When the Cleveland Cavaliers return to the court in a few months to defend their first ever championship, the roster should look very similar to the one that defeated the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals. Despite speculation that Kevin Love or even LeBron James could play elsewhere in 2017, the Cavs are likely to bring back the core of their team.
"We do intend to keep this group together and see what we're capable of," Cleveland general manager David Griffin told ESPN Radio’s “NBA Lockdown Insiders.”
"I think our best basketball's in front of us because we finally organically grew to the point that we were ready to achieve something together," Griffin said. "And so I expect you're going to see better play from Kyrie Irving, who I think took a huge jump both as an individual talent and a winner throughout these playoffs. [And] I think Kevin's fit with us is much more clearly defined."
The threat of James leaving exists because his two-year contract contained an opt-out clause. The three-time NBA Finals MVP will become a free agent, but only so he can get a small raise. With the increasing salary cap, James will be able to sign for $27.5 million next season, which is $3.5 million more than what he would have made on the contract he signed last year.
James could actually make $3 million more by signing with another team. Because the Cavs don’t have enough space under the salary cap, they can’t offer him the full max salary of $30.8 million.
There was little chance that James was ever leaving Cleveland in his second year back with the team, even as they trailed the Warriors 3-1 in the finals. The same couldn’t be said for Love, who has been involved in trade rumors throughout the season.
Love signed a five-year contract with Cleveland last summer, but he’s been an awkward fit with the team’s current roster. He’s largely been relegated to being a spot-up three-point shooter, and his numbers have paled in comparison to what he did with the Minnesota Timberwolves. At times during the finals, the Cavs seemed to be better off with Love on the bench.
In Game 7, however, the power forward played a key role in Cleveland’s victory, grabbing 14 rebounds and playing surprisingly well on defense.
Windhorst: For now, Kevin Love is a lock to be on the team next year. It sounds like they want to bring everyone back. That can all change
— ESPN Cleveland (@ESPNCleveland) June 29, 2016
At the trade deadline, there had been rumors that the Boston Celtics were interested in acquiring Love. Even during the finals, a report claimed that Celtics’ president of basketball operations Danny Ainge met with Love’s agent.
After struggling with the Cavs for two seasons, Love’s trade value might not be what it once was. Golden State nearly trade Klay Thompson for Love two years ago, a deal that certainly wouldn’t happen this season.
James, Love, Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson should all be back next season, though the future of one of Cleveland’s starters remains uncertain. J.R. Smith has opted out of the final year of his contract that would have paid him $5.375 million, making him a free agent.
Matthew Dellavedova, Timofey Mozgov, James Jones and Dahntay Jones are all free agents, though none played a key role in the playoffs. Richard Jefferson is considering retirement.