My Cavs Off-Season preview continues today with a look at what the Cavs should do with players on their current roster. Here's Part 1 if you missed it.
Wayne Ellington: (2012-13 Salary: $2,083,042): I felt Ellington had earned himself at least a qualifying offer with his play after coming to Cleveland from Memphis in February, but the $3.1 million cap hit must have been too rich for Chris Grant's tastes. There is a sentiment that Ellington can be retained for a 1-year deal that will be cheaper than the qualifying offer, but if I were Indiana or Memphis, I would jump all over him. Playing the most minutes per game of his career with the Cavs, Ellington shot 37.1 % on his 3's (55.6% True Shooting) and averaged 10.4 points per game while emerging as the Cavs premiere perimeter defender (which is pretty faint praise, but still). Using Wages of Wins' $1.47 million figure as the worth of one win, Ellington's play with the Cavs last season was worth about $4.26 million, so I didn't think the one-year qualifying offer was out-of-line. With the drafting of Sergey Karasev and Carrick Felix, though, there are plenty of wings on the roster, and a more significant one may be coming soon via free agency. If Ellington does come back, I would not be disappointed (assuming, of course, the commitment does not extend past this season). If he moves onto a contender such as Indiana or Memphis, I wish him nothing but the best.
Omri Casspi ($2,277,306): The Cavs also declined to extend a qualifying offer to Casspi, which should shock no one. Acquired in the summer of 2011 for J.J. Hickson (along with a Sacramento 1st round pick that will likely never make it to Cleveland due to pretty strict protections), Casspi was supposed to step in as the starting SF for the forseeable future. Entering his age 23 season at the time of the trade, Casspi was coming off a disappointing sophomore campaign in Sac-town. There was hope, however, that a change of scenery would allow him to recapture the promise he showed during his rookie season (10.3 points per game). Never happened. Casspi found himself in Byron Scott's doghouse early and often, and even when he did play, he sucked. In two seasons in Cleveland, he produced a total of 3.2 Wins, failing to reach even 50% True Shooting either season. Some NBA team may take a flier on the still-only-25-year old Casspi, but my money says he returns to Israel to be a star.
Shaun Livingston ($806,323): Livingston was a bit of a revelation last season, providing a steady backup to Kyrie Irving, filling in for Irving ably when the star was beset by injuries, and even allowing Byron Scott to employ tricky small ball lineups due to his unique length at the point guard position. Livingston's 3.7 Wins he produced in Cleveland are worth approximately $5.43 million, making him one of the better bargains in the league last season. I hope no other teams noticed, and that Livingston will be back in the fold for a reasonable deal this season. Of all of the Cavs' free agents, Livingston is the only one whose resigning I would deem critical (to a point; if some team offers him 4 years, $16 million, it was nice knowing you Shaun).
Marreesse Speights ($4,200,000): Speights provided (inefficient) scoring off the bench, as well as above average rebounding, but the fact that he opted out of his deal tells me he is not long for the Cavs. There are several cheaper, younger big man options available in this year's free agent class, so I wish Marreesse the best. I highly doubt he will get a deal that will pay him as much as he made last year, but that's probably for the better since he wasn't really worth $4 million+ anyway.
Luke Walton ($6,091,363): Walton went from being a joke to becoming a fan favorite, and even put in some of the more memorable moments of a pretty forgettable 2012-13 Cavaliers season. This brings an end to the 6-year, $30 million deal the Lakers doled out in 2007, arguably one of the worst under-the-radar contracts ever. Over those 6 years, Walton produced 9.7 Wins, which is worth about $14.26 million. 7.3 of those Wins came in the 1st two years of the deal, meaning that for 4 years, Walton was getting paid for doing just about nothing. I know back issues played a big role in his ineffectiveness, and he seems like a great guy, but it may be time to trade in the jersey for a clipboard and move to somebody's bench as an assistant coach. Also, use some of that money to remove your awful, awful tattoo, Luke.
Daniel Gibson ($4,792,332): Remember that magical Game 6 in 2007 when Boobie went 5-5 from deep and propelled the Cavs into their first NBA Finals appearance? Dan Gilbert definitely does, because
Kyrie Irving (2013-14 $5,915,880; 2014-15 $7,459,924 [T]; 2015-16 $9,697,901 [Q]): Kyrie Irving is a franchise player. Kyrie Irving is a superstar. Kyrie Irving is one of the ten best players in the league to build around. These are things I've heard all season, and every time I've heard them, my response has been "Is he?"
Let me get what's great about Kyrie out of the way before I nitpick him to death. He is one of the most aesthetically-pleasing players I have ever watched. His bag of tricks for scoring around the rim may already be the deepest in the league, and how he goes about getting inside is a delight as well (unless you are Brandon Knight). His shooting stroke is about as pure as it gets, and his knack for dramatic shots down the stretch is already the stuff of legends (which is remarkable, considering how few wins the Cavs have since drafting him). If I had to pick just one player to watch for the an entire season (non-LeBron edition), Kyrie would be number one.
