Heading into game five against the Boston Celtics, the Cleveland Cavaliers needed to do the impossible. In the entirety of the 2018 NBA Playoffs, the Celtics have never lost at home. Unfortunately, the Cavs were not able to pull it off and fell to the Celtics 96-83.
No matter how any person attempts to look at it, with the Celtics having the home floor advantage, the Cavaliers will now have to win in Boston to make it back to the NBA Finals.
With game six at home looming, there are plenty of distractions swirling around the team. The biggest of all is LeBron James looking noticeably fatigued throughout the game:
After playing in every single Cavs game this season, and carrying the team most nights, James finally looked a step slow against the Celtics. Simply put, this year’s iteration of the Cavs does not have the firepower to win a championship, no matter how hard James drags them.
Major additions like George Hill, Jordan Clarkson, and Rodney Hood have all vanished. JR Smith has been erratic. Kevin Love has struggled to find consistency. Game 5’s fatigue was a boiling point for King James, and now there is serious doubt about his future in The Land.
This would not be the first time the Celtics end James’ time in Cleveland, as James took his talents to South Beach to get past them. Well, Cavaliers fans should not lose too much sleep over James’ future as he will not leave. Besides the plenty of obvious reasons, James is a frugal man and will not walk away from a supermax contract extension.
Besides the contract extension, James also has the backing of the Cavs. Team owner Dan Gilbert has to be fairly familiar with how the Cavs fell lower than rock bottom after James left for Miami, and will gladly open his checkbook to keep the ball rolling.
This task will fall squarely on general manager Koby Altman and he has a pretty long to-do list.
The first, and probably most important thing Altman needs to do is to relieve Tyronn Lue of his coaching duties. Lue has always had a rough go of it his entire time as head coach. When the team wins, all credit goes to James. When they lose, it is entirely Lue’s fault according to social media.
With the Cavaliers performance in the NBA Playoffs, it has become fairly clear that Lue needs to go. In the first round against the Indiana Pacers, Lue was outcoached for the entire series by Nate McMillan. If it was not for James, the Cavs would have likely gone home in the first round.
This is being showcased yet again in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Celtics. Game 5 was a must-win game and Lue threw it all to the wayside with this coaching blunder:
Tyronn Lue's reasoning for not inserting Kyle Korver as much is because Brad Stevens and the #Celtics didn't play Semi Ojeleye and that was Korver's matchup…
— Tomer Azarly (@TomerAzarly) May 24, 2018
Basketball Insider’s Ben Dowsett then blew apart Lue’s plan:
Coming into tonight's game, Korver had played 90 minutes in the series – just 31 of them were while Ojeleye was on the court.
What. Is. This. Dude. Talking. About
— Ben Dowsett (@Ben_Dowsett) May 24, 2018
Korver has been by-far the Cavs’ third best player in the Eastern Conference Finals and it was beyond irresponsible of Lue to not play him more. Now, the Cavs have a tough task of winning Game 6 at home and then a Game 7 in Boston if they want to reach the NBA Finals. Even if Lue gets past the Celtics, there is no reason for the team to keep him. Unless he won another NBA Championship, Lue should likely start posting his resume on Indeed.
With Lue out, there are two likely candidates that Altman and the Cavs should take a look at. The first is associate head coach Larry Drew. The Cavs got to see firsthand Drew’s coaching chops when Lue was away from the team and performed admirably. He posted an 8-1 record with the team and honestly played their best basketball in that stretch. Drew would be a great hire for the Cavs after they relieve Lue of his duties.
With Drew, the Cavs will still roll with staffers from David Blatt’s time with the team. After this season, the Cavs may want to clean house and start fresh with the coaching staff. If they do, the best man for the job would be San Antonio Spurs assistant Ettore Messina.
Known for being creative with both offense and defense, Messina would be a great fit as the Cavs’ head coach. Messina has served under Gregg Popovich for the last four seasons and with the recent success of other Spurs assistants, he can continue the trend in the Land.
With the coaching situation handled, Altman’s next major task is cleaning up the Cavs’ payroll. While both James and Love are worth every penny for the team, there are also plenty of bad contracts. George Hill ($19 million next season), Tristan Thompson ($17.5 million next season), JR Smith ($14.7 million next season), and Jordan Clarkson ($12.5 million next season) are all going to hamper the Cavs in free agency the summer.
While the contracts are all pretty bad, the Cavs will have some options with them on the trade market. What will make it easier for them is the fact that they have the eighth pick in the 2018 NBA Draft and they can bundle it with any of those contracts. It also helps that some teams may be looking to shake up their rosters, too.
The Portland Trailblazers may be breaking up the tandem of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, and the Cavs should come calling. Kemba Walker may be out with the Charlotte Hornets and the Cavs could easily grab him up. LA Clippers center DeAndre Jordan is also a likely trade candidate and would look great in Wine and Gold.
Out of all of those trades, the most ideal option for the Cavs would be trying to go after either Lillard or Walker.
The Cavs have been in dire need of a franchise point guard since trading away Kyrie Irving, and both would fit the bill. The Cavs could package the eighth pick with one of the before-mentioned contracts (most likely being Hill or Smith) and kick off free agency with a bang.
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With a newly formed Big Three of James, Love, and either Walker or Lillard, the Cavs would be set. If Altman is able to free up more salary space, all the Cavs would need to do is round out the roster with role players.
A top target could be Denver Nuggets swingman, Will Barton. Barton is one of the most consistent scorers in the league, averaging 15.7 points on 45.2% shooting last season. Barton best showcased his offensive ability against the Chicago Bulls, scoring 37 points:
Barton is an offensive dynamo and would fit in nicely in the backcourt with either Lillard or Walker. He would be a massive upgrade over Smith and would give the Cavs a serious punch.
Another player that will likely fly under the radar that the Cavs should target is former Dallas Maverick Nerlens Noel. Earlier this season, I considered Noel a candidate for the Cavs to trade for to fix their interior issues. If signed by the Cavs, Noel would bring defensive grit and would be popular lob target from LeBron James. With the Noel addition, Kevin Love can also slide back to the four, which is his natural position. The addition of Noel would be a great pickup for the Cavs.
After the two free agent splashes of Barton and Noel, Altman would just need to tie up a few loose ends. With Hill likely gone, the Cavs should strongly consider bringing back Jose Calderon to remain as the team’s backup point. Calderon has been solid for the Wine and Golders and the Cavs should not have too much competition bringing him back.
After Calderon, the Cavs would need to focus on finding backups for King James. A player the team could look at is Barton’s old teammate in Wilson Chandler. After eleven years in the Association, Chandler is a solid one on one scorer and a capable defender. He may not come cheap, but the Cavs will have money to spend on free agents.
With all of the firings, signings, and trades, Altman would have a pretty lengthy set of goals heading into this summer. Altman did learn the ropes under former Cavs GM David Griffin, who was notorious for creating something out of nothing.
Altman will have his work cut out for him, but if he follows this article from beginning to end, then the Cavaliers are going to be just fine next season.