Cleveland Cavaliers: Affordable Free Agent Upgrades


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The young Cleveland Cavaliers were one of the best regular season teams in the NBA, especially defensively. Trading for Donovan Mitchell catapulted them from being a play-in team to the fourth seed in a competitive Eastern Conference. At the same time, however, it gutted their wing rotation and that reared its ugly head in the playoffs. Of course, that was not the only problem. The stars did not show up against the Knicks and the team as a whole struggled to generate offense at the next level.

Nevertheless, the lack of a starting small forward became painfully obvious. Caris LeVert was the first choice at the beginning of the season, but it turned out that he was much better suited as a sixth man. The second unit complemented his skillset better than the four core players. Thus, Isaac Okoro eventually secured the starting spot. His defense and athleticism paired with the fact that he had the best three-point-shooting season of his young career made him the most compelling option. Okoro is only 22-years old. He still has time to get to where he needs to be as a shooter but right now, he is not there yet. Neither were any of the other wings. Lamar Stevens lacked the shooting necessary to stretch the floor, Cedi Osman struggled defensively at times, Dean Wade did not look the same after a shoulder injury, and Danny Green barely played after his ACL injury.

Now, is the time to upgrade the roster. The Cavaliers need movement shooting, floor spacing, rebounding, and tough versatile defense on the wing as well as a better bench. Their bench played the third-fewest minutes and scored the third-fewest points per game in the regular season before becoming almost a liability in the playoffs. LeVert was the only player outside of Mitchell, Darius Garland, Evan Mobley, and Jarrett Allen to average double-digit scoring. That put a lot of pressure on a young core that is partly still developing and had little playoff experience outside of Mitchell.

They need help but after last year’s big trade, they do not have many assets left. Their first-round picks are already gone and outside of Okoro, there probably won’t be a good trade market for any of the supporting players. That would leave Allen as a possible trade chip but moving him would be dangerous and unlikely. Mobley does not look ready to be a full-time center and Allen’s rebounding is difficult to replace for a team that already struggled on the glass.

Thus, free agency is the best option to upgrade the roster. The problem is that there are not many affordable 3-and-D wings out there, plenty of teams chasing the same archetype of player, and the chances of landing one of the best wings in the league, like Jaylen Brown, are incredibly slim. So, let’s look at some affordable free agents who could upgrade the Cavaliers’ supporting cast.

Josh Richardson

Richardson made around $12 million with the Pelicans. If he is looking for a similar deal, that would make him very affordable to the Cavaliers, as they could use the mid-level exception to bring him in.

Skill-wise, Richardson meets plenty of the requirements the Cavaliers need their wing players to fill. He is versatile on both ends of the floor, and while his defensive stats are not mind-blowing, he can hold his ground against different kinds of players. In the 2022-23 season, he matched up with Damian Lillard, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Gary Trent Jr. for example.

Offensively, Richardson is very effective off the ball, meaning that he could work well with the young core. Over his 23 games with the Pelicans after last season’s trade deadline, Richardson shot 38.4 percent from three on 3.7 attempts per game. He shoots often enough and well enough to stretch the floor and make the two-big lineup, which is so important to Cleveland’s defense, work.

At 29, Richardson is older than the core and would be more of a short-term solution, but it would also add a playable and experienced veteran to the roster.

Torrey Craig

Craig is not a high-level scorer – he averaged 7.4 points in 24.7 minutes per game with the Suns – but he is a solid floor spacer. He shot 39.5 percent on 3.2 attempts from three per game in the 2022-23 season, which would offer the Cavaliers decent volume from long range. Furthermore, he is a typical 3-and-D wing who does not need a lot of touches, which would allow him to easily co-exist with ball-dominant players such as Garland and Mitchell.

Besides shooting well, Craig also averaged 5.4 rebounds for the Suns, which would rank third right after Allen’s 9.8 rebounds and Mobley’s 9 rebounds on the Cavaliers’ roster. They desperately need rebounding like that on the wing because the two bigs cannot carry the team alone against some of the better teams.

At 32, the veteran would add some nice experience to a rather young team while also providing reliable support. He played 79 games last season, which is more than any Cavalier played except for Mobley. At the same time, Craig still provides tough physical defense. Last season, he primarily matched up with players like Harrison Barnes, Zion Williamson, Jimmy Butler, Aaron Gordon, and Julius Randle. Craig might not be the same lock-down defender Okoro is, but if he can provide more reliable shooting and still hold his ground that would be a solid deal.

Financially, Craig would be a decent addition as well. Phoenix is very limited financially and while they will probably want to keep him considering how thin their supporting cast is, the Cavaliers could try to offer him more money as an incentive to come to Cleveland.

Grant Williams

As one of the more versatile free agents possibly on the market, Williams will surely attract much attention. He can play the three and the four, stretch the floor, defend, and rebound. His skillset would fit perfectly with the Cavaliers. Only Garland shot better than Williams from three, and only Allen and Mobley grabbed more rebounds.

Defensively, he can match up with bigs, wings, and certain guards depending on the situation. This would allow Cleveland to use him as a starting small forward but also as a small-ball big to mix up the Allen – Mobley rotation.

At 24, Williams would also fit the Cavaliers’ timeline well while bringing some competitiveness and good energy to the court. In Boston, Williams made almost $12 million, and he is projected to make between $12 million and $14 million on his next contract. The Cavaliers could afford that salary with the MLE and make an enticing offer. After he fell out of the playoff rotation for quite some time, it is not unlikely that Williams would want to find a guaranteed, bigger role somewhere else.

Harrison Barnes

Barnes is one of the more unlikely free agent options simply because it will be difficult to pry him away from the Kings. He would be perfect for the Cavaliers, however. With the Kings, he averaged 15 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 1.6 assists, while shooting better from three than any Cavaliers player other than Garland.

That kind of production could push the team to the next level. Furthermore, he is a veteran with playoff and championship experience who could support the young core players in their development.

Defensively, Barnes is still capable, too. His matchups during the regular season ranged from LeBron James and Jaren Jackson Jr. to Anthony Edwards, which is exactly the kind of versatility the Cavaliers need from their starting small forward.

Joe Ingles

Mitchell’s former teammate would be a cheap signing, but it would not fix the problem of finding a fifth starter. Being 35 and having recently suffered a serious injury, Ingles would probably not be reliable enough to be a full-time starter. With the Bucks, he took on a smaller role than he had in Utah, averaging around 20 minutes a game. That would make for a nice boost off the bench, but a bigger role does not seem suitable anymore.

He did shoot 40.9 percent from three, though, can create for himself or profit off his teammate’s creations, run pick and rolls as the ballhandler, and has experience playing next to Mitchell. Ingles would in no way be a game-changer, but he would be a cheap option to add some depth to a bench that struggled immensely and quickly ran out of playoff pieces.

Naz Reid

While the Cavaliers’ biggest need is a wing, they could also use a backup big. Reid would be an interesting candidate for that because he can shoot and likes to operate outside the paint. He could work well with either Allen or Mobley or as the only big in a five-out setup. His skillset would allow the Cavaliers to mix up their style of play a little and seriously upgrade their bench.

In Minnesota, Reid made $1,532,398 annually but he widely outplayed that contract. The Cavaliers could probably still afford him unless a bidding war breaks out and pushes the price up immensely, but the problem is that Reid will be able to choose from a variety of offers and some of them might include a bigger role. Reid already spent last season stuck behind two big men and showed that he can do much more than that. He might not want to be slotted into the rotation behind Mobley and Allen when he has other options to explore.

So, while Reid would be a nice addition and boost for the Cavaliers’ bench, they would have to be very lucky to land him this summer.