Whether it be through free agency or the trade market, the Cleveland Cavaliers still have plenty of time to look over any potential options before the start of the 2023-24 regular season.
The Cavaliers had an interest in Brooklyn Nets forward Royce O’Neale before the NBA trade deadline, potentially putting O’Neale on his third roster and on another team in search of an extended run in the NBA Playoffs. The Nets traded forward Kevin Durant to the Phoenix Suns in early February, sending a package that included forwards Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson and Jae Crowder, along with four unprotected future first-round picks, in exchange for the All-NBA forward, according to ESPN Senior NBA Insider Adrian Wojnarowski.
“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.”
Fedor noted Cleveland was far down the road on a deal for O’Neale with the Nets before they opted not to trade him in a Tuesday edition of “Hey, Chris!”
Will the Cavs have a shot at the potential trade target during the NBA offseason? Would he be worth the potential asking price from the Nets? And how would he fit with Cleveland’s roster if he found himself in a Cavaliers jersey?
As always, Cavs Nation, it helps to review the basics.
Royce O’Neale is a 6-foot-6-inch forward with six seasons of listed NBA experience. He has played for the Nets and the Utah Jazz since he first signed with Utah in 2017. The former Baylor wing played for Spanish club Gran Canaria the season before, where he averaged 8.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists, according to the Associated Press.
O’Neale has played with now-Cavs guard Donovan Mitchell in the past, sharing five seasons with the 6-foot-1-inch guard out of Louisville and the several playoff appearances that came with them. They most recently battled in a playoff series together against the Dallas Mavericks in 2022, pushing Mavs guard Luka Dončić and now-New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson to six games before falling in a 98-96 loss at Vivint Smart Home Arena.
Royce O’Neale averaged 6.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game during five seasons with the Jazz before he was traded to the Nets in exchange for a 2023 first-round draft pick.
“We are excited to welcome Royce and his family to Brooklyn,” Nets General Manager Sean Marks said in a 2022 release. “He is a versatile wing defender and floor spacer whose tenacious style of play fits the fabric of the team we are building.”
Royce O’Neale finished the 2022-23 regular season with averages of 8.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists in 76 games and 53 starts. His production tapered off during Brooklyn’s playoff series with the Philadelphia 76ers. He ended the 4-game sweep by the Sixers with averages of five points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 29.5 minutes played per game.
O’Neale will be on a partially-guaranteed deal with the Nets worth $9.5 million in the 2023-24 season. $2.5 million of the deal is guaranteed. It will become fully guaranteed on July 10, according to Spotrac.
At first glance, Royce O’Neale could stabilize a more volatile position on Cleveland’s roster.
The Cavs had a laundry list of potential candidates who could take up the starting role before the start of the 2022-23 season. Forwards Cedi Osman, Dylan Windler, Lamar Stevens, Dean Wade, Isaac Okoro and guard Caris LeVert were all in the mix for the starting spot.
The Cavaliers used 22 starting lineups throughout the regular season. Cleveland’s most-used lineup during the regular season paired Okoro with Cleveland’s big four. That lineup gained a record of 20-9. The same lineup with Stevens in place of Okoro went 7-3.
He may not be a sharpshooter, but O’Neale has been reliable from the 3-point line during his time in Utah and Brooklyn. He shot 38.9% from beyond the arc last season, which would put him just ahead of Mitchell and slightly behind LeVert if he shot at the same percentage on Cleveland.
Royce O’Neale’s confidence under pressure earned him praise from Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn in late March.
“He’s a guy that is comfortable at the end of the games,” Vaughn said before a 124-107 win over the Atlanta Hawks. “You watched him in the Utah days, he was a guy that inbounded at the end of the game or was in at the end of the game. So he does that for us. The majority of the time if there’s an inbound play at the end of the game, Royce will be delivering.”
O’Neale can bring much-needed playoff experience to a younger Cavaliers roster. His time in the playoffs stretches back to 2018, when he and the Jazz first took on and defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the NBA Playoffs.
But will O’Neale be a good investment for the Cavs?
Should the Cavs go for Royce O’Neale?
Whether or not he will be a worthwhile option for the Cavs will be determined by the price the Nets will ask for the 29-year-old forward.
If the Cavaliers can’t find another affordable wing in free agency or the trade market, pulling the trigger on a trade for O’Neale would make more sense. It would reunite Mitchell with his old teammate and push off the uncertainty of its starting small forward spot for at least a short while.
Quenton Albertie ·
But for now, when it still has the time to pursue other options, it might be best to hold off on a hasty trade.
Cleveland will have the No. 49 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, along with a few second-rounders in 2025, according to FanSided. The contracts of Osman, Wade and guard Ricky Rubio all nearly match the non-guaranteed portion of Royce O’Neale’s salary. Osman’s deal is currently non-guaranteed for the 2023-24 season, but will become fully guaranteed on June 29th, according to Spotrac.
Under the NBA’s current Collective Bargaining Agreement, only the guaranteed portion of a player’s contract counts for outgoing salary purposes in a trade, according to a 2018 article from HoopsRumors.
“This detail is crucial for determining how much salary a team can acquire in a trade — unless a team is under the cap, the amount of salary it sends out in a trade dictates how much salary it can take back,” the article read. “The amount of salary an over-the-cap team can acquire in a trade ranges from 125% to 175% of its outgoing salary, depending on how much salary the team is sending out and whether or not the team is a taxpayer.”
Keep in mind; the Cavs will have to consider whether O’Neale will want to re-sign with Cleveland and, if so, for how much.
Royce O’Neale earned an average of $9 million during his 4-year contract with the Jazz. If he asks for the same average, it would make him the 4th-highest paid player on Cleveland’s roster during the team’s 2023-24 campaign, putting him ahead of Okoro, Osman and forward Evan Mobley.
Even if they don’t go after O’Neale, Cleveland will still have a fair amount of players at the small forward to pursue in free agency. Forward Kelly Oubre Jr., who had a cap hit of $12.6 million last season, is listed as an unrestricted free agent in 2023. 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.
Either way, Cavs Nation, Cleveland has the time to scour the market for other alternatives before rushing into a potential short-term fix.
For now, all we can do is wait.