The Cleveland Cavaliers are a work in progress and there’s no shame in that.
Despite sizable expectations heading into the 2022-23 season after the acquisition of All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell, the Cavs were unable to fully maximize their arsenal of talent, leading to an abrupt exit from the 2023 NBA Playoffs. Now, with enough time for emotions — most notable among them likely to be frustration and disappointment — to settle, the Cavs can assess their roster and determine the best pathways forward.
After all, even in the post-LeBron James era, mottos such as ‘Strive for Greatness’ and ‘Nothing Is Given, Everything Is Earned’ still ring true.
Unfortunately for Cleveland, aside from a handful of restricted free agents, the 2023 free agency class is relatively top-heavy. That said, with the Cavs projected to have just $12.8 million in maximum cap space this offseason, it’s unlikely that they can count on their pocketbook saving them this summer.
As a result, the trade market — and potentially the 2023 NBA Draft — could be more heavily explored by Cleveland in the offseason. If so, Cavs wing Isaac Okoro appears to be the most likely trade candidate following several up-and-down seasons.
3 ideal roster additions for Cavs in 2023 NBA offseason
Tim Hardaway Jr.
If the Cleveland Cavaliers were to begin shopping former fifth overall pick Isaac Okoro today, the Dallas Mavericks would likely be among those that were the most interested in his service. All but desperate to locate high-quality perimeter defenders to place around Luka Doncic and Cavs former face of the franchise Kyrie Irving, the Mavs would likely have plenty of interest in Okoro.
Though often limited as a scorer due to a streaky jumper, Okoro is an extremely athletic wing that takes pride in slowing down his primary matchup. At 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, the Atlanta native is perfectly suited for a slot in between Luka and Kyrie on the perimeter, taking plenty of pressure off the star duo with dependable on-ball defense against some of the league’s marquee scorers and playmakers.
In exchange, the Cavs would likely want Tim Hardaway Jr., a sharpshooting wing that hasn’t had a consistent role in Dallas for much of the time that he’s been there.
Nonetheless, with THJ averaging 15.4 points per game in his time with the Mavs and shooting 37.8 percent from 3-point range in that stretch, the hope is that Hardaway’s off-ball scoring meshes well with that of Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell’s. That said, as Hardaway has averaged 15.9 points per game over the past seven seasons, there’s little doubt that he can be a consistent offensive force for Cleveland.
Salary-wise, Okoro alone wouldn’t be enough to acquire Hardaway. Yet, trading away the inconsistent but beloved Cedi Osman could get the deal done.
Larry Nance Jr.
Trading away defensive-minded playmaker Larry Nance Jr. for a scoring-minded replacement in Lauri Markkanen wasn’t a bad idea in 2021 and it worked out will for the Cleveland Cavaliers, with them parlaying a bounceback season from Markkanen into a trade for All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell.
However, the Cavs need to shore up their frontcourt rotation this offseason. A stretch-forward prospect is likely to preferred, given that such a player complements Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen’s skillsets while improving the floor balance. However, there’s no need to give up on Dean Wade, a career 36.2 percent 3-point shooter, just because he underwhelmed in the first season after signing an inexpensive three-year contract extension to remain in Cleveland.
That said, grit and veteran savvy were missing against the New York Knicks this postseason, two traits that Nance doesn’t lack. Stuck in a crowded frontcourt in New Orleans, Cleveland could look to call up an old friend in Pelicans executive vice president David Griffin to get a deal done for Nance.
Athletic, intelligent and willing to do all the little things a team needs to win, the Ohio native’s return should be met with much fanfare. The do-it-all big man can play up to three positions for the Cavs, with the potential to form a formidable defensive duo with Evan Mobley.
Acquiring Nance may not come cheap. However, New Orleans having a longstanding need at point guard, especially with so many players that are better as play-finishers than shot-creators. Ricky Rubio then, becomes more valuable to them. The Cavs could also add defensive stud Lamar Stevens and multiple second-round picks.
Santa Clara guard Brandin Podziemski could wind up being a late first-round or early second-round pick but either way it goes, he needs to be the Cleveland Cavaliers pick in the 2023 NBA Draft.
The Cavs currently hold the No. 49 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft but combining draft assets to move up higher in the second-round or into the late first round would be advisable.
Building off of the hype generated by Oklahoma City Thunder wing Jalen Williams, Podziemski could be the next draft steal the Broncos produce, as the Wisconsin native averaged 19.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.8 steals per game as a sophomore in 2022-23. Perhaps most importantly, he did so while shooting 48.3 percent from the field and 43.8 percent from 3-point range (5.8 3-point attempts per game).
A confident shooter with NBA range, the lefty could be everything that the Cavs wanted Dylan Windler to be and more. S
hifty, crafty, savvy and capable of scoring at all three levels, it’s a bonus for Cleveland that Podziemski often plays bigger than his listed size at 6-foot-5 and 200 pounds. Both on the boards and on the defensive end, where he compensates for his lack of top-rate athleticism with timing, technique and effort.