The Cavaliers Roster Problem
They answered their playmaker issue, but what about their shooting and defense issues?
Well it’s official: Dwyane Wade is on his way to Cleveland for a $2.5 million deal after leaving 8 million on the table in his buyout with Chicago. Team officials assured Dwyane that he would in fact be a starter on this team, which initially would seem like a no-brainer given Wade’s status, but actually may hinder the team’s success. At Media Day, Head Coach Ty Lue declared that Derrick Rose would start the season as the starting Point Guard while fellow newcomer Isaiah Thomas works his way back from a hip injury.
Last year, LeBron complained throughout the season that the team was top-heavy and lacked playmakers. Well, one summer later, and they turned Kyrie Irving into Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and that sexy Brooklyn pick (the Nets Front Office is probably playing My Downfall by Notorious B.I.G. on loop), and added Derrick Rose AND Dwyane Wade. While Thomas, Rose, and Wade solve the playmaker issue, it doesn’t remotely solve the shooting issue. While Thomas is an adequate 3-point shooter, he will be sidelined until January, and Rose and Wade have never been known for distance shooting. Losing Kyrie’s ability to consistently hit 3-pointers (40.1% from deep last year) will be heavily missed early on in the season.
Rose was among the very best in drives to the basket last season with the Knicks, to the tune of 4th most in the league. However a consistent 3-point shot has always been absent in his game (29.8% for his career and 21.7% last year for the Knicks — yikes). It would be in the Cavs' best interest to play to his strengths by surrounding him with shooters to induce a drive-and-kick game. J.R. Smith has been successful in transforming his shot selection more towards 3’s in the last few years (40.4% from deep in his 3 years in Cleveland), and moving him to the bench for Wade would only stifle their spacing. Unless D-Wade has been secretly working on his long-range game all summer (to improve his near career-best of 31% from last season), a backcourt with little shooting, and porous defense (neither of them have played well on that side of the ball in years) will be a disaster. While LeBron has tweaked his game by improving his 3-point shot (36.3% last year despite a career 34.2% average), and Kevin Love has long been effective from distance (37.3% last year from the stretch four), having only 2 shooters in the starting lineup in the modern NBA is definitely asking for trouble.
A more ideal lineup would be to leave Smith in as the starter and bring Wade off the bench as the 6th man and de-facto Point Guard, initiating the bench offense. Cleveland’s bench will include Kyle Korver (who’s never seen a 3-pointer he didn’t like) Jae Crowder (Kevin Love’s backup), who shoots moderately well from deep, and Channing Frye, who can fill in some backup Center minutes while stretching the floor. An alternative is for Ty Lue to now backtrack on his Rose declaration and start Wade as the nominal Point Guard. LeBron is Cleveland’s 1-guard anyway, they might as well start the guy coming to the team that already played 4 years with LeBron and has past chemistry to fall back on.
This brings us to Cleveland’s other issue — roster space. As of now, they will have 16 players under guaranteed contracts meaning someone will have to be waived or traded in order to make the signing work. Who will be the player likely moved? The team will have 4 Point Guards under contract, including Jose Calderón and Kay Felder. Calderón hasn’t been an effective player in many years at this point but does have valuable experience under his belt. Kay Felder, returning for his second season with the team, hardly got any burn last season and would likely continue that trend. It’s hard to imagine this team keeping all 4 lead guards with the addition of Wade, and for a 5’9 second year guard, that may be bad news for Felder.
Another option, regardless of Point Guard shedding, would be to look to trade Iman Shumpert, who is due $10.3 million dollars this year (and costs Cleveland even more than that given their hefty luxury tax). The additions of Crowder and perhaps Jeff Green make Iman much more expendable. The only team able to perform a salary dump this late leading up to the season is Philadelphia and would likely require a draft pick Cleveland doesn’t have. Their only other trade option would be to find a team looking to move a disgruntled superstar on the cheap, which at this point probably only includes New Orleans' big men combo of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. Would a package of Tristan Thompson, Shumpert, and the Brooklyn pick be enough to entice the Pelicans into moving one of their stars? Would Cleveland, already with the likes of LeBron, Love, Thomas, Rose and Wade even consider adding another big mouth to feed on offense? It seems more and more likely that owner Dan Gilbert is going to have to bite the bullet and pay the bloated salary bill.
Many teams got better this offseason. OKC has a new big three, as does Minnesota. Houston acquired Chris Paul. Boston totally revamped their team. The landscape is incredibly different in both conferences. The Warriors added Nick Young and Omri Casspi and added even more shooting (the rich get richer). The Cavs didn’t stand pat though. Their changes have been huge this offseason, and it will certainly be interesting to see who stays and goes, and who Ty Lue entrusts in the team’s rotation this season.