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Overall, the Cleveland Cavaliers have had a fairly vanilla offseason up to this point. But, according to sources, this was always the plan for Cleveland. Sure, a lot of it has to do with their current roster construction and their financial commitments. But, with Cleveland being a pseudo-playoff team, the objective became clear heading into the offseason: upgrade on the margins to support the young core they assembled and then bank on said young core furthering their growth and development.
A lot of that started on the night of the 2022 NBA Draft when the Cavaliers took more seasoned players in Ochai Agbaji and Isaiah Mobley to contribute immediately all while taking foreign prospects in Khalifa Diop and Luke Travers as well. Sources say that Travers may join Cleveland for training camp this fall but the Australian forward, alongside Diop, will remain overseas for at least this upcoming season.
While the Cavaliers had a relatively quiet draft it set the course for their free agency as well. Granted, there is still a decision looming on Collin Sexton (more on that in a bit) but, most of the moves made by Cleveland in free agency have been perfectly average, with Darius Garland's mammoth contract extension being a huge exception. A while back, Right Down Euclid broke down the moves made in this year's draft and gave the Cavaliers a grade for each selection. Today, we're going to be doing more of the same but, instead, it'll be on the key figures Cleveland signed this offseason.
The Dazzling Darius Garland gets paid like the face of the Cavaliers and the lead guard of the future
A few days after free agency began, multiple league sources shared with Right Down Euclid that the Cavaliers and All-Star point guard Darius Garland came to terms on a five-year contract extension that could be worth as much as $231 million. It's a standard designated maximum rookie contract extension but it's also the richest deal in franchise history for Cleveland. That's right. Garland signed a more lucrative deal with the Cavaliers than LeBron James, arguably the greatest player of all time, ever did.
Granted, a lot of that does have to do with how much money Cleveland is able to spend. There's also the fact that James, by his own volition, signed shorter, cheaper deals to maintain leverage with the Cavaliers during his second stint with the organization. But, as Right Down Euclid has reported for a while now, this decision has been in the works between Cleveland and Garland's representation for a while now and is a no-brainer of a decision.
Garland is one of the cornerstones of a promising Cavaliers core that includes All-Star center Jarrett Allen and emerging star Evan Mobley and will be the one that leads all three into the future of the team. This contract extension is an indication that not only does Cleveland believe Garland is capable of doing it but also that he'll continue to grow and become one of the league's top overall players.
“Darius has proven to be a tremendous basketball player and someone who embodies everything a franchise would want in a young player,” said Cavaliers President of Basketball Operations Koby Altman. “We’ve quickly seen Darius grow into an NBA All-Star and an integral core piece in our pursuit of sustainable success. Both on and off the court, Darius has demonstrated a strong commitment to this organization and the community. We look forward to our future and what we can accomplish here in Cleveland.”
The Cavaliers haven't had a franchise point guard since Kyrie Irving first came into the fold via the 2011 NBA Draft. Well, nearly a decade later, they found one again in Garland. That's why Cleveland wrapped up this deal as quickly as possible and rewarded one of their cornerstones. Garland almost carried the Cavaliers to the playoffs on his own towards the end of last season. Now, based on the rest of the moves Cleveland made, it feels like their new franchise man will be able to take them there.
Free agency grade: A+
Ricky Rubio returns to The Land to complete his "unfinished business".
Soon after free agency opened for every NBA team, the Cavaliers came to terms with veteran guard Ricky Rubio on a three-year, $18.4 million deal, according to league sources. Rubio played in 34 games (eight starts) for Cleveland last season, averaging a career-high-tying 13.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, 6.6 assists, and 1.4 steals in 28.5 minutes before missing the final 48 games with a season-ending ACL tear. The Spanish guard was then subsequently traded to the Indiana Pacers along with a first-round selection for Caris LeVert but did not appear in a game for Indiana.
From an off-the-court perspective, bringing back Rubio into the fold will be huge for the Cavaliers. By all accounts, Rubio was a consummate professional and happily took on the role as a lead bench guard despite being capable of being a starting guard in the NBA. Not only that but, Rubio shared with the media in September of last year how he wanted to push Darius Garland to maximize the young star's potential.
