tax this upcoming season.
The only other real decision to make was whether or not to retain David Nwaba, who, when healthy, displayed flashes of defensive excellence and aggressiveness on the offensive end, Cleveland did not extend the qualifying offer to Nwaba before the deadline, making him an unrestricted free agent. He recently signed with the Brooklyn Nets on a two-year deal.
This move was not so surprising as Basketball Insiders reported at the beginning of June that Nwaba’s representation would be looking for a multi-year deal. A league source said that last summer’s one-year agreement between the Cavaliers and Nwaba was with the understanding that he’d be strictly looking for a newly re-structured multi-year contract with no qualifying offer in his 2019 plans.
The latest addition the franchise made was inking Dean Wade, an undrafted rookie from Kansas State, to a two-way contract. He played in five NBA Summer League games for the organization between Salt Lake City and Las Vegas.
PLAYERS IN: Darius Garland, Dylan Windler, Kevin Porter Jr., Dean Wade (two-way)
PLAYERS OUT: JR Smith, Marquese Chriss, David Nwaba, Channing Frye
Following the waiving of Smith, the Cavaliers roster will be at 13 players. You’d imagine they wouldn’t keep two roster spots open, so seeing a free agent signing or even nabbing a player from a summer league team could be in the cards.
Per Fedor, the franchise will be above the $109 million salary cap by $22 million once the Smith news is made official by the team. It’s a much healthier number than they’ve been at in years past — so, going into next summer, that cap sheet is going to be as clean as it’s been in quite some time.
Cleveland is going to have numerous attractive contracts on its hands as five players on the roster are on deals set to expire following this year. Tristan Thompson ($18.5 million), Brandon Knight ($15.6 million), Jordan Clarkson ($13.4 million), John Henson ($9.7 million) and Matthew Dellavedova ($9.6 million) are all trade chips that Altman can move to stockpile the future even more. Depending on what offers come their way, it could be yet another busy season regarding roster turnover.
There’s plenty of speculation that the team should trade Love to a contender to both satisfy the player and allow the team to get out of his sizable deal. What people are forgetting is that the Cavaliers want to have a championship-caliber player in the locker room as a guiding voice. Remember, this team has one person that is at least the age of 30, and it is the All-Star big man. The next guys up are 28 years old—Henson, Dellavedova and Thompson—and who knows how long they’ll be around.
Cleveland will have to be blown away to take back what it thinks it should receive in return for Love. No deal will be made just to make a deal. The organization values him too much as a person and a player.
On the court, the focus is going to be on player development, mainly in watching how Sexton and Garland play off one another. Different looks and combinations with the frontcourt of Love, Nance Jr., Zizic, Windler and Osman will be available for Beilein to tinker with. A new coaching staff with a freshly enthused group of players should be intriguing to watch.
OFFSEASON GRADE: C-
Stay tuned to the rest of Basketball Insiders “Grading The Offseason” series over the next few weeks.
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