Hoops Rumors is breaking down the 2021 offseason for all 30 NBA teams, revisiting the summer’s free agent signings, trades, draft picks, departures, and more. We’ll evaluate each team’s offseason moves, examine what still needs to be done before opening night, and look ahead to what the 2021/22 season holds for all 30 franchises. Today, we’re focusing on the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Free agent signings:
Note: Exhibit 10 deals aren’t included here.
- Jarrett Allen: Five years, $100MM. Re-signed as restricted free agent using Bird rights.
- Lauri Markkanen: Four years, $67.47MM. Fourth year partially guaranteed. Acquired via sign-and-trade.
- Kevin Pangos: Two years, $3.42MM. Second year non-guaranteed. Signed using mid-level exception.
- Denzel Valentine: Two years, minimum salary. First year partially guaranteed. Second year non-guaranteed. Signed using minimum salary exception.
- Brodric Thomas: Two-way contract. Accepted two-way qualifying offer as restricted free agent.
- Acquired Ricky Rubio from the Timberwolves in exchange for Taurean Prince, the Wizards’ 2022 second-round pick, and cash ($2.5MM).
- Acquired Lauri Markkanen (sign-and-trade; from Bulls) in a three-team trade in exchange for Larry Nance Jr. (to Trail Blazers) and the Nuggets’ 2023 second-round pick (top-46 protected; to Bulls).
- 1-3: Evan Mobley
- Signed to rookie scale contract (four years, $36,664,177).
- Matthew Dellavedova
- Damyean Dotson
- Isaiah Hartenstein
- Jeremiah Martin
- Larry Nance Jr.
- Taurean Prince
Other offseason news:
- Hired Sidney Lowe and Nate Reinking as assistant coaches; lost assistant coach Lindsay Gottlieb.
- Moved G League affiliate from Canton to Cleveland, renaming the team the Cleveland Charge.
Salary cap situation:
- Remained over the cap and below the tax line.
- Carrying approximately $133.4MM in salary.
- $7,866,822 of non-taxpayer mid-level exception still available ($1,669,178 used on Kevin Pangos).
- Full bi-annual exception ($3,732,000) still available.
- Two traded player exceptions available, including one worth $4.2MM.
Lingering preseason issues:
- The Cavaliers have 11 players on guaranteed contracts and a 12th with a partial guarantee, so they have multiple options with their last few roster spots.
- The Cavaliers have an open two-way contract slot. Camp invitees Tacko Fall, Mitch Ballock, RJ Nembhard, and Kyle Guy are among the candidates to fill it.
- Collin Sexton is eligible for a rookie scale contract extension until October 18.
- Kevin Love is eligible for a veteran contract extension until October 18.
- Ricky Rubio is eligible for a veteran contract extension all season (extend-and-trade limitations are in place until December).
The Cavaliers’ offseason:
After winning the draft lottery in 2011, 2014, and 2015, the Cavaliers’ luck had turned in recent years, as they slipped three spots in the lottery in both 2019 and 2020.
In 2021, Cleveland didn’t exactly recapture its previous lottery magic, but the team didn’t need to land the No. 1 pick. Moving up just a couple spots to No. 3 put the Cavs in a position to land Evan Mobley, a prospect with star potential who might’ve been the first player off the board if he’d been draft-eligible in 2020.
Drafting Mobley wasn’t the only major move the Cavs made during the 2021 offseason, but it may be the most impactful in the long term. When I previewed the club’s summer back in June, I noted that Cleveland’s front office had done a decent job of accumulating young talent during its current rebuild, but lacked a franchise-caliber player who could be its centerpiece for the next decade.
Mobley isn’t a lock to be that player, but he’s the best candidate the Cavs have had since LeBron James‘ departure. The former USC big man is a versatile, athletic defender who can protect the rim and shouldn’t be run off the court by smaller lineups. And while it remains to be seen whether he can be a go-to offensive option at the NBA level, he can certainly impact the game on that end of that court, having shown an ability to finish at the rim, knock down jump shots, and find open teammates as a passer.
Whether Mobley’s best fit at the NBA level will ultimately be at the four or the five is an open question. But the Cavaliers signaled that they think he’s perfectly capable of playing alongside another big man when they re-signed restricted free agent Jarrett Allen to a five-year, $100MM contract.
Cleveland likely would’ve preferred to get a look at Allen and Mobley on the court together before making that sort of investment, but Allen was up for a new deal, and after giving up a first-round pick for him in January, there was no chance the Cavs were going to let him walk as a free agent. While Allen’s contract may end up being a slight overpay, it shouldn’t become an albatross — he’ll only be 28 by the time it expires, and the NBA’s salary cap will have increased significantly by then.
The Cavs’ other significant frontcourt change saw them swap out Larry Nance Jr. for Lauri Markkanen, who received a four-year, $67MM+ contract in a sign-and-trade. I’m not convinced Markkanen is a better all-around player than Nance, but he’s probably a better fit for this roster. With Allen and Mobley up front and Kevin Love not in Cleveland’s long-term plans, a floor-stretching big man like Markkanen will help balance the frontcourt and prevent spacing issues. The hope is that whichever center he’s sharing the court with can help cover up his defensive shortcomings.
Finally, the Cavaliers made it a priority this offseason to bring in a veteran point guard after Matthew Dellavedova missed most of the 2020/21 season due to health issues. The club was linked to free agents like Alex Caruso and T.J. McConnell early in the offseason, but ultimately found its answer on the trade market, sending Taurean Prince to Minnesota in a deal for Ricky Rubio.
The swap might leave Cleveland a little short-handed on the wing, but I like what Rubio can bring to the team. Anthony Edwards raved about Rubio’s leadership in Minnesota, and he should have a similar positive influence on Darius Garland and Collin Sexton. Plus, if things don’t work out, his expiring contract could be a useful trade chip at the deadline.
Speaking of trades, Sexton’s name popped up in trade rumors this summer, and while it appears those whispers have quieted with the regular season around the corner, it will be interesting to see how rookie scale extension negotiations between him and the team play out this month. Sexton’s camp may point to his scoring numbers as evidence that he’s worth a max deal, but I doubt the Cavs will be convinced. They might prefer to keep their options open and take their chances with Sexton in restricted free agency next summer.
The Cavaliers’ upcoming season:
There’s a light at the end of the tunnel for the Cavaliers’ rebuild, but I’m not sure it’s as close as the team would like. Despite their playoff aspirations, the Cavs still don’t project to finish in the top 10 of the Eastern Conference entering the 2021/22 season — a lot would have to go right for them to earn a postseason spot.
Still, there’s room for Cleveland to take incremental steps forward over the next six months. Even a modest 26-56 record this season would be the Cavs’ best mark since 2017/18, and I think they can do better than that. The play-in format will allow them to remain in the hunt a little longer than they otherwise would, giving their young core an opportunity to play meaningful games in the second half of the season.
The safe money is on Cleveland to miss out on the play-in and claim another lottery pick in 2022, but this roster has more talent than any Cavs team since the franchise’s last Finals appearance. If the front office can find a way to add a reliable wing or two, the pieces for playoff contention are there.