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The Cleveland Cavaliers haven’t had the greatest offseason, as LeBron James left them to join the Los Angeles Lakers. But compared to 2010, there’s still plenty for Cleveland to get excited about.
Drafting Collin Sexton to be the franchise point guard was a good start. He’s already impressed in Las Vegas Summer League, averaging 18.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists while showing off his elite athleticism on both ends.
Cleveland also signed former Kansas big man Billy Preston to a two-way contract, replacing London Perrantes. Preston, the former 5-star high school recruit, is putting up 10.3 points and 4.7 rebounds in only 19.7 minutes per game at summer league.
So, what do the Cavs need to do the rest of this offseason? They currently have only 10 players signed to guaranteed contracts, with James, Jeff Green and Jose Calderon all having joined other teams in free agency.
The Cavaliers still don’t have any cap space, but moving out of luxury-tax territory gives them an $8.6 million mid-level exception to use. They also have a $5.8 million trade exception from the Kyrie Irving trade last August.
While this team isn’t officially in rebuild mode yet, it appears to be headed that way. Before training camp kicks off in late September, the Cavs should pursue the following five moves.
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Tony Dejak/Associated Press
Rodney Hood, a restricted free agent, has yet to sign an offer sheet with another team nearly two weeks into free agency.
His disappointing play with the Cavs, his potential asking price and the lack of teams with significant cap space all likely contributed to his tepid market. He may end up taking his $3.5 million qualifying offer to become an unrestricted free agent in 2019.
Cleveland and Hood should ideally settle on a multiyear deal paying him in the range of $7-8 million annually, making him a potential building block in the second post-LeBron era.
The Sacramento Kings, who have nearly $20 million in cap space, could wreck that plan. After the Chicago Bulls matched Sacramento’s four-year, $78 million offer sheet for Zach LaVine, the Kings have reportedly set their sights on Hood.
“League sources said the Kings have shown interest in Hood, but the talks have not progressed to the point where an offer sheet is imminent,” Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee reported Sunday.
The Cavs can match any offer sheet Hood receives, but they’re only about $13.4 million under the luxury tax. Without James on the roster, majority owner Dan Gilbert will presumably want to avoid dipping back into tax territory. The Cavaliers can create roughly $4 million more in cap space by waiving the nonguaranteed deals of Kendrick Perkins and Okaro White, but that would leave four roster spots to fill.
A big offer from the Kings may force Cleveland to let Hood go, but the Cavs should try to find common ground with the 25-year-old instead.
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Chris Pizzello/Associated Press
Larry Nance Jr. is one of the more overlooked players in the NBA. The 25-year-old plays with a constant motor, and he’s agile and athletic enough to alter a shot, pull down a rebound and lead a fast break.
Following his trade to Cleveland last season, Nance averaged 15.4 points, 12.1 rebounds, 2.1 steals and 1.3 blocks per 36 minutes. Add in the family connection—his dad is one of the all-time great Cavaliers—and it’s clear Cleveland should try to make this a long-time partnership.
According to Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com, the Cavs and Nance have mutual interest in getting an extension done.
The two sides can agree to an extension up until the day before the start of the regular season. Otherwise, Nance will play out the final year of his rookie contract before hitting restricted free agency next summer.
One possible price comparison would be Nance’s former Lakers teammate, Julius Randle. A more adept scorer but not quite the defender Nance is, Randle landed a two-year, $18 million deal with the New Orleans Pelicans this summer.
If the Cavs can lock Nance into a four-year deal that pays him between $8-10 million annually now before a third of the league can open up max cap space next summer, that would be a huge win for them.
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Given how close a new contract for Hood could take the Cavaliers to the tax line, they’ll have to be somewhat frugal in their free-agent spending.
However, Jabari Parker could be worth it.
The No. 2 overall pick in the 2014 draft, Parker averaged 12.6 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.9 assists in 24.0 minutes this past season after returning from a second ACL surgery. He’s a career 15.3 points-per-game scorer across four NBA seasons.
