Well over a week into the latest NBA season, topics of interest have begun to take center stage throughout the league, such as the Warriors and Stephen Curry’s very hot start, as well as the predominating competition inside the Western Conference in general. What people rarely talk about, despite it being a topic of vast significance, it’s the contract situation many teams are facing. No other team faces more difficulties and questions in this environment than the Cleveland Cavaliers, as their current situation shows that they may well are in a very difficult spot.
How the Cavaliers Contracts Could Affect Them Moving Forward
Coming off an NBA Finals loss, the Cavaliers found themselves in a very peculiar offseason. On paper, it looks like they made some very solid moves this offseason. They chose not to pursue any form of free agent, opting out on resigning the same structural core they had for last season; they signed Kevin Love to a five year deal, after many rumors that he was leaving the team turning out to be untrue, as well as Lebron James, JR Smith, Matthew Delavedova, Iman Shumpert, and finished all their moves by signing Tristan Thomson just about the time when the season was about to begin. With that being said, the numbers those papers show tell a completely different story from what looked to be great moves.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have invested a vast amount of money into very few players in the starting rotation, as well as their bench. According to HoopHype, Lebron James is set to make $29 million, Kevin Love $20 million, Kyrie Irving $16 million, Thompson $14 million, Shumpert $9 million, and Smith $5 million all for the 2014-2015 season. Now, it is obvious that they made the right choices, particularly by signing both Love and Kyrie to long term deals in order to be valuable set pieces for Lebron to work with. However, some of the contracts they signed players to came at very high over-price. A perfect example is Tristan Thompson, who is being paid $14 million to be a non-focus player and to grab rebounds with no offensive game that can make him a reliable threat consistently. JR and Shumpert are valuable role players that can be very effective beyond the arc with the right system and formula, but are they really worth this much money, particularly in Shumpert’s case? The answer is quite simply no, but it is also understandable as to why they were all signed to such big contracts moving forward.
The cap is going to reach new highs come next season thanks to the NBA’s latest TV deals, and it will increase even more two years from now. Signing valuable roles players and starters to long term deals now is a huge advantage to signing them next year, where there will be an incredible amount of players asking for bigger contracts they don’t really deserve, but the market price allows them to. The Cavaliers could’ve faced a scenario where Thompson would’ve been asking for a $120 million deal, with high possibilities of getting such deal done either by the Cavs or another team. From a strategic monetary standpoint, they did a solid job at avoiding more trouble. The price at avoiding trouble later, however, is that now they’re in a situation where they could be in big trouble come playoff time.
The Western Conference is loaded with tons of great teams that did a good job avoiding contracts disputes now in order to save them for later on (see Warriors). The competition is fierce, and highly dangerous come playoff time. Generally speaking, it is up for grabs. When you look at the Cavaliers roster, you see a team that lacks depth and enough versatility to compete against such teams. It took the Cavaliers every ounce in their body to barely win two games against the Warriors in the Finals, and from the looks of early season indications, this seems to be a problem that will follow all season long. The main reason this team lacks profound depth at many positions stems from the player’s big contracts. Everything still has to go through James, and the times in which he’s not on the floor for them the offense drastically changes, with little to no rhythm. The story line for some time has been the idea that both Love and Irving must step up, but in order for this to happen they needed to make other key signings on role players in order to supplement them into the rotation that can work with the skill sets, something they didn’t do. Love is not an effective passer, and despite having the title of a point guard, Irving doesn’t fit the prototypical mold of his position. In times of high uncertainty, were they will be playing tough in which they will be losing games in some stretches of times, the effects of not having a deep bench will most likely effect them.
The season is still young, and there’s plenty of room for improvement. While their status as the favorites to win it all should be questioned, their ability to contend is not. Their road to the Finals is one that should be easy, as the Eastern Conference doesn’t have the fire power or a complete enough team to compete with them. They can still create a lot of matchup problems for many Western teams as well, especially against the Thunder and Clippers, so it is incredibly unwise to also say they cannot be NBA Champions as well. They still have the best all around player in the NBA right now, and that will always be a huge factor for them. Whether the ultimate goal is attainable using a short range of players that, while talented, can lead to problems, is still to be determined, but there’s plenty of basketball left to be seen to surmise that proposal.