Tuesday, June 2, 2009

What's Next for Cleveland?

Magic 103, Cavaliers 90. I guess amazing isn't happening in Cleveland this year. What ha-ha-happened? (Sorry, I should have taken out this line but I used to think Stuart Scott was cool)

Some are saying that Cleveland was over matched by Orlando and they just didn't have the talent. Others are saying that Stan Van Gundy just schooled Mike Brown on how to effectively coach a playoff series. (From previous posts, you should know my stance.) But let's not look back and point fingers on why Lebron fell short and how the NBA misses out on their dream match-up. Instead, where does Cleveland go from here?

First off, Cleveland’s in a very precarious position with Lebron’s contract expiring after next season. The problem is they’re going to have to decide between two competing ideologies. Do you construct your 2009-2010 team around James as if he is an aging veteran who needs to win now, or do you construct your team around the fact James is only 25 and needs players to build around him for the future. The key will be finding a balance point between these two ideologies. They need to treat next year like its must win, but can't mortgage their future to do so.

No matter what mindset they take, they have next to zero cap room. This past season would have been the year to use Wally Szczerbiak's expiring contract to make a big move for a player like Shaquille O'Neal. Apparently they were happy with what they had and thought they were ready to win a championship. The fact the Cavs did nothing to build upon their team with Szczerbiak’s expiring contract, who was about as useful as Juwan Howard in the conference finals, only adds salt to the wound.

Now with their current cap situation, Cleveland probably won't have the flexibility to make the big kind of move they need to make. They do have the expiring contracts of Ben Wallace, Anderson Varejao, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas, but these contracts will be almost worthless because they will want as much free cap space for 2010. So the Cavs will want to keep these contracts so they can to make sure they can resign Lebron. Also, you can wipe out any team that thinks they have a chance in the Lebron James sweepstakes from being a Cleveland trade partner. Even if Cleveland does make a Godfather deal, teams will have the mindset, “Does this make Lebron more or less likely to stay.” While teams that feel they have no chance to land Lebron would probably still make the trade, that is only a real small portion of the league. Most teams are either competitive and not willing to trade with Cleveland, or are freeing up cap space to enter the Lebron sweepstakes themselves. So unless Cleveland finds some unsuspecting GM to dupe, trading is probably not an option.

In addition, Cleveland doesn't really have good options in free agency either, so they'll have to use the mid-level exception where they can go over the cap and pay any player the average league salary. For the Cavs, the type of player that could be the biggest bang for buck would be a versatile swing man. Number one on my list would be Ron Artest, who fits all of Cleveland’s criteria. He is a free agent who would be highly motivated to win a championship and could put them over the top. Artest has always had the reputation as a loose cannon but that helps Cleveland here because it brings his value down. Also, with Lebron being probably the best teammate in the league, chemistry shouldn't be an issue.

Artest would give them the ability to present match-up nightmares. They could go small with Artest and James at the 3 and 4, or they could go huge with James and Artest at the 2 and 3. Either way, Artest gives them the ability to completely dictate play with their opponent. There are other versatile swing men available like Trevor Ariza or Lamar Odom, but I don’t see them taking the pay cut to the mid-level exception.

If you are to take anything away from this article it is this: THE CAVS ARE IN TROUBLE NEXT YEAR!!!! (Especially under the assumption that they lacked the talent in 2009). No matter what happens, they still have another season of Lebron, so they’ve got that going for them…which is nice. But still, total consciousness aside, they’re going to have to be very creative and thrifty to improve their personnel this off season in order to keep Lebron, while at the same time having enough money to pay him.

But don't worry Cleveland. Even if you don't win the Championship next year or resign Lebron James, at least your not Detroit.

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