While the scoring is breath-taking, and his clutch play is inspiring, and he certainly looks the part of a franchise player, why don't the Cavs win more with Irving leading the way? It probably starts on defense, where there may not be a more indifferent player in the league. Other than a game against Boston last season where he had a late steal on Rondo, I cannot remember a single positive play Kyrie has made on the defensive end in his entire career. Irving also does not seem to be the great floor general you would expect from a franchise point guard, as often times it was the off-guard bringing the ball up and setting up the offense while Irving coasted on the wing, spotting up for a shot. He coasts through most games, saving himself for the 4th quarter (where he is admittedly awesome), which points to a lack of conditioning. His injury history is also troubling, as it seems any ding or bump is going to knock him out for at least 2 weeks. He does not seem to be a great leader yet, and there is an unsettling air of entitlement about him (seen in his non-support for Byron Scott late last season). Granted, he is very young, and the fact that he is such a polished scorer probably makes his lack of development in other areas more glaring than they should be for a player entering his 3rd season. But if the Cavs really are going to leap into the playoffs next year, Kyrie needs to grow beyond being just an entertaining sideshow to the real games being played by big boys like Chris Paul and Tony Parker. He needs to start being accountable for every single loss, and molding himself into the general this team needs.
Anderson Varejao (Remaining contract: 2013-14 $9,100,000; 2014-15 $9,800,000 [T]): Varejao was the best center in the league at the time of his (annual) injury last season. Had he found a way to appear in 70 games last season (something he has done only 3 times in his 9-year career) and continued his pace, he would have finished with 16.4 WP, which would have been 4th best in the NBA (behind Kevin Durant, LeBron Jame, and Chris Paul). Varejao has proven he is an elite player when healthy, but the "healthy" part of that equation is occurring less and less. To ensure Andy makes it through a full season, the Cavs have to add another starting-capable big man this off-season. The 36 minutes per game Varejao played last season are just too much for his playing style and history. If that number can be reduced to around 30, perhaps Wild Thing will be in the starting lineup for the playoffs for the 1st time since 2011.
Tristan Thompson (2013-14 $4,285,560; 2014-15 $5,421,233 [T]; 2015-16 $7,150,606 [Q]): Thompson quietly was the Cavs' most productive player last year, posting 8.5 WP and looking like a legitimate piece of a winning basketball team. The fact that his production soared after Andy was lost for the year is yet another reason the Cavs would be well-served to bring in another starting center, if only to maximize TT's and Wild Thing's respective production by keeping them out of each other's way on the glass. The Cavs seem pleased with Thompson, which is yet another reason the drafting of Anthony Bennett was so shocking.
Dion Waiters (2013-14: $3,894,240; 2014-15 $4,062,000 [T]; 2015-16 $5,138,430 [T]; 2016-17 $6,777,589 [Q]: Waiters went from looking like a disaster to showing the potential to be a super-sub combo guard. Just as Thompson was much better without Andy around, Waiters's best rookie moments came when Kyrie was sidelined. Although it probably won't happen this year, the Cavs are eventually going to have to split their young backcourt up, bringing Waiters off the bench to control the ball while Kyrie sits. Dion certainly doesn't seem like he's going to bust out as I feared, but I'm still not convinced he can co-exist with Irving.
Tyler Zeller (2013-14: $1,663,440; 2014-15: $1,703,760 [T]; 2015-16: $2,616,975 [T]; 2016-17: $3,695,168): Zeller is a big stiff, but that's not a horrible thing to have for those nights when the Dwight Howard's of the world come to town. His numbers were below-average across the board for a center, and he is in love with a mid-range jumper that is unfortunately horribly inaccurate. Zeller needs to live in the weight room this summer so that the ample putback opportunities a player of his ilk gets will turn into and-one's instead of blocked shots.
Alonzo Gee (2013-14: $3,250,000; 2014-15 $3,250,000 [T]): Gee is a solid role player who would be perfectly acceptable getting 10 minutes per night off the bench. Unfortunately, he is still the Cavs' starting small forward, which makes Gee look worse than he actually is. Once Cleveland brings in a legitimate starting 3, Gee will be able to be fully appreciated for what he is instead of mocked for what he is not (which is an NBA starter).
C.J. Miles (2013-14: $2,225,000 [T]): For much of the first few months of last season, Miles was the worst player in the NBA. He bounced back to put above-average scoring and shooting numbers, but he still isn't anything I get too excited about. The Cavs are likely going to pickup his team option for this season, although I would rather see them let him walk and give Felix and Karasev his minutes.
2013-14 Approximate Salary Obligations (with rookie salaries): $36.5 million
2013-14 Projected Salary Cap: $58.5 million
2013-14 Cap Space: $22 million
NEXT: Free Agency Preview