At his peak, Parker is a dynamic scorer who can drop 20 points on any given night while also mixing in a healthy dose of rebounding. He’s greatly improved as a three-point shooter, as he connected on a career-high 38.3 percent of his triples overall and 42.6 percent of his catch-and-shoot opportunities this past season.
Unfortunately, there’s no way of knowing how long Parker can play at this level. He’s torn the ACL in his left knee twice since he entered the league.
For a rebuilding team like Cleveland in need of star power, Parker would be worth the risk.
The Cavs can use their $8.6 million mid-level exception on Parker over a two-year deal, giving him financial security now and the ability to hit the market in 2020 at age 25 for a big payday should he stay healthy. This would net him approximately $13 million extra in guaranteed money rather than if he were to play out his $4.3 million qualifying offer.
A core of Parker, Sexton, Nance, Hood and Cedi Osman is a nice place for Cleveland to start post-LeBron.
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The Cavs need to be bad to keep their first-round pick, since they owe a top-10-protected pick to the Atlanta Hawks from the Kyle Korver trade in 2017.
Unlike the Philadelphia 76ers’ Process era, the Cavaliers don’t need to tear their roster down to the studs. However, they have a few too many veterans to be one of the league’s worst teams.
JR Smith and Tristan Thompson are ideal trade candidates if the Cavs can find anyone to take them on. Neither do much to promote a culture on a losing team, but they could still contribute on a contender. Flipping them for a younger player like Tyler Johnson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or Bismack Biyombo on an equally bad contract may be Cleveland’s best bet here.
George Hill is owed $19 million this season, but he makes sense to keep as a veteran guard in a backcourt with Sexton and Jordan Clarkson, who’s a walking black hole. Only $1 million of his $18 million salary in 2019-20 is guaranteed, which could give Cleveland ample cap space next summer.
This leaves both Kevin Love and Kyle Korver as the Cavaliers most desired players on the trade market. However, Cleveland should keep both to start the year and look to move them closer to the trade deadline. Love gives the Cavs a go-to option on offense while players like Sexton and Cedi Osman ease into their new roles. Korver has proven his value as a teammate and leader time and again, so he’d be great to bring to training camp.
The Cavs have to slowly get younger and open up more minutes for players like Sexton, Osman, Hood, Nance, Ante Zizic and Preston. Moving players like Smith and Thompson now (with Love and Korver later in the season) would be a good start.
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Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press
Had the Cavs not agreed to take on a bad contract before the 2011 trade deadline, they would have suffered through a 19-63 season and ended up with only Tristan Thompson and no Kyrie Irving.
Irving came via the Los Angeles Clippers’ first-round pick, which Cleveland acquired for parting with Mo Williams and agreeing to take on Baron Davis’ remaining three years and $41.6 million.
The Cavs should explore similar opportunities this summer.
While no team will dangle an unprotected top-10 pick for salary relief, a few contenders may be willing to part with a future first-rounder to dump a bad contract.
This list could include Ryan Anderson of the Houston Rockets (two years, $41.7 million), the Memphis Grizzlies’ Chandler Parsons (two years, $49.2 million), Luol Deng of the Los Angeles Lakers (two years, $36.8 million) or the Portland Trail Blazers’ Evan Turner (two years, $36.5 million).
The Cavs should be on a two-year rebuilding plan, as the contracts of Thompson, Smith, Hill, Korver and Clarkson will all come off the books in 2020. They won’t be players in the free-agent market before then, so taking on another bad contract that ends at the same time should mean little to them.
Smith and Korver only have partial guarantees in their contracts for next season, which could help provide salary relief for a team looking to escape from a bad multiyear deal.
If the Cavs can get a draft pick or two for taking on an ugly contract, it would be a smart rebuilding move.
Greg Swartz covers the Cleveland Cavaliers and NBA for Bleacher Report. Stats provided by NBA.com and Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted. Contract numbers by Spotrac.