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Tony Dejak/Associated Press
Prior to this season, the last time Cleveland had a winning record without LeBron James on the roster was in 1997-98 (47-35). That’s also the last time the franchise made the postseason without James.
The selection of Evan Mobley with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 NBA draft completely transformed the Cavs’ outlook. He had a fantastic rookie campaign, averaging 15.0 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game.
The 20-year-old’s defensive versatility was instrumental in Cleveland going from 25th in defensive rating last season to seventh in 2021-22. This is the first season the team has ranked in the top 10 in that category since 2015-16.
Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen, along with Mobley, give the Cavs one of the best young roster trios in the NBA. They were able to keep the team playing at a high level as injuries to key veteran players, including Ricky Rubio and Collin Sexton, began to pile up.
With the Cavaliers poised to build around that young core, here’s a look at their list of impending free agents, potential free-agent targets and draft needs heading into the 2022-23 season.
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Tony Dejak/Associated Press
Unrestricted Free Agents
Ed Davis, C.
Rajon Rondo, PG
Brandon Goodwin, PG
Restricted Free Agents (Qualifying Offer Value)
Collin Sexton, PG ($8.6 million)
Moses Brown, C ($1.6 million)
Qualifying offer values via Spotrac.
Sexton’s status will likely be the biggest story for Cleveland this offseason. He has been a valuable contributor to the team since being selected with the No. 8 pick in the 2018 NBA draft. He averaged more than 20 points per game in 2019-20 and 2020-21.
A torn meniscus suffered against the New York Knicks on Nov. 7 ended the 23-year-old’s 2021-22 campaign after just 11 games. His fit with Garland in the backcourt has been questioned since Garland was drafted No. 5 overall in 2019.
The Athletic’s Jason Lloyd reported last offseason that Sexton was “very available” in trade talks. It seems highly unlikely the Cavaliers would simply let a valuable young scorer leave as a restricted free agent, but he could potentially be used as a trade chip.
Cleveland’s unrestricted free agents are all expendable. Rajon Rondo was acquired from the Los Angeles Lakers during the season to replace Ricky Rubio, who tore his ACL on Dec. 28.
Ed Davis was the No. 3 center behind Allen and Moses Brown. Brandon Goodwin is a backup point guard on a team that already has Sexton and Garland.
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Along with Sexton, the other major trade piece for the Cavaliers is Kevin Love. The five-time All-Star has endured his share of trials and tribulations in Cleveland, but the 2021-22 campaign was a positive step.
The 33-year-old took his role off the bench for a young, rebuilding franchise. He averaged 13.6 points per game and shot 39.2 percent from three, his highest in a season since 2017-18 (41.5).
Next season will be the final year of Love’s four-year, $120.4 million contract. He is owed $28.9 million in 2022-23. Given his age and role of him as a bench player, it seems unlikely the Cavaliers will get anything of significant value in return if they do move on from him.
Looking at Cleveland’s roster needs, scoring figures to be the primary focus for president of basketball operations Koby Altman. The Cav’s finished 20th in offensive rating (111.9) and 25th in points per game (107.8), per Basketball-Reference.com.
Three-point shooting was another soft spot, as the team finished 15th in three-point percentage (35.5). Cleveland’s roster is built around three big men (Mobley, Allen and Lauri Markkanen) who need help to get open shots.
A second facilitator to play with Garland should be on top of Alman’s priority list. Anfernee Simons could be a fantastic second option in the backcourt. He set career-highs across the board last season, including in scoring (17.3 points per game) and assists (3.9).
Simons was shut down by the Portland Trail Blazers for the final month of the season due to patellar tendinopathy in his left knee. Assuming his medicals check out this offseason, the 22-year-old figures to attract a lot of attention on the open market as a restricted free agent.
speaking to Sports Illustrated‘s ben pickman in February, Simons did indicate he wants to remain with Portland. His age makes it hard to see the Blazers simply letting him walk, but his skill set would fit in nicely with what Cleveland is building.
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Even though Cleveland’s loss in the play-in tournament wasn’t the ending the organization hoped for, there is at least one reason to celebrate.
As part of their February trade to acquire Caris LeVert, the Cavaliers sent a lottery-protected first-round pick to the Indiana Pacers. If they had made the playoffs, the pick would have conveyed to Indiana.
This is especially good news because it allows Altman and his staff to scout players who can fill the areas on the roster in need of upgrading.
Per Tankathonthe Cavs’ current pick will be at No. 14, though this could change after the draft lottery on May 17.
If scoring and efficiency are what the Cavaliers will be seeking, there are some intriguing options that could be available when they pick. Kansas standout Ochai Agbaji would provide a huge boost to their three-point shooting.
The 21-year-old was named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four after scoring a combined 33 points in wins over Villanova and North Carolina. He went 6-of-7 behind the arc against Villanova in the Final Four.
Kentucky star TyTy Washington Jr. is a developmental project, but he’s got tremendous upside for a team in the back end of the lottery to bet on.
The Ringers Kevin O’Connor compared Arizona’s Bennedict Mathurin to LeVert, so they at least have some understanding of what he can be if he hits his ceiling in the NBA. The 2021-22 Pac-12 Player of the Year averaged 17.7 points and 5.6 rebounds per game in 37 appearances for the Wildcats.