Currently owning the NBA’s highest payroll that’s sure to result in a hefty luxury tax bill, the Cleveland Cavaliers should consider themselves lucky they don’t have too much retooling to do as they prepare to defend their world title in the 2016-17 NBA season.
While the Golden State Warriors completely revamp their roster and bench, the reigning champion Cavaliers have experienced very little turnover following the NBA Draft, the hot-and-cold trade market, and a rather wild free-agency period.
For Cavs general manager David Griffin, the low turnover is quite helpful given Cleveland’s current salary cap. According to Spotrac, even with LeBron James presently unsigned, the Cavs already have $126.6 million devoted to 11 player salaries next season, which puts them more than $13.4 million over the luxury tax threshold.
That obviously leaves Griffin and his front office little wiggle room to build out the roster, but the pieces Cleveland has actually lost this offseason are unlikely to be missed during its title defense. Center Timofey Mozgov was overpaid by the Los Angeles Lakers, as was reserve point guard Matthew Dellavedova by the Milwaukee Bucks. Both remaining free agents, James and Richard Jefferson, are returning. On Wednesday, Griffin traded for veteran forward Mike Dunleavy Jr., who played in 31 games last season and averaged 7.2 points per game.
James currently represents a $30.3 million cap hold and his salary next season should be similar since the Cavs possess his Early Bird Rights and can offer him a maximum-level contract. The 36-year-old Jefferson, who was contemplating retirement after winning the first title of his career, reportedly agreed to a two-year deal on Wednesday.
Shooting guard J.R. Smith remains a free agent, and most indications point to him remaining in Cleveland. The 30-year-old was fourth on the team 12.4 points per game and was the starting lineup’s best three-point shooter with a 40 percent success rate in the regular season. Smith’s scoring dipped by a point during the postseason, but he also made a team-high 65 threes en route to the title.
Still the Cavs will bring back their championship core and starting lineup of James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love, as well as perimeter defensive specialist Iman Shumpert, and young forward Tristan Thompson.
Projected 2016-17 Starting Lineup
PG Kyrie Irving
SG Iman Shumpert
SF LeBron James (unsigned)
PF Kevin Love
C Tristan Thompson
Entering his first full season as a head coach, Tyronn Lue has little to fret over at the start of each game. The only issue may be the continued struggle of Love to assimilate to James and Irving, as both players understandably have taken a bulk of the shots. However, given how Love willingly placed his role in the backseat and allowed himself to be a role player in Cleveland’s 3-1 comeback against the Warriors, he could be poised to make a bigger impact.
Smith remains the big question mark. Lue will need to fill the scoring void if Smith decides to bolt this summer.
PG Mo Williams
PG Kay Felder (unsigned rookie)
SG Jordan McRae
SF Richard Jefferson
SF Dahntay Jones
SF Mike Dunleavy
PF Channing Frye
C Sasha Kaun
Cleveland barely relied on its bench last season, with the second unit averaging 26.7 points (No. 29 out of 30 in the league) over 17.2 minutes per game last season, and right now it appears that strategy won’t change next season.
Williams is 33 and only averaged 18.2 minutes over 41 games last season, former Spurs second-round pick McRae made 15 appearances and is still an unproven commodity along with the rookie Felder. It’s possible Lue heavily relies on Dunleavy, who was basically stolen from Chicago so it could make cap room to acquire and pay Dwyane Wade. Dunleavy, who turns 36 in September, and Frye will serve as the bench’s three-point specialists, but they could be liabilities on defense if opponents go with a smaller, quicker lineup.