Why are folks so down on Caris LeVert? – Right Down Euclid mailbag

LeVert is certainly polarizing but he isn’t the worst player coming off the bench for the Cavaliers right now.
levert sixers dribble
PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA – FEBRUARY 15: Caris LeVert #3 of the Cleveland Cavaliers gets a steal during the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center on February 15, 2023, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

There’s a bit of a lull in Right Down Euclid‘s schedule this week with the Cleveland Monsters not taking the ice at FirstEnergy Stadium until Saturday and the Cleveland Cavaliers getting some much-needed breathing room. With that said, Right Down Euclid decided to open its mailbag and hear from you, the reader, to discuss whatever your little heart desires. We got a few questions from all over the place so let’s skip the semantics and dive right into it!

Why is everyone so down on Caris LeVert? I watch all the games and no he’s not perfect but compared to the other bench players he looks pretty good. – Keith H.

Caris LeVert has never fully fit with the Cavaliers since Cleveland acquired him leading up to last year’s NBA trade deadline. Last year, he was dealing with injuries and wasn’t 100% healthy until the team’s final game of the season when they lost to the Atlanta Hawks in the play-in tournament. This year, it’s even harder for LeVert to gel with this team after the Cavaliers acquired Donovan Mitchell and Ricky Rubio eventually returned to the floor.

At his core, LeVert is a player that functions best with the ball in his hands and space to attack the basket. The former is why LeVert approached head coach J.B. Bickerstaff about sending him to the bench to give him more shot opportunities. The latter, meanwhile, is difficult because Cleveland struggles spacing-wise outside of Mitchell or Darius Garland. That means opponents can pack the paint and negate a lot of clean looks for LeVert and, in turn, make him somewhat limited on the floor since he isn’t the best perimeter defender most nights.

To your point, LeVert is flawed but has sometimes been productive in his reserve role for the Cavaliers. As Rubio returns to health, LeVert has sometimes been Cleveland’s only productive reserve player. You’ve seen flashes of playmaking and scoring sometimes, but it’s still not the complete package. His three-point shot still isn’t reliable on a nightly basis and, with the current lack of spacing, makes it hard for the Cavaliers. Mind you, that’s not LeVert’s fault – it’s just how the roster is currently constructed.

Nevertheless, due to his pedigree of being one of the few reliable bench options, LeVert typically gets the fifth-most minutes. He also gets more of a leash because of his track record of popping off some nights and, more importantly, LeVert has earned the trust of his teammates and coaching staff. The latter is important since LeVert isn’t a defensive stopper nor was he ever that in the first place. Regardless of this, he still gets minutes in the rotation on a team that’s focused on being defense-first at the end of the day, defense be damned.

Is the fit between LeVert and the Cavaliers at this junction the cleanest? Absolutely not. Could Cleveland be doing worse bench-wise without him trying to get something going? Absolutely yes. It will remain a crapshoot for the time being until the Cavaliers reach the offseason where sources confirm that there is some fire behind the smoke of Koby Altman saying the team wants to keep LeVert around long-term. From there, will LeVert be a somewhat attractive trade chip? Possibly. No one can predict the future.

Speaking of predicting the future! Clearly, we won’t know what happens between now and this offseason for the Cavaliers. But, we do know they need three-point shooting and some proper depth behind Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen in the worst way possible.

Regarding free agency, Cleveland will have to first address their in-house options. Cedi Osman ($6.7 million) and Lamar Stevens ($1.9 million) will be on partially-guaranteed deals. Both are decent, end-of-rotation depth for the Cavaliers so don’t be surprised if both contracts are guaranteed for the 2023-24 season. (Sources indicate that it’s on that path for now.) There’s also Isaac Okoro – who is contract-extension eligible. Sure, if Okoro signs an extension with Cleveland (a source said that it seems likely at this time), it won’t kick in until the start of the 2024-25 season. Okoro will make $8.9 million next year, which is already factored into the salary cap.

Dylan Windler will also be a restricted free agent and could ultimately walk this summer. Isaiah Mobley is also a restricted free agent but will likely sign another deal with the team, unlike Windler. LeVert can negotiate freely with any team, including the Cavaliers. Thankfully, Cleveland has his bird rights so they can go over the salary cap threshold to keep him long-term.

But, before it gets to that point, the Cavaliers are bumping right up against the luxury tax threshold and, unless a move shifts things on a seismic level, Cleveland won’t go above it. The Cavaliers will have their mid-level exception to play around with, which is worth roughly $12.3 million. Perhaps Cleveland could use part of that to sign Derrick Jones Jr., someone they had an interest in last summer according to sources, to part of it. Perhaps the Cavaliers cash in all of it on Grant Williams, a player they inquired about at the deadline per sources, and pry him away from the rival Celtics.

Other than that, there aren’t many inspiring options to address wing depth and shooting. Ditto for big man depth, besides Isaiah Mobley – who has been killing it in the NBA G League with the Cleveland Charge. Maybe guys like Nerlens Noel, Alex Len or even Thomas Bryant sign on either whatever’s left of the MLE or to minimum contracts. It will be tricky and maybe a trade will have to happen to fix the issues on this roster. But, again, it’s hard to predict what will happen between now and this summer.

Do you think Sam Merrill will be in the rotation right away? Why isn’t he signed yet? – Dawson G.

To be fair to Merrill, he is exactly what the Cavaliers need in theory. But, in most cases, 10-day guys typically don’t make serious contributions unless the ongoing global panic at the disco decides to drop another album. More than anything, this is a chance for Merrill to get more familiar with Cleveland’s coaching staff and could be an option either down the line or in free agency this summer. Merrill didn’t participate in training camp with the Cavaliers and was, in fact, the no. 1 overall pick made by the Charge in the NBA G League draft.

Regarding his contract status, expect him to sign no later than Saturday, per sources. That way the Cavaliers can make the most of the length to properly evaluate him.

Funnily enough, I wrote a food guide for Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse over the holidays! Regarding Progressive Field, you cannot go wrong with Happy Dog or Dante’s Inferno. Meanwhile, I’m partial to the Cleveland Nachos from Great Lakes Cheesesteaks for FirstEnergy! Even though I’m trying to lose weight for my wedding you can tell I love food if you look at me or check my Twitter mentions. So, I hope I can give you some good insight!

I’ll go more in-depth next week since I think it needs a deeper dive! Stay tuned!

Evan Dammarell is a sports journalist covering all things Cleveland right off the shores of Lake Erie. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. You can also email him at evan@downeuclid.com. He can also be found three to five times weekly on Locked On Cavs, a part of the Locked On Podcast Network.

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