Despite seeing their season end several weeks ago, the Cleveland Cavaliers have had one of the busiest off-seasons in the league. A lot of it started on the night of the annual NBA Draft Lottery, where Cleveland jumped up to secure the third pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. According to sources, that pick changed a lot of the internal calculus of what the Cavaliers had planned for their summer and their overall future as well.
"Cleveland can't lose come draft night after getting three," said an Eastern Conference Executive. "This year's draft is a three-horse race and they get to pick whoever is left after Detroit and Houston. They've assembled a nice young group so far but now they can grab a player they can build around."
Based on what's been going on during the pre-draft process, it's becoming increasingly clear that Southern California big man Evan Mobley will be Cleveland's selection come draft night. According to sources, the Detroit Pistons are enamored with prospect Jalen Green while the Houston Rockets are keen on former Oklahoma State star Cade Cunningham. Trade discussions are ongoing but it appears those two players are locked in at the top of the NBA Draft.
That means Mobley, who averaged 16.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.9 blocks for the Trojans last season, will likely be the prospect that the Cavaliers build their identity, and their future, around. It's not a bad place to start for Cleveland either as draft experts agree that if it wasn't for Cunningham, Mobley would be the consensus number 1 pick in this year's draft. Showing flashes of Hall of Famers like Chris Bosh and Anthony Davis, Mobley is a defensive juggernaut with the upside to impact every facet of an NBA offense.
The versatility that Mobley provides will naturally make the entirety of Cleveland's roster better as well. He will become a reliable option for Darius Garland to pass to and can help Collin Sexton play make while smothered in traffic (if Sexton isn't traded, of course). Mobley also pairs nicely alongside Jarrett Allen, especially on defense, but only if the Cavaliers view the former Trojan as a power forward next season. The duo of Mobley and Allen would be near-impossible for opposing teams to score on in the paint and the switchability of Mobley could provide perimeter support as well.
But, if Cleveland instead views Mobley as a center long-term that's where things can get a little complicated. This offseason Allen will be a restricted free agent, meaning that if he were to sign a contract offer from another team, the Cavaliers would be able to match it and keep him in Cleveland. According to sources, the Cavaliers plan on matching nearly any offer made for Allen and will try their damndest to lock him up before he can even test the waters of free agency. Early signs indicate Allen will earn anywhere from $100 to $112.5 million over five years in an extension. For a player of his caliber that still has plenty of room to grow that's a good deal for all parties involved. If the Cavaliers take Mobley, all while committing that much time and money to Allen, it does make things a little awkward going forward.
Sure, the theoretical fit on paper makes sense for Mobley's rookie season. The former Trojan weighs 210 pounds and would be bullied by quite a few of the NBA's centers. That, and there's a steep learning curve nearly every big man has to deal with when entering the league. If Cleveland believes in Mobley's potential, and they should, it would be best to pencil him in as the team's started power forward next season and play him alongside Allen in the frontcourt. Mobley can then spend time grinding at the five alongside the rest of the team's bench and learn the intricacies of the position.
The thing is after his rookie campaign Mobley will get bigger, and stronger, to the point where he would be better suited to be the Cavaliers' starting center going forward. Cleveland's front office is obviously aware of this and might create a dilemma internally when it comes to committing to Allen long-term. Simply put, Mobley's upside projects to be higher than anything Allen can be going forward. As Mobley naturally evolves towards becoming a modern NBA center, Allen becomes redundant on Cleveland's roster and the money used on him could be better suited towards adding perimeter depth to round out the roster.
So does that mean the Cavaliers should trade Allen the moment they acquire Mobley on draft night? They can explore those options since plenty of teams are interested in acquiring Allen including the Charlotte Hornets, Toronto Raptors, Washington Wizards and San Antonio Spurs, according to sources. But, Cleveland also doesn't need to put the cart in front of the horse either. They could wait things out until next season's trade deadline to determine if they're ready to move Mobley to center full time and in turn move Allen to another team.
There still remains the question of paying him, though. If it makes the Cavaliers uncomfortable they could let him test the waters of restricted free agency and either match an offer he receives or execute a sign and trade to recoup assets. Or Allen and his camp could play out the remainder of his current contract and then enter unrestricted free agency next offseason. It all remains fluid but if Cleveland does indeed end up with Mobley at no. 3 there could be some drastic changes coming soon to their frontcourt rotation.