Cleveland Cavaliers during the second half of Game 2 of basketball’s NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, June 7, 2015. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
The 2015 NBA Finals aren’t over yet, but the continued competitiveness of the Cleveland Cavaliers despite the absence of numerous key players has the arrows pointing up for the team’s future.
Down to just LeBron James, an emerging Tristan Thompson and a collection of NBA leftovers, the Cavaliers are tied 2-2 with Golden State in the series, and they’re making like they could be even scarier next year when Kyrie Irving, Anderson Varejao and potentially Kevin Love could be ready to go. Cleveland has had to lean on unknowns to fill key spots, such as Matthew Dellavedova and Timofey Mosgov. But with cap space to spend and James on board, Cleveland has a strong chance at returning next seasons with its roster intact. If the Cavaliers don’t win an NBA title this year, could they win it next season? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate the question.
Riley: The Cavaliers are stacked with talent, which will definitely mean a higher payroll next year. Keeping the roster intact may prove expensive, but it shouldn’t be difficult. James, Love, J.R Smith and Mike Miller have player options for the upcoming season, and Thompson will be a restricted free agent this summer. James and Smith are expected to return, while Love has already gone on record stating his desire to win championships and hinting at his own return to the Cavs. Losing Miller won’t hurt, but retaining Thompson and versatile wing man Iman Shumpert will require a hit to their wallet. Fortunately for Cleveland (and the rest of the league), the NBA’s new TV deal will directly raise the league’s salary cap, making the Cavs’ quest to retain its players a little easier. The Cavaliers don’t have to return every player from the current roster, but if they can retain James, Mosgov, Love and one of the Shumpert/Smith pair, then they should be locked in as title contenders next year who could challenge for 70 wins on their way to a championship.
Green: So not only will Cleveland keep their free agents, but they’ll challenge for 70 wins and are shoe-ins for a ring next season? Wow, Riley, that’s a lot of pressure. Keeping Mosgov and James should prove easy, but Love is the ultimate wild card. His lone year in Cleveland has been his worst year statistically in five years, and the cold streets of Ohio pale in comparison to the sunny beaches of California. The Los Angeles Lakers will be looking to make a big splash this summer with a ton of cap space available. Love has in fact “hinted” at a possible Cavaliers return, but nothing is ever certain in the NBA when it comes to free agency. Depending on Thompson’s upcoming contract negotiations, it might not make financial sense to tie up millions and millions in the power forward position when the Cavaliers don’t even run their offense through that position. Thompson has been fantastic in Love’s absence, but his offensive game is incomplete, Love’s scoring output is tremendous but he’s not the rebounder or defender that Thompson is. Keeping both will be a task, and the team will definitely need both if it wants to win a ring.
Riley: The Cavaliers didn’t come this far for owner Dan Gilbert to play it cheap now. This may be the most talented Cleveland Cavaliers roster ever assembled, and he’s not going to screw it up by letting players walk. Gilbert lambasted James a few years back over his lack of commitment, and he would have the media firing squad at his own door if he doesn’t go all out in his efforts to keep the club together. Cleveland has been close to dominant even in the absences of Love, Irving and Varejao, and James-led teams in Cleveland have produced 60-plus wins with less impactful rosters. If this current group has a full offseason to mesh, it would be a true upset if the Cavs didn’t win a title next year.
Green: If we’re talking about possibilities, then I’ll say that the Thunder have the best chance of winning a title next year if they return healthy. Oklahoma City’s roster is just as impressive when healthy, and we’re seeing a Warriors team that’s been put together nicely. It’s easy to assume that Cleveland will just be back to tip-top shape with a healthy roster. But James will be another year older and will be coming off of five straight Finals appearances, while Irving has been dinged up over the last few seasons. Penciling them in for an automatic healthy return isn’t something I would do. Cleveland will be talented and they’ll be good, but as we’re seeing, there are some impressive teams out there.