The Cavaliers will need to find a way to either upgrade or at least find some stability at the small forward position before the start of next season.
The Cavs’ list of potential starting small forwards was narrowed down to forward Isaac Okoro and guard Caris LeVert by the time the playoffs rolled around. LeVert and Okoro spent time as the team’s starters at the 3-spot during the Cavs’ 5-game series against the New York Knicks.
But, if Cleveland wants to win its first playoff series since the 2017-18 season, it will have to find a solidified fifth starter.
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, the Stein Line’s Marc Stein wrote in a January article.
“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.” wrote Stein.
Should the Cavaliers try to pursue Kelly Oubre Jr. in the offseason? Can Cleveland afford a potentially high asking price from the 27-year-old forward? And what would he bring to Cleveland if he found himself in a Cavaliers jersey?
Kelly Oubre Jr. is a 6-foot-6-inch forward with eight seasons of NBA experience. He spent nearly four seasons with the Washington Wizards, about two with the Phoenix Suns, two with Charlotte and one with the Golden State Warriors. He was selected at No. 15 by the Atlanta Hawks before being sent to the Wizards in exchange for one first-round and two second-round draft picks in 2015. Oubre was taken in the same draft class as former Cavs forward Larry Nance Jr. and current Cavaliers reserve Cedi Osman.
Oubre averaged a career-high 20.3 points per game for the Hornets last season, hitting 43.1% of his shots from the field and 31.9% of his attempts from the 3-point line. He added on 5.2 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 1.4 steals per game in 48 games and 40 starts.
Kelly Oubre took starting roles in the team’s first 28 games as the Hornets cycled through multiple starting lineups. Charlotte’s most-used lineup during the 2022-23 regular season, which earned a 4-10 record in 14 games, paired forwards Gordon Hayward and P.J. Washington with guard LaMelo Ball, guard Terry Rozier and center Mason Plumlee.
Oubre was on the final year of a 2-year, $26 million-plus contract he signed with the Hornets in 2021. He is listed as an unrestricted free agent in 2023.
“The first two seasons here I would say I’m happy with them, (but) I’m not satisfied,” Oubre said in April. “But I can sleep at night knowing that every time I suited up, I gave it my all. I was locked in to each and every second that I played.”
Kelly Oubre Jr. 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.
It’s no secret the Cavs require extra scoring help.
Outside of Cleveland’s big four, only LeVert scored in double-digits for the Cavaliers last season. The teams’ need for extra scorers became more apparent during the playoffs. The Cavs’ bench ended with an offensive rating of 35.5, putting them in dead last among teams who made the postseason.
If the Cavs could bring him to Cleveland, Oubre could be a much-needed extra scoring option for a team whose bench placed 28th in the NBA in offensive rating last season.
His 20.3 points per game would put him just 1.3 points behind Cavs guard Darius Garland and 4.1 points ahead of forward Evan Mobley. Oubre has earned two games of 30 points or more during the 2022-23 season, including a 34-point performance when the Hornets took on the Cavaliers at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in November. He hit 12 of his 21 field goals and five of his nine 3-point attempts that night, weaving around Cleveland’s defense off the ball for contested layups and repeated makes from the left corner.
Kelly Oubre’s shooting could also be a welcomed addition to a Cavaliers roster that ended the 2022-23 season with averages of 36.7% from the 3-point line in the regular season and 32.7% in the playoffs.
Though he shot at inefficient 31.9% from the 3-point line, Oubre also attempted and made the second-most amount of tries from beyond the arc in his career. He made as many as seven 3-point shots against the Miami Heat in November, and shot at a rate of 40% or above with at least five attempts in 18 games, according to Basketball Reference.
Kelly Oubre must improve his rebounding and ability to get his teammates involved on offense, as he highlighted following an 8-point loss to the Washington Wizards in November.
“I only looked at the box sheet and I saw that I only had one rebound and zero assists,” Oubre said after the game.
“I’ve got to be better, straight up. I’ve got to bring more energy to the all-around game. Crash the boards, not allow myself to get blocked out and actually go get the ball. …I have energy that I can execute going and getting rebounds and make the right plays to my teammates.”
Oubre’s shooting and scoring could be what Cleveland needs to become that much closer to a more complete team.
But would the Cavaliers be able to go after Oubre in the offseason? And if they could, should they?
Should the Cavs go for Kelly Oubre?
Oubre’s asking price may be the most significant barrier to the Cavaliers’ ability to sign him.
Quenton Albertie ·
Cleveland would likely need to offload some of its salaries to make room for what Oubre could ask for. They could trade manageable contracts to other teams for reduced salaries or draft picks or try their hand at a sign-and-trade to acquire the scoring forward.
The details of a sign-and-trade can be complicated. And, save for the sign-and-trades pulled off by the Chicago Bulls for forward DeMar DeRozan and guard Lonzo Ball in 2021, they can be rare.
But Cleveland has done it before.
When a disgruntled Lauri Markkanen, a restricted free agent at the time, wanted a fresh start away from the Bulls in 2021, the Cavaliers swooped in and signed him on a four-year, $67 million contract in a sign-and-trade. The Portland Trail Blazers got Nance Jr. in the trade, while Chicago ended up with forward Derrick Jones Jr., a protected 1st-round pick from Portland and a protected 2nd-round pick.
Pulling that off again will be challenging, especially if Oubre wants to remain in Charlotte.
“Kelly Oubre reiterated what he’s told me several times this season. He still wants to stay in Charlotte and play for the #Hornets,” The Charlotte Observer writer Rod Boone wrote in an April tweet. “But he knows there’s a business side and it’s not completely up to him. But ‘yes’ he prefers to be back with the Hornets.”
Should he not re-sign with Charlotte in the offseason, the Cavaliers will likely have to fall back on their remaining Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level exception to sign Oubre if they can’t clear enough cap space. The standard non-taxpayer exception will have a projected starting salary of $12.2 million, according to RealGM.
If they can’t bring him in at all, forwards like Indiana’s Torrey Craig, Milwaukee’s Joe Ingles, the Nets’ Yuta Watanabe and Phoenix’s T.J. Warren are all listed as unrestricted free agents by Spotrac. They may not have the same scoring potential as Oubre, but Watanabe, Ingles and Craig all shot at a 39.5% rate or above from the 3-point line last season. Warren scored 7.5 points in 16.4 minutes played per game over 42 games with the Suns and the Brooklyn Nets last season.
It will be a long shot for the Cavs to acquire Oubre in the offseason. But crazier things have happened before.
All we can do now is wait.