Next summer, the Cavaliers will have options.
Cleveland could have nearly $30 million in cap space.
And, if projections hold up, Cleveland could have a top four or five team in the East.
It’s an enviable situation.
But not one that includes former franchise star and basketball legend LeBron James.
Despite the options, the money, and the right trajectory, James likely isn’t leaving Los Angeles.
The rumors of a James-Cleveland reunion have swirled since, really, he left back in 2018.
But at this year’s All-Star Game festivities, James went out of his way to talk up the current Cavs rotation, per Jason Lloyd of The Athletic:
“I think Koby and those guys have done an unbelievable job drafting and making trades. I think big fella (Allen), that acquisition was amazing for them to make that trade. Obviously, Darius Garland is a big-time player. And I think the role that Kevin (Love) is playing right now has kind of uplifted those young guys, seeing a veteran that could sacrifice, a champion that’s won a championship, all the things that he’s done, to come off the bench and play this role. I am not surprised by anything that they’re doing right now.”
Oh, and then came this bombshell, answered when asked about a return to the Cavs:
“The door’s not closed on that. I’m not saying I’m coming back and playing, I don’t know. I don’t know what my future holds. I don’t even know when I’m free.”
Is this just James playing mind games with the league?
LeBron James is "extremely happy' in Los Angeles and isn't considering a move to Cleveland
— BlockSports (@Blockbetsports) July 31, 2022
Is he setting up a royal re-coronation?
What is it?
Whatever it is, a return to Cleveland is apparently news to, well, Cleveland.
Per Joe Vardon of The Athletic, James isn’t in the Cavaliers’ long-term plans:
“As an aside, in Cleveland, there will be the cap space to sign LeBron as a free agent next summer. The Cavs would not have to touch their promising core of Darius Garland (represented by Paul, no less), Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen to do it. Those three, plus a healthy (but older) LeBron, not to mention the other rookies and role players not mentioned here, would indeed vault Cleveland from a slowly rising Eastern Conference contender to a team with immediate championship expectations.
OK, I have tied myself up in knots enough over this. The Cavs are not proceeding with the intention of getting LeBron for a third time.”
So there it is.
The Cavaliers are planning on continuing to build next summer, but not by adding franchise and NBA great LeBron James.
But hey, the team is still expected to be flush with cash.
Which free agents might they target next summer?
Let’s start internally.
Caris LeVert will be due an extension next summer, with this season being a major prove-it campaign for the two-guard.
As it stands, the Cavs are apparently ready for LeVert to form the starting backcourt with Garland, regardless of Collin Sexton’s contract resolution.
Next season, LeVert will make $18.7 million.
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) August 3, 2022
How much does LeVert stand to make on a new contract?
According to one exec, somewhere around $20.5 million per year.
But let’s say LeVert goes out and crushes it this season.
Surely he’ll be looking for an even better deal, right?
So perhaps that $20.5 is more of a median, with a range of between $18 and $23 million, depending on how LeVert performs.
If he does well, the Cavs don’t need major reinforcements via free agency.
Speaking of, who might Cleveland want to target next summer?
It figures to be a rich free agent class, with names like James, Kyrie Irving, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden all headed for the open market.
Perhaps Cleveland targets someone like DeAndre Hunter, a defensive-minded forward who has shown flashes but hasn’t stayed healthy.
Or even Alec Burks, another two-way wing who could come off the bench and add a scoring and defensive presence with the second unit.
The team will also have decisions to make on Isaac Okoro, who the Cavs spent a high lottery pick on recently.
The Cavs have left the cap space open for LeVert and Okoro to take.
Now it’s up to them.