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The Future Looks…Bright?

The Future looks bright with the Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cleveland Cavaliers season ended poorly. That’s a fact. That being said though, this is a remarkably young core that is under contract for at least two more years. As we all just saw as well, the Eastern Conference is a bit of a crapshoot. Having a promising core locked down is great. Headlined by Donovan Mitchell, who made his first All-NBA team and led the Cavaliers to their first playoffs since Lebron James left the second time, the big pieces are there. The issue is the small pieces, and everything else a team needs to succeed. Unfortunately, they don’t have much room to fix that.

That leaves a future that is…maybe not sunny but not dark either.



Taking a realistic look at Cavs, Donovan Mitchell & the playoffs – Terry's Talkin' -

Mary Altaffer/AP

Speaking of Donovan Mitchell, most of the noise around him this offseason has been on the negative side. There has been too much praising of the New York Knicks and Madison Square Garden for many Cleveland fans liking. It’s no secret Mitchell, who was born in Elmsford, New York, has a lot of love for his origin. There’s a loud contingent calling for Mitchell to be traded now, assuming it’s a foregone conclusion he forces his way to the Knicks once his player option is up in 2025-2026. 


On one hand, it’s a bit of an overreaction. Mitchell showing respect for his hometown is far from forcing his way out. He is still under contract for two years, the Cavs will have his rights and will be able to sign him for the most money which players rarely turn down, and Mitchell has shown love for the Land as well. He is also coming off an incredible season (playoffs notwithstanding) and arguably should have landed on the NBA First-Team, which by its nature suggests he had one of the five best seasons last year. 


On the other hand, they always say where there’s smoke there’s fire. Mitchell is also a smart guy, and must know how his praise for New York sounds to the media, and he doesn’t seem to care much. Furthermore, there’s a bit of an awkward fit. Darius Garland and Mitchell are efficient scorers and good ball-handlers that thrive when they are initiating. They are also not great defensively.

Two ball-dominant players can be okay, but they also have a budding star in Evan Mobley, who’s offensive growth is being sacrificed because Mitchell and Garland take up so many possessions. A popular trade proposal would be going after Mikal Bridges of the Brooklyn Nets, a bonafide two-way wing that has also shown scoring punch when given the rock, but might not be as dominant as Mitchell which would allow Mobley to blossom.

Bottom Line

Realistically though, star for star trades aren’t likely. Mitchell also had one of the best non-Lebron Cavalier seasons, possibly of all time when you consider the hardware and the 70-point game. Giving up so quickly on Mitchell would be premature, especially when a re-signing is still likely.

As for Mobley, there’s a bit of wishful thinking going on. Sure his ceiling is Kevin Garnett reincarnated, but why is it a guarantee that with more touches he becomes an offensive juggernaut? A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush as they say, and the Cavaliers already have a premier offensive talent on the roster. Trading him away on the chance that Mobley might be able to replace that is a risky move. All of this to say, Mitchell is a Cav now and probably for the foreseeable future. 


Cap Strained

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Atlanta Hawks

Brett Davis/USA TODAY Sports

Adding a max contract like Mitchell does things to your cap, and they aren’t good. As of now, the Cavaliers have ten players signed for essentially 127 million against a cap of 134 million. Seven million isn’t a lot of room to sign a difference maker. That’s without any of their cap holds, including Caris LeVert who they will most likely bring back, which will take them over the cap. The maximum amount of space they could free up by renouncing all free agents and cutting anyone non-guaranteed on the roster leaves them with around 17.5 million, which sounds good until you realize they need seven more players to fill with that.

Exceptions, Exceptions.

That gives them one realistic team building avenue, which is to use the mid-level non-tax payer exception worth $12.2 million on someone. In this day and age, 12.2 is not a ton, and it’s difficult to see them getting a starting caliber wing with that.

Names like Kelly Oubre Jr, Josh Richardson and Dillon Brooks are commonly floated about. All have their pros and cons. Oubre doesn’t bring defense and has spotty decision making. The thought of Josh Richardson is better than he actually performs. Brooks is inconsistent offensively and could be a culture killer. 

There are also a few guys that could be tried out that would likely command less than the full MLE. Yuta Watanabe and Jalen McDaniels are good in small roles, but it’s unknown if increased minutes would expose them. Cam Reddish is an eternal “but what if we fix him” prospect. TJ Warren is not too far removed from his bubble days where he looked star-like. There are names out there, but with the limited money on the table, there’s no slam dunk solution that fills their needs.


The other way to build a team is through the draft or through trading draft picks. Unfortunately, they don’t have much there either. They don’t have a first round pick this year, but they do fully own 2024 and swap picks with the Utah Jazz in 2026 and 2028. Problem is, they can’t trade those picks for something due to the Stepien Rule, and shouldn’t be able to trade a pick (unless they get one back) until 2031. Not much flexibility there, but there’s always a chance they can get a real contributor with the few picks they still own. 


Partly Cloudy

Cavs Player Grades: All about growth for Evan Mobley

Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports

While most of that was fairly negative on the Cavs’ ability to maneuver in the foreseeable future, that doesn’t mean the Cavaliers are doomed. They have the most important parts of the team covered, they just need to find playable wings with limited assets. Crazier things have happened. We just watched guys like Caleb Martin (7.1 million), Max Strus (1.8 million), Austin Reaves (1.5 million), Rui Hachimura (6.2 million) and a few more outplay their contracts. If the Cavs find even one guy like that, they are good to go. If Evan Mobley gains weight and does hit his ceiling offensively, they are instant contenders.

The Cavaliers have a window approaching, if not this year then soon. With Mitchell and Mobley’s contracts running out in 2025-2026, they’ll be deep into the luxury tax (possibly even the new dreaded second apron) if and when those extensions are made, which is the true clock on a contender. As soon as they dip into the tax (which they are willing to do luckily) that’s go time.

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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.


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