After Kawhi Leonard made his intentions clear that he was going to play for the Los Angeles Clippers next season and Russell Westbrook was traded to the Houston Rockets, the NBA offseason has hit a bit of a lull. For the Cleveland Cavaliers, meanwhile, the entirety of their summer has been a quiet after the conclusion of the 2019 NBA Draft.
It wasn’t like that initially, though. At first, there was genuine excitement about Cleveland’s Summer League squad in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, Kevin Porter Jr. and Dylan Windler were all eligible to play and could give fans a good look at the future of the team. Instead, Windler is the only player that has suited up for the Cavaliers in Summer League play, and has been great with in both Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. But it still is disappointing for fans who have to likely wait until the preseason to see the rest of the young core in action.
That’s where patience, the first major theme of Cleveland’s summer, comes into play for the Cavaliers.
For Sexton, he worked his tail off all season long and appeared in all 82 games for Cleveland last year. His backcourt mate Garland is healthy to play after tearing his meniscus last season at Vanderbilt. But, he also hasn’t played competitive basketball in a while and it makes sense why the Cavaliers want to bring him along slowly. When it comes to Porter, he suffered a hip flexor injury during pre-draft workouts and Cleveland isn’t going to risk any possible aggravation to the injury.
So is it tough to not see everyone on the floor for the Cavaliers? Absolutely. But, it will all be worth it in the end. Besides, the Summer League experience for the Cavaliers has still be worthwhile. Naz Mitrou-Long, Marques Bolden and Yovel Zoosman have all been impressive for Cleveland and are making a case to stick around with the organization whether in the “G”-League with the Canton Charge or on one of the Cavaliers’ two roster openings.
Speaking of those two roster spots, that is where patience comes into play again. The Cavaliers have been inactive on the free agency market, and that has been another point of frustration for some fans. It’s understandable considering where the team was at only a few years ago when the team was a contender. But, now the Cavaliers are paying the price for that – they’re strapped for cash currently and are currently looking to get under the luxury tax threshold to avoid being a repeat offender for the fourth time in five years. Simply put, it just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever for a team that will win around 20 games next year to be over the luxury tax.
The fear of the luxury tax brings in the other theme of Cleveland’s summer, frugality, to the fold for the Cavaliers.
It’s tough to be sitting on the sidelines when players like Westbrook want a new home, especially when the Cavaliers have a few expiring contracts that could have brought him to Cleveland. But long-term that makes absolutely no sense. Having Westbrook would stunt the development of all the young guards on Cleveland’s roster and that is detrimental to the team’s success. That, and a foundation of Westbrook and Kevin Love really doesn’t have that much potential. At best, they are no more than a second round exit. The same could be said of most of the remaining tradable stars out there and should squash any notion of Cleveland being a serious destination for any of them.
Speaking of trades, the possible distress associated with the luxury tax threshold is also holding Cleveland back from trading J.R. Smith. For a while, Smith’s partially guaranteed contract seemed like a hot commodity and the Cavaliers would probably be able to flip it for an asset. But, this turned out not to be the case and with Smith’s guarantee deadline looming it looks like Cleveland will waive him to circumvent the luxury tax. Again, extremely frustrating but remaining financially flexible is key when the organization is not competitive.
All of this frustration does cause more casual Cavaliers fans to question general manager Koby Altman’s vision for the team. Rebuilds are hard, especially when a fanbase wants to see immediate results but people shouldn’t sell the ship on Altman just yet. This is only year two of the rebuild and so far has acquired two additional first-round picks in 2019 and 2021 along with six extra second-round picks over the next four years for Kyle Korver, George Hill and Alec Burks through various trades. Altman has already used that additional first-rounder to draft Windler and traded some of those second-rounders to Detroit to select Porter Jr.
So for now, and likely the remainder of the offseason, things will remain underwhelming for the Cavaliers. Due to their situation as a rebuilding team, on top of the financial implications their payroll has, Cleveland’s hands are tied too. That’s totally fine, too because the end results will be worth it. Next summer the Cavaliers will have a ton of cap space to play with, and then they can be a major player in free agency.