Offseason Grades: Cleveland Cavaliers
The Point Forward will grade every team’s offseason over the next few weeks. Click here for the complete archive.
Additions: Andrew Bynum, Anthony Bennett (No. 1 in the 2013 draft), Jarrett Jack, Earl Clark, Sergey Karasev (No. 19), Carrick Felix (No. 33)
Losses: Wayne Ellington, Omri Casspi, Daniel Gibson, Luke Walton, Shaun Livingston, Kevin Jones, Chris Quinn
Other moves: Hired Mike Brown as coach
What Went Right: The front office’s attempts to make this roster more immediately viable. Jack, Bennett* and Clark might each come with red flags, but Cleveland upgraded two huge points of weakness in its rotation — the small forward and backup point guard slots — in one fell swoop. On top of that, Bynum’s signing brings incredible potential at mitigated risk; the two years of his deal (worth a hypothetical $24.8 million in total) come with just $6 million guaranteed, giving the Cavs plenty of outs should the problems with his knees or work ethic persist.
All in all, that influx of talent could wind up putting Cleveland on the playoff bubble, if only because the Eastern Conference is so polarized. There are teams likely to be very good and teams likely to be awful, but only a handful of shaky contenders in a position to vie for the final few playoff berths. None among them (Detroit, Washington, Toronto, Milwaukee) is stable enough to be trusted, leaving an opportunity for a team like Cleveland to capitalize should its gambles pan out as intended.
There’s good reason to think that at least a few of them will. Even with Bynum’s return draped in uncertainty and Bennett an NBA unknown, Jack and Clark are a bit easier to project and look to be quality rotation assets. Based on offense alone, Jack could be the third-best player on the roster behind Kyrie Irving and the returning Anderson Varejao — a ball handler beyond Irving who can save the offense from funneling through Dion Waiters out of desperation. Jack, like Waiters, might have his problems with tunnel-visioned driving, but he’s a more effective creator in most every regard and does plenty of good as both a scorer and passer.
Clark is a slightly weirder fit as a combo forward type, but at the least he is a considerable upgrade over every component of the Alonzo Gee/C.J. Miles/Luke Walton trio that he’ll be relieving. Clark can defend athletic, physical forwards pretty effectively, and he is a hugely superior rebounder and slightly better finisher (Clark made a solid 60 percent of his restricted area attempts last season) than the other options available.
Beyond that, whatever Cleveland gets from Bennett and fellow first-rounder Karasev is a bonus. Both figure to play but could well be brought along slowly given the jam for minutes at their respective positions. Either rookie could be ushered to the front of the line if they can pull off a pleasantly surprising season, but for the moment each is a relative unknown in terms of NBA efficacy.
*Brown has said that Bennett will be slotted as a power forward from the beginning, but I’d be surprised if he doesn’t branch out to the wing, if only as a means of accommodating a crowded frontcourt.
What Went Wrong: I wasn’t crazy about the selection of Bennett with the top pick. I see Nerlens Noel as a difference-maker on defense and would still have prioritized at least a few other players over Bennett. But Cavs general manager Chris Grant and Brown both saw something they liked in Bennett and will see their preference put to the test over the next few seasons.
Otherwise, Cleveland has done some good work this offseason to improve both its present and future. Bynum is by far the biggest piece in play, and a perfect example of how teams under the cap can roll the dice to potentially acquire a considerable talent. Though far less reliable than the other gems of free agency, Bynum is well worth a gamble of this magnitude, and at worst might cost Cleveland a mid-level salary for a single season. That’s a smart bet to make considering the lack of long-term impact, as are the Cavs other moves. One could argue against the length of Jack’s deal (four years), but the dollar figure is reasonable enough ($25.2 million) that the Cavs should benefit from having him around.
Even the players let go were wholly expendable, leaving the Cavs with a better roster than they had a season ago and a chance at shaping the kind of supporting cast that Irving deserves. There’s still a lot of work to be done with roster construction and player development, but the Cavs didn’t really commit any missteps save for their questionable use of the top pick.
Grade: B. It’s been an eventful summer for the Cavs, and ultimately a very positive one. Much hinges on Bynum’s ability to get back on the court, but at this point we can still evaluate his acquisition as a wise gamble by a team in perfect position to make such a play.