“I think one of the hardest things to do in the league is not having a great year, but it’s having a better year when you had a great year,” Rubio said. “All the attention is going to be on you, all the pressure is going to be on you. The challenge you’re going to have is more mental than anything else. ‘I already did that. Do I have what it takes to be even better?’
“It takes a lot of energy to have the year that he had last year. He had great numbers and a great year. But that can translate to a winning team. I’m going to have to challenge him in that area. I’m going to bring my experience the same way I did with (Devin) Booker, the same way I did with Donovan Mitchell, the same way I did with the young stars that I had on my team.”
Clearly, Rubio's guidance worked for Garland since he became an All-Star and the highest-paid player in Cavaliers franchise history. Rubio will likely continue his work with Garland this season and beyond since this is a three-year deal he signed with Cleveland. That timeframe is key since, despite the latest injury, the Cavaliers clearly view Rubio as the proper backup behind Garland for this year and possibly next. Down the line, Cleveland could always grab a younger guard through the draft that Rubio could help mold to become Garland's more permanent backup. But, for now, when Rubio does recover, the Cavaliers are hoping to recapture the spark he brought from last season.
Mind you, it remains to be seen when Rubio will exactly return to the court. Some league sources have estimated that it might not be until 2023 at the earliest given that this is the second time Rubio has torn his left ACL. But, when he does return to the court, the vibes will once again be immaculate on the hardwood for Cleveland, even if he isn't physically the same player he was last season. Rubio, at his core, is a cerebral playmaker that makes life easier for everyone on the floor. It's a great way for Agbaji to begin his NBA career and heck, maybe Kevin Love has another bounce-back year as well.
Free agency grade: A-
Newly-signed Cavaliers guard Raul Neto (left) will provide quality depth while Ricky Rubio recovers from his torn ACL. Image credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images
Raul Neto can be a solid table setter and insurance policy while Rubio rehabs
Due to the fact that Rubio won't be available to start the season, the Cavaliers signed Brazilian veteran guard Raul Neto, according to multiple sources. Those same sources say that it's a one-year, veteran minimum signing for Neto with Cleveland. Neto appeared in 70 games (19 starts) last season for the Washington Wizards, averaging 7.5 points, a career-best 3.1 assists and 1.9 rebounds in 19.6 minutes per game. As a starter last season, Neto shot 16-39 (.410) from beyond the arc and scored in double figures on nine occasions as well.
More importantly, Neto is a much more reliable option as a third-string guard, especially when compared to Kevin Pangos. Mind you, this is no disrespect to Pangos since he could cross up and beat nearly everyone reading this one-on-one. But, when Rubio went down last season, it was also when Garland was sidelined with COVID and, in turn, Cleveland has to turn to Pangos, who had no serious NBA experience prior to that point. Pangos looked overwhelmed by the moment and, in turn, forced the team to trade for Rajon Rondo from the Los Angeles Lakers. Unfortunately, Rondo still dealt with injuries of his own and was unable to play in critical moments for the Cavaliers down the stretch of last season.
So, with all that in mind, Neto is a higher-quality insurance policy while Rubio remains away from the court. Neto likely isn't going to give Cleveland the same juice that Rubio did and hopefully still will on the floor – that's just not his game. Instead, Neto will act as a table setter on offense, doing more than enough to make sure everyone gets the ball in their preferred spot all while not doing too much to crater the offense entirely. Sure, it seems pretty vanilla and inoffensive compared to Rubio. But, again, that's not Neto's game. He won't look overwhelmed when out there on the floor, unlike Pangos and has had a relatively good string of health the last few years, unlike Rondo. Those are both key factors and should be enough to hold things over until Rubio returns.
Free agency grade: A
Robin Lopez can give Allen and Mobley what Neto gives Rubio and Garland
In conjunction with the Rubio and Neto news, the Cavaliers also signed veteran big man Robin Lopez, according to multiple sources. Those same sources say that, like Neto, it's a one-year veteran minimum deal for Lopez. Last season in Orlando, Lopez appeared in 36 games (nine starts), averaging 7.1 points and 3.5 rebounds in 17.0 minutes per game. Lopez has appeared in 36 postseason games (28 starts) with Portland (22 games), Chicago (six games), Milwaukee (three games) and Washington (five games), averaging 8.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.0 blocks in 23.4 minutes for his postseason career.
