ABOUT THE CAVALIERS
Cavs President Koby Altman finished second in the NBA Executive of the Year voting, and he deserves the attention. A series of bold moves made the Cavs a serious basketball team for the first time since LeBron James departed in the summer of 2018 for the LA Lakers.
Along with coach JB Bickerstaff, Altman redesigned the Cavs into a tall, defensive-minded team. They went from a 22-50 record to 44-38. Injuries were the primary reason they fell apart at the end of the season. They finished 9-17 and then lost two games in the “play-in tournament,” missing the regular NBA playoffs.
That said, the season was a huge step forward for the franchise. It’s the first time since 1997-98 they had a winning record without James on the roster. I don’t want to make major changes to this roster. The best should be yet come come.
Consider the following:
1. Evan Mobley didn’t win Rookie of the Year, but he’s a future multi-year All-Star.
2. Darius Garland emerged as an All-Star point guard.
3. Jarrett Allen was an All-Star center.
4. Lauri Markkanen appears to have found a home in Cleveland as a 7-foot small forward. All of those players are between the ages of 20 and 24.
LET’S TALK MONEY
Collin Sexton is a restricted free agent. Before talking about how the Cavs should handle his contract situation, keep in mind the big financial picture:
1. Garland is eligible for a maximum contract extension. It would be in the 5-year, $180 million range, and his agent is expected to push for that to happen. Garland is 23. He averaged 21.7 points, 8.6 assists and shot .462 (.383 on 3-pointers). The only question will be if he can stay healthy – and the Cavs can’t play him 38 minutes a game as they did after the All-Star break.
3. The 7-foot Mobley is two years away from being eligible for a contract extension. It’s easy to imagine him growing into the best player on the team worthy of a maximum contract.
4. Markkanen has three years and $51 million ($39 million guaranteed) left on his contract.
5. As the Cavs look at their salary cap future, they must keep their Big Three in mind, and the valuable Markkanen has a healthy contract.
6. Yes, they can afford Kevin Love ($28 million) and Caris LeVert ($18.7 million) each in the final year of their contracts. They can clear some salary cap space by trading either of those players or letting them become free agents after the 2022-23 season. But the young guys are where the future money and salary cap room should be spent.
WHAT TO DO WITH SEXTON
1. I would not make a long-term commitment to Sexton. He played only 11 games last year before suffering a season-ending knee injury. The 6-1 Sexton can score, but he’s not a starter in the same backcourt with the 6-1 Garland. That combination is too small.
2. The Cavs should offer Sexton the $7.2 million “qualifying offer.” They should emphasize how the one-year deal gives Sexton a chance to establish himself as instant offense coming off the bench. That could set him up for a bigger deal with the Cavs or another team in the summer of 2023.
3. If Sexton is looking for a multi-year deal, how about two years in the $18 million range. But that should be it. Sexton is represented by Klutch, the agency led by Clevelander Rich Paul. Its biggest client is LeBron James. Bricksville product Mark Termini was the contract negotiator for Klutch for eight years. He did some of the creative deals for James (including a no-trade clause) with the Cavs. Termini left Klutch two years ago.
4. Sexton is a restricted free agent, meaning the Cavs can match any offer. His market value is cloudy given his knee injury. His skills are scoring, not play-making. His size makes him a liability on defense. But he can be very productive in 20 to 25 minutes a game off the bench.
5. LeVert would love to sign an extension. In 19 games, he averaged 13.6 points, shooting .435 (.312 on 3-pointers) after arriving in Cleveland. I’m reluctant to make a big long-term commitment to him this summer. Just like with Sexton, the team can afford to wait unless either player is willing to sign a team-friendly contract.
ABOUT LEBRON JAMES
For months, I’ve been receiving emails about LeBron James coming back to the Cavs. I’d be stunned if that happened. Let’s examine his situation:
1. In his four years with the Cavs (2014-18), James missed a grand total of 27 games. James has been with the Lakers for the last four seasons, missing 84 games.
2. James remains a great player when healthy. But he’s 37. In the last two years, he’s missed 26 and 27 games. James often has said “Father Time is undefeated,” and enters his 19th season.
3. Yes, the Lakers won the 2020 title with James. But twice (2019 and 2022), they missed the playoffs. In 2021, they were knocked out in the first round.
4. Before coming to LA, James only missed the playoffs in his first two pro seasons when he was a teenager. After that, he never was knocked out in the first round. He usually carried his team deep into the playoffs, making eight consecutive NBA Finals appearances (2011-18) between Miami and Cavs. Physically, he can’t do that anymore.
5. James had a brilliant season, averaging 30.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 6.2 assists. He shot .524 from the field (.359 on 3-pointers). But his missed games exposed the Lakers as a mess, finishing 33-49 and even missing the play-in tournament.
6. That roster is loaded with some of his old buddies: Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard and Russell Westbrook. It was a disaster. The Lakers are looking for a new coach after going through Luke Walton and Frank Vogel in James’ four years.
7. One of the strangest rumors is former Lakers coach Phil Jackson advising Lakers owner Jeannie Buss to keep Westbrook and trade James. Buss has had a long relationship with Jackson. In a recent interview, Buss said she wants to make things work with James in LA
8. James has one more year and $45 million left on his contract. The case for trading him is to bring back some young talent and draft picks, and sort of start over while he’s still somewhat healthy. But the Lakers have such an old roster, that doesn’t seem to make much sense.
9. Any team trading for James has to create $45 million in salary cap space. Yes, you can say the Cavs can trade them Kevin Love and LeVert to make it work. But why would the Lakers settle for that? They’d want real players. Young players. Some of Cleveland’s core players.
10. I don’t see the Cavs tearing up their roster for one or two years with James, hoping he stays healthy. James also doesn’t like to be surrounded by young players. Look at the rosters he’s requested in LA and Cleveland. It seems to be far more likely James stays in LA and even signs an extension than being traded.
11. Meanwhile, the Cavs need to continue to grow. They can have a run of several seasons with this group if Altman continues to make smart moves. They have a lottery pick. Sexton is the only notable free agent. I love the direction of the team.
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