Just moments into free agency, the Cleveland Cavaliers got active and continue to stay active. Combined with a promising crop of youngsters in the Summer League, the offseason has gotten off to a pretty great start.
Let’s start with the big names first.
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The Cavaliers’ big offseason splash was sign-and-trading for former Miami Heat G/F Max Strus. Shipping out Cedi Osman and Lamar Stevens (and a second round pick), the Cavaliers earned the right to give Strus a four-year 63 million dollar deal. On the negative side, that’s a lot of money for a part-time starter that is quite streaky and far from proven. The Miami Heat in particular also seem to unlock players in a way that other teams often don’t manage.
Taking the pulse of Miami fans (an inexact science), they don’t seem particularly concerned with losing him. Strus has two real seasons of playtime, one where he shot 41% from three and one where he shot 35%. For a guy who’s one real skill is shooting the three, that’s not exactly promising.
His playoffs were much the same. He was decent against the Milwaukee Bucks, good against New York Knicks, alright against the Boston Celtics and terrible against the Denver Nuggets. Overall, he scored just 9.3 points per game on pretty dismal 41/32/80 splits in the postseason. Combined with the fact that he’s a serviceable defender at best, Strus will be undersized at the three. This is where they need him, and it’s hard to not think of this as an overpay.
On the Other Hand
That being said, Strus is a shooter, and the Cavaliers need shooters more than anything. He’s not any smaller than Isaac Okoro, who filled that SF role for much of the season, and he’s a far superior shooter. Standing in the corner while being a willing threat that spaces the floor is plenty enough for Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell. Unlike Okoro, defenders don’t want to leave Strus wide open. He’s also not a liability on defense like many sharpshooters are, and the Cavaliers had plenty of defensive schemes prior to signing him.
The Devils in the Deals
While the money is somewhat concerning, it has to be said the Cavaliers gave up very little to get him. Lamar Stevens, as beloved as he was for his energy, was not a factor and is unlikely ever to be one in the playoffs. Cedi Osman is similar, where he’s really just not good enough at anything to be really useful. At least Strus can be counted on most of the time to do one thing really well, and that one thing happens to be very important.
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The Cavaliers doubled down on the shooting wing thing this offseason by also signing Georges Niang to a three-year 26 million dollar deal. It’s a similar situation to Strus. It’s an overpay, and a bit longer than you might want for Niang, but again, the man can shoot. He’s got a quick release and isn’t gun shy at all. On the Philadelphia 76ers, there were a few games he won nearly by himself by scoring 15+ quick points on scorching hot shooting from three. If he isn’t hitting them he’s fairly useless sure. Thing is, he’s shot 40% from three for five straight seasons now and three of those were on good volume.
He’s limited offensively, but he always tries hard and plays with good attitude and energy which is right up the Cavaliers’ alley. He’s liable to get blown past by a good majority of the league, but with Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen there to anchor that’s less of a problem. At 6’7” he’s got more size than some other options. He’s pretty much an ideal floor spacer as he knows exactly what his role is and doesn’t try too much. It’s also not that big of a number and it’s a contract that the Cavaliers are unlikely to regret too much. It’s much less risky than the Strus deal.
Darron Cummings/AP Photo
The final major offseason move so far is the Cavaliers re-signing Caris LeVert to a two-year 32 million dollar deal. Of all the moves, this is the best one in terms of value. LeVert is a playable playoff piece, and those don’t grow on trees. He’s got an all-around game that’s ideal for a sixth man. Not only that, he’s actually making less money the next two years than the last. Two years is also a very short time. They are off the contract right when Mobley needs an extension and Mitchell would need to be re-signed, so it’s the perfect length. Statistically, he was the superior player to Strus in basically every way last year. Yet, they are making the same money and LeVert is on less years. A slam dunk for the Cavs front office.
Summer League Dreaming
The Cavaliers also have some possible offseason reinforcements that will feature in the upcoming Summer League. Of particular note are Isaiah Mobley, Luke Travers and Khalifa Diop, who were all second round picks in 2022. While it’s not particularly likely any of them feature for the Cavs in any meaningful way this year, Travers in particular has some real promising attributes that will be good to see in action. Mobley, for his part, understands that his future lies in developing an outside shot and said as much in Saturday’s post-practice press conference.
He mentioned that while Summer League is a bit like professional AAU ball and has many differences from the actual NBA, it’s still useful to reveal what he needs to work on. Even though the Cavaliers signed two shooters, more shooting especially with size is never going to be unwelcome.
Undrafted, but Not Unpromising
Saturday’s press conference also gave two local guys the chance to speak, guard Mike Bothwell of Furman and PF/C Pete Nance. Both guys were ecstatic to be picked up by their hometown clubs, and they understand what needs to be done to get their opportunities. Bothwell is committed to doing the little things. More than anything though, he wants to show he’s a winner. Coming from little-known Cornerstone Christian and little known Furman, he’s used to the path less traveled.
Nance Family Legacy
On the other hand is Pete Nance, someone who has NBA pedigree with his brother and father both being former Cavaliers. Nance is particularly interesting. His shooting could be a real asset combined with his height. The Cavaliers’ need a backup big, and having one with three point range would be fantastic. In the short time media was allowed in the practice courts, Nance was working on various three-point shooting drills and was hitting them at a great clip. Of course practice is one thing, but he shot 45% from deep in his senior year at Northwestern. That dipped a lot in his final year at North Carolina, but there’s some promising history there.
He also understands that range is key to sticking in the NBA for him. While there is a natural desire to compare him to his NBA family, Pete wants to differentiate himself. A major way to do that is that three ball. Taken from his pedigree though is his blocking ability. Combine those and he might be able to turn into a poor man’s current Brook Lopez. A 6’11” center that can space the floor on offense and protect the rim on defense is immensely valuable. Nance moves well for his size, and while he’s not the high-flier his brother was, his athleticism isn’t a detriment. He’s also more than happy to start from the bottom, saying he was fine going undrafted, even going as far as to say “I love it, it’s my journey.” I’d keep an eye on this one this offseason.
An Eye on the Future
Given the Cavaliers’ cap space and what they’ve said regarding Jarrett Allen and J.B. Bickerstaff, further offseason moves are unlikely. They have two exceptions worth about four million each to fill out the bench, but it’s hard to get playoff contributors with that money. For the rest of the offseason, it’s going to be about what developments current players make. Can Travers make the jump early? Will the Mobley’s fill out and add an outside shot? Is Emoni Bates an NBA player? Or maybe Pete Nance will show out. One or more of those things happening could make quite the splash for the upcoming season.
Patrick Yen is a contributor on Back Sports Page. He has written for NBC, SB Nation and a few more websites in his four-year sports journalism career after graduating from Ohio State University with a B.A. in History. He has been the Back Sports Page beat writer for the Philadelphia 76ers and now the Cleveland Cavaliers. Patrick was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania but moved to Columbus, Ohio early in his life and has lived there ever since. You can find more of Patrick on Twitter @pyen117.