This may be the final season the Cleveland Cavaliers have to sell LeBron James on a roster that won the 2016 NBA title, only to seem ill-equipped to compete with the Golden State Warriors a year later, and yet their biggest summer acquisition is Turkish forward and 2015 second-round pick Cedi Osman.
Still without a general manager or president of basketball operations in place, the Cavs will use more than half of their $5.2 million taxpayer mid-level exception to sign Osman to a three-year, $8.3 million deal, according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst and Bobby Marks. Cleveland reportedly chose signing the 6-foot-8 wing over committing more of its MLE to 37-year-old former Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford.
Osman averaged 7.4 points and 2.9 rebounds in two seasons for Turkey’s Anadolu Efes since Cleveland acquired his rights in a 2015 draft-night deal for the 31st pick. Per DraftExpress, he is an athletic and heady prospect with defensive potential who lacks strength and shooting touch. So, he’s a project.
A Cavaliers front office led currently by assistant GM Koby Altman has made two more moves this summer, re-signing 36-year-old Kyle Korver to a three-year, $21 million deal and adding Jose Calderon and Jeff Green off the free agent scrap heap. The MLE was their last chance to add significant value, and by signing Osman, they have just $2.4 million of their exception left — little more than the minimum they paid a pair of over-30 veterans who have played for a combined 12 teams since 2011.
Barring more minimum-level signings this summer, a late-season buyout or an 11th-hour push to beat the Houston Rockets to the Carmelo Anthony punch, this is the lot that will surround the same core that just lost to the Warriors in five games. There are worse positions to be in than the favorites to reach a fourth straight Finals, but there have to be better ways to sell LeBron’s impending free agency.
Discussion around James heading West has picked up steam since the end of the 2016-17 season, and the Cavaliers reportedly shopped both Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving in failed attempts to bolster the superstar’s supporting cast, so a blockbuster-less summer is apparently not for a lack of trying. Still, Osman, Calderon and Green aren’t exactly game-changers if LeBron is waffling on leaving Cleveland.
Granted, the Cavs were salary cap- and luxury tax-strapped entering the offseason, but that didn’t stop the Golden State Warriors from adding Nick Young at the MLE and Omri Casspi for the minimum. Nor did it stop the Oklahoma City Thunder from getting a George deal done and bringing in Patrick Patterson for the MLE. Likewise, the Houston Rockets traded for Chris Paul, added P.J. Tucker for the MLE and appear close to a Melo deal, and the Toronto Raptors worked a sign-and-trade for C.J. Miles.
Meanwhile, the Boston Celtics, who lost to the Cavs in five games sans Isaiah Thomas in the Eastern Conference Finals, cleared cap space for Gordon Hayward, traded for Marcus Morris, picked up Aron Baynes for the MLE and added No. 3 overall pick Jayson Tatum into the mix. Almost all of Cleveland’s biggest threats got stronger, while the Cavaliers stayed stagnant. That’s a problem for 2017-18.
And it could be a disaster beyond that. How Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert allowed his team to enter the final year before LeBron’s free agency without a front office in place is a question all of Cleveland should be asking, because the results this summer have done nothing to convince James to stay.
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