The Cleveland Cavaliers will have plenty to look out for during the 2023 offseason.
From bigs with extra size and strength to take valuable minutes behind the team’s big duo, to reliable scorers and shooters either off the bench or who can join the Cavs’ big four in the starting lineup, Cleveland will need to address some of its most significant needs on a budget far after the NBA Finals bout between the Denver Nuggets and the Miami Heat comes to an end.
The small forward was a position of uncertainty for the Cavaliers since the beginning of the 2022-23 season. A multitude of forwards and guards, each with their own strengths and specializations, made up the laundry list of Cavs players who could have taken the small forward spot in September.
A lineup of forward Isaac Okoro with the team’s big four of guard Donovan Mitchell, guard Darius Garland, forward Evan Mobley and center Jarrett Allen earned a total of just over 398 minutes together during the regular season. It was the most among Cleveland’s five-person combinations before the playoffs, according to Basketball Reference. The same lineup with guard Caris LeVert at the three gained a total of 231 minutes together.
Even as Cleveland narrowed its potential starters down before the postseason, its uncertainty at the three spot remained. LeVert took starting roles in the final three games of the team’s playoff series against the New York Knicks.
With plenty of forward options Cleveland could try to bring in at a discount, what would the qualities of a potential dream addition for the Cavs look like based on who could be available via free agency or through a possible trade?
The shooting of: Joe Ingles
Cleveland will need more reliable shooters if it is going to continue to make extended runs in the NBA playoffs.
The Cavs needed some shooting help even before the postseason. They excelled at scoring the ball from five feet or less, taking a top-5 spot in the league with a 67.1% clip from that range before the playoffs. But their averages of 37.6% from 15-19 feet and 36.4% from 20-24 feet put them at 29th and 24th in the NBA, respectively.
Ingles, a former teammate of Mitchell, has been a consistent 3-point shooter over his nine-year NBA career. He has a career average of 40.8% from beyond the arc and went as high as 45.1% during the 2020-21 season as a member of the Utah Jazz. The 35-year-old forward made 41.1% of his 73 attempts from 20-24 feet, putting him on par with LeVert, Denver Nuggets guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Orlando Magic guard Jalen Suggs, according to NBA.com.
Ingles is listed as an unrestricted free agent in 2023 by Spotrac. The 6-foot-8-inch forward signed with the Milwaukee Bucks on a one-year, $6.5 million contract last June. He ended the 2022-23 season with averages of 6.9 points while hitting 40.9% of his 4.4 3-point attempts per game.
Ingles did agree to a four-year, $54 million contract with the Jazz in 2017 and a one-year, $14 million extension in 2019. With more pressing needs they will need to address, and with cheaper options on the market, it may be wise to sign him at a lower price.
If Ingles were available at or less than the one-year deal he signed with Milwaukee last season, he could be a welcomed addition to a roster in need of extra shooters without taking up too large of a chunk of Cleveland’s much-needed Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level exception.
Honorable mentions: Yuta Watanabe, Torrey Craig, Terrence Ross
The scoring of: Kelly Oubre Jr.
No team can ever have too much extra scoring help, especially off the bench.
LeVert was the only player who scored in double digits outside of Cleveland’s big four last season. The Cavaliers’ bench gained a defensive rating, or “the number of points allowed per 100 possessions by a team,” of 37.8 during the NBA playoffs. The figure put it in first place among postseason teams. Its offensive rating of 35.5 put it in dead last among teams who made the playoffs.
Cleveland was one of the teams with trade interest in Charlotte Hornets forward Kelly Oubre Jr. before he underwent surgery on a torn ligament in his left hand in early January, according to the Stein Line’s Marc Stein.
“Cleveland, Phoenix and Toronto had been circulating as teams that had trade interest in the Hornets’ Kelly Oubre Jr. until Oubre was forced to undergo left hand surgery this week expected to sideline him for four-to-six weeks.” Stein wrote in a January article.
Oubre averaged a career-high 20.3 points per game during the 2022-23 season, good enough to put him in third place on the Hornets behind guards LaMelo Ball and Terry Rozier. The 6-foot-6-inch forward played in two games against the Cavaliers last year, scoring 34 points during a game in November and 28 in a March matchup.
Getting Oubre could be a pipedream for the Cavaliers.
While he will be an unrestricted free agent in the 2023 offseason, he finished the final year of a two-year, $26 million-plus contract he signed with the Hornets in 2021. He made it clear he was looking forward to remaining in Charlotte in April.
“As much as we would want to speak on it, I just can only pray and just hope that everything falls together so we can keep this band together,” Oubre said.
If they were to pull off a move for the 27-year-old, he can be another scoring option at a position of need for Cleveland.
Honorable mentions: T.J. Warren, Keita Bates-Diop, Harrison Barnes (if possible)
The versatility of: Royce O’Neale
Having an all-around versatile forward who can be a reliable glue-guy with the team’s big four can do wonders for the team’s effectiveness next season and beyond.
The Cavaliers had an interest in Brooklyn Nets forward Royce O’Neale before the NBA trade deadline.
“Sources tell cleveland.com the Cavs have interest in swingman Royce O’Neale as they continue to scour the trade market for a potential wing upgrade before the 3 p.m. deadline,” Cleveland.com Cavs reporter Chris Fedor wrote in early February. “Preferably one who can shoot, either to start or strengthen one of the league’s least productive benches.”
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The 6-foot-4-inch forward averaged 8.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists in 31.7 minutes per game last season. O’Neale will be on a partially-guaranteed contract with a cap hit of $9.5 million with the Nets during the 2023-24 season, according to Spotrac. $2.5 million of the deal is guaranteed. It will become fully guaranteed on July 10.
If Cleveland can pull off a trade for O’Neale in the offseason, having an all-around player and a former teammate of Mitchell can provide a much-needed answer at the small forward spot for at least a few years.
Honorable mentions: Justise Winslow, Torrey Craig, Jeff Green
The size and defense of: Jalen McDaniels
Even at the small forward spot, the Cavs will need to add extra size to keep up with some of their more challenging competitors in the NBA playoffs, especially after the team played the 6-foot-6-inch LeVert and the 6-foot-5-inch Okoro at the three in the playoffs.
Philadelphia 76ers forward Jalen McDaniels, who Sixers President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey called a “sort of a hidden gem” in February, ended the 2022-23 regular season with a defensive rating of 113.9. The number was 0.2 more than Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler, according to NBA.com.
“I think he’s what every team is looking for —especially with the offensive firepower we have — as a long, athletic defender,” Morey said, via NBC Sports. “We felt like we needed defense. He’s gritty, can run the floor in transition.
“And then offensively — I know Doc was just talking to him — the game will be a lot easier for him. A lot of his shots were very difficult playing with (Charlotte). And with Joel (Embiid) and James (Harden) both bringing attention and great passing, the offensive side will be a lot easier for him.”
McDaniels is listed as an unrestricted free agent on Spotrac. It will be difficult for Cleveland to make a competitive offer that can draw him away from the 76ers. But the 6-foot-9-inch forward could add some extra size and defensive ability at the small forward spot.
Honorable mentions: Justise Winslow