Like they did soon after Rubio went down, Cleveland learned at the end of last season the value of a capable backup after All-Star big man Jarrett Allen suffered a fractured finger. When Allen went down, the Cavaliers had to lean heavily on rookie star Evan Mobley as well as the likes of Ed Davis and Moses Brown to remedy Allen's absence. But, it proved to not be enough as the Cavaliers tumbled down the standings towards the end of last season and ended up missing the postseason entirely.
So, like Neto, Lopez can provide a high-quality insurance policy in case an unforeseen injury occurs. Lopez proved the year before in Washington that he can still be a reliable reserve, delivering one of his more productive seasons all while helping the Wizards make the playoffs. While he may not play much to start the season, especially with the Cavaliers having so many big men in their rotation, Lopez is an upgrade over Davis and Brown. He's also a great locker room guy and I'm sure Moondog and Sir C.C. are happy Lopez won't be tormenting them anymore.
Free agency grade: A-
While he may not play much, Robin Lopez is another high quality veteran signing made by the Cavaliers that can support their existing stable of big men. Photo credit: David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images
Final free agency thoughts for Cleveland and what's going to happen with Collin Sexton?
Overall, the Cavaliers didn't have a ton of options heading into free agency but were able to bolster and empower their three key players in Garland, Mobley and Allen. Sure, it wasn't the sexiest offseason but, according to sources, Cleveland was never planning on being big players this offseason. If what they're trying to do is working, why rock the boat dramatically? Instead, believe in your internal player development, along with your young stars naturally growing, and head into next season feeling confident about the moves you've made this offseason. The Cavaliers are on the right path and should be able to make the playoffs for the first time without LeBron James on the roster since the 1997-98 season based on the moves.
But, there still is one cloud blocking the sun from shining on the Cavaliers when it comes to Collin Sexton. We're nearly two weeks into free agency at this point and, according to sources, there is no interest on the free agent market at all for Sexton. A lot of it does have to do with the fear of how he'll look coming off missing a season due to a torn meniscus. Some of it also has to do with how Sexton actually looks in a winning situation as well. Is he just a guy who took advantage of being on a bad team that needed someone to take shots every night? Or can he fit into a winning situation where it's clear he isn't the top dog on offense?
Those are things the Cavaliers are wondering as well as this free agency saga between the organization and Sexton continues. Sources continue to tell Right Down Euclid that Cleveland wants to keep Sexton with the Cavaliers and the feeling is mutual from the young guard as well. He helped play a part in turning the program around and wants to now be part of a winning culture with serious playoff aspirations. That's all well and good but it, more importantly, comes down to how much money the Cavaliers are willing to pay and how little Sexton is willing to play for.
Sources say that Cleveland is hoping to sign Sexton for something around $15 million annually to keep themselves out of the luxury tax threshold this season all while the amount increases on a year-to-year basis. Sexton and his representation, meanwhile, want something closer to $20 million annually and this has now turned into a staring contest between both sides. Until someone blinks, negotiations will be ongoing and things will likely remain at a standstill for a while. Hopefully, it gets resolved before the start of training camp but at this time sources say it's uncertain when a deal will be reached.
Update: Right Down Euclid can verify the validity of Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report's reporting on the Utah Jazz exploring a sign and trade for Sexton which would send the Cavaliers Mike Conley. But, league sources say the talks didn't go far toward the start of free agency and Cleveland pivoted to signing Rubio and Neto instead. Those same sources also said that it was moreso Utah initiating the conversation, using J.B. Bickerstaff's desire to coach Conley again as an angle. With Donovan Mitchell now reportedly being available, the Cavaliers could re-engage the Jazz on the preliminary Sexton talks but, with the primary target instead being forward Bojan Bogdanovic or Malik Beasley instead.
Final free agency grade: A
Collin Sexton extension grade:
Featured image credit: Jason Miller/Getty Images
Evan Dammarell is a sports journalist covering all things Cleveland right off the shores of Lake Erie. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Email him at email@example.com. Did you enjoy this edition of Right Down Euclid? You can get it in your inbox two to three times a week by subscribing here. All it takes is either your Facebook account or email address!
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