Looking at the start of the Cavaliers’ rebuild

Cleveland Cavaliers’ Kevin Love, left, and Tristan Thompson give support to teammates from the bench in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Washington Wizards, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019, in Cleveland. The Cavaliers won 116-113. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

The Cleveland Cavaliers have gone in a complete 180 over the last twelve months.

This time a year ago, the organization shuffled the roster in order to rally the troops in a season that was turning sour with dysfunction in the locker room. Those trades sparked a second half rally and the team went to it’s fourth straight NBA Finals.

Now in February 2019, the organziation is in a rebuild as they are in the second post-Lebron James era as the team sits 11-44 with the third worst record in the NBA, only a half game behind the New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls for the worst record.

The team was wanting to compete for a playoff spot but I don’t think that was ever legitmately possible especially once Kevin Love was sidelined with a toe injury and the firing of head coach Tyronn Lue after an 0-6 start.

The rebuilding process began soon after with general manager Koby Altman starting to move veteran pieces to contenders for future assets and they’ve collected quite a bit with those trades.

Cleveland has shipped out George Hill, Rodney Hood, Kyle Korver and Sam Dekker and in the process have collected the following picks.

  • 2019 Houston 1st round pick (lottery protected)
  • 2021 Milwaukee 1st round pick (lottery protected)
  • 2020 Utah 2nd round pick
  • 2021 Washington 2nd round pick via Utah
  • 2021 Milwaukee 2nd round pick
  • 2021 Portland 2nd round pick
  • 2022 Washingotn 2nd round pick
  • 2023 Portland 2nd round pick

Cleveland will likely see the Houston first round pick this year, which currently sits 21st in the draft order. They’ll also likely see the Milwaukee pick unless things go in the wrong direction for that organization and Giannis Antetokounmpo tries to force his way out (under contract through 2020-21).

I know many will say that the second round picks won’t mean anything but if you look back in history, especially with the first rebuild the Cavs went through, second round picks could be valuable in trades.

In 2012, Cleveland traded the 24th pick along with two second round picks to Dallas in order to move up seven spots to draft Tyler Zeller.

Cleveland has also had success in the second round in the past with Carlos Boozer and Hot Rod Williams.

Also, with the possibility of the NBA allowing high school players back into the NBA Draft as early as 2021, those second round picks will become valuable as the talent pool in the draft will get deeper as Cleveland may be able to find guys like Boozer and Williams in the second round.

These trades is also giving the team flexibility into the future for potential trades. Heading into next season, the Cavaliers will have around $85 million in expiring contracts on their roster.

  • Tristan Thompson ($18.5 million)
  • J.R. Smith ($15.6 million, $3.87 million guaranteed)
  • Brandon Knight ($15.6 million)
  • Jordan Clarkson ($13.4 million)
  • John Henson ($9.7 million)
  • Matthew Dellavedova ($9.6 million)
  • Cedi Osman ($2.9 million)

Cleveland should be able to move some of those contracts if they choose to do so to teams who would want to dump off bad, multi-year contracts off their payroll and Cleveland would be able to add more draft picks to their capital as they look to rebuild.

Their biggest trade chip is still likely Kevin Love who will have his four-year, $120.9 million contract extension kick in this summer. Teams who swing and miss on the big free agent class this summer could look at Kevin Love as a big addition if they miss out on guys like Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson or Kawhi Leonard.

It’s unclear if Cleveland wants to move Love but if they’re looking at a multi-year rebuilding project, it wouldn’t make sense to hold Kevin Love hostage and waste his prime years of his career when he could help a contending team. Cleveland could hypothetically have close to two max contracts in the summer of 2021 if they can get Love off the books.

Even with Love back from his injury, Cleveland should be tanking the rest of this season because they have to be a solid position to land a top 3 draft selection this year.

Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and Ja Morant are the top three prizes of the 2019 NBA Draft and Cleveland needs to have the ping pong balls land in their favor come May to be able to land one of those players.

Williamson is obviously the big prize everyone wants but Barrett and Morant have displayed that they can be impact players in college and it should translate to the next level as well.


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