With the recent moves of Steve Nash to the Lakers and Ray Allen to the Heat, it’s abundantly clear that the NBA, despite the salary cap restrictions and measures put in place to end the lockout, is still a league of haves and have-nots. With free agency, the teams in California, New York, and Florida are getting the upper hand with players taking less money to team up with other stars. As a Cavaliers fan, my only hope is that the more restrictive salary cap will make its impression in the coming years and prevent what’s happened in Miami from ever happening again. My other hope is that by the time the Cavaliers are ready to truly compete with deep trips in the playoffs, some of this free agency sleepover pillow party stuff will be reigned in.
What does it take to curtail this movement? I’m by no means a cap expert, but I think it starts somewhere around eliminating the retention of Bird rights for sign and trades. Make teams draft their stars and reward them for drafting well.
Meanwhile, it’s probably best to focus on what the Cavs are doing compared to the rest of the NBA circus/soap opera. The Cavaliers are doing it the right way. Or, to put it better, the Cavaliers are trying to build a young sustainable core that will allow them to compete for more than just one short burst. Once they hit a certain point (probably after one more draft and offseason, admittedly), they’ll look to add those free agent pieces or make a big acquisition via trade, using Gilbert’s willingness to take on salary.
As Scott pointed out after the draft, Byron Scott’s dream of an up-tempo offense is starting to take shape. The Cavaliers from owner to general manager to head coach on down have a plan of the type of team they’re trying to form. There’s no disconnect. How many teams can say that they have a pair of guards that can create in the lane, handle the ball in the final seconds with the game on the line, and connect consistently on three point shots? With Irving and Waiters, the Cavaliers hope to have that. They’re going to outrun teams too with their athletic big man trio of Anderson Varejao, Tristan Thompson, and Tyler Zeller. Alonzo Gee fits into that plan at small forward.1.
To me, the most comforting thing with this draft (and last) was just how sure the Cavalier front office has been of themselves. In the end, maybe Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters don’t work out, but it won’t be because the Cavaliers got caught unprepared. At the four slot for two straight seasons, the Cavaliers essentially got the guy they targeted. If you believe what the Cavaliers said after last draft, they had Thompson at #2 on their board. Byron Scott at least had Waiters as his second most desired player. I believe that the Cavaliers probably would’ve taken either Kidd-Gilchrist or Beal had they slipped, but their scouting told them it wasn’t worth it to trade up. It also told them Waiters was the guy to take over Harrison Barnes. I was ready and hoping for the wine and gold to take Barnes at four after the draft fell where it did. But, I saw the drawbacks with him. I maintain that Harrison Barnes could very well be a go-to guy in this league, but he wasn’t the Cavaliers’ go-to guy. There are concerns with Waiters, as with all picks, but one of them certainly isn’t the fact that he wasn’t a starter at Syracuse. Ask any Orange fan, and they’ll open laugh in your face if that’s your greatest concern with Dion.
The Zeller trade was a no-brainer for me. A guy who could’ve been a Top 10 pick in this draft slipped, and the Cavaliers were prepared and had the ammunition to make that trade up. If Zeller can be a longterm solution at the center position, he’s worth that trade and subsequent pick three times over. With the state of the NBA center position being a neglected one for most good teams, if Zeller realizes his potential, I think he’s more than adequate there. Just seeing a diverse offensive player there for the first time since Zydrunas Ilgauskas left the team will be a refreshing change.
So yeah, for this offseason and maybe the next, for Cavalier fans, free agency will resemble The Island of Misfit Toys, every train has square wheels, every elephant is polka dotted, and so on. The Cavaliers will sign someone at some point, and you just have to hope they don’t unnecessarily tie up money long term and maybe they find an integral bench player in the process.
The road to contention is truly a journey for teams like the Cavaliers. Last go around, the Cavs got their one mega-star, primarily missed in and neglected the draft, and settled in free agency. This time, the good young core has to be in place so the ancillary pieces are just that. When the time comes, we know Dan Gilbert will make the financial commitment to bring in those veterans who can put a team over the hump.2 Until then, we as fans have to remain patient as long as the franchise continues to put one foot in front of the other and head back in the direction of the playoffs.