The Cleveland Cavaliers continued to go about the business of bringing back their Eastern Conference championship-winning roster on Monday, agreeing to terms with restricted free agent Matthew Dellavedova on a new deal that will keep the Australian point guard — who briefly became a folk hero when pressed into duty in place of the injured Kyrie Irving during the Cavs' run to the NBA Finals — in Ohio for the 2015-16 season, and perhaps beyond.
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While reports early in free agency indicated that the two sides were moving toward a multiyear deal, Dellavedova wound up simply accepting the qualifying offer that the Cavs extended to him on June 30, agreeing to a new one-year contract worth approximately $1.2 million, according to Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com. The Cavaliers will also retain the option of extending a qualifying offer to make him a restricted free agent again next summer — meaning owner Dan Gilbert and general manager David Griffin would retain a "right of first refusal" allowing them to match any offer sheet extended to Dellavedova by a prospective suitor — because the point guard, who went undrafted out of St. Mary's in 2013, will still only have three years of NBA service time after this season. (For more on how restricted free agency works, check out Larry Coon's indispensable NBA Salary Cap FAQ.)
Dellavedova entered the national consciousness this spring when knee injuries to All-Star Irving left head coach David Blatt with no recourse but to give him a crack at running point in the midst of the second round of the playoffs. He responded with a somewhat stunning 19-point performance (7-for-11 from the field, 3-for-6 from 3-point land) to knock off the Chicago Bulls in Game 6 of Round 2, scored in double figures three times in the Cavs' four-game sweep of the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference finals, and took the reins from Irving for good in Game 2 of the 2015 NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors.
With Irving sidelined by a broken kneecap suffered late in Game 1, Dellavedova provided "that little edge," chipping in nine points, five rebounds, three steals and an assist in 42 1/2 minutes to help Cleveland wrest home-court advantage away from the favored Dubs. He was even better two nights later, scoring a season-high 20 points with five rebounds and four assists as the Cavs won Game 3 to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. His performance spawned all manner of celebrations both in Ohio and in his native Australia, including the naming of an arena after him in his hometown of Maryborough.
Things fell apart from there, though. After heading to the hospital with severe cramping and dehydration issues following Game 3 — a fairly reasonable outcome, given the drastic uptick in minutes and exertion for a player much more familiar with several-minute stints of floor-time than scant seconds of rest — the energetic Dellavedova decaffeinated himself, and his game seemed to switch to decaf, too. He made just five of his next 26 shots over the next three games and struggled to keep staying with Stephen Curry, seeming to run out of gas as the Warriors hit the afterburners and came away with a six-game NBA Finals victory.
On one hand, Dellavedova taking a deal far below what he reportedly sought in free agency makes sense. Just about every team has spent its cap space this summer, but boatloads of teams will be flush with spending cash next summer; the soon-to-be-25-year-old guard could be poised to cash in, thanks to the explosion of the salary cap to a projected $89 million as a result of the league's new nine-year, $24 billion broadcast rights deal.
On the other, though, with veteran Mo Williams back in the fold and likely to slot in behind Irving as the Cavs' primary backup point guard next season, Dellavedova could find it difficult to earn the type of playing time he'll need to be productive enough to entice another team to make a rich offer for his services. And he probably needs to prove it, even after his profile-raising 2015 playoffs; through two pro seasons, Dellavedova has averaged just 4.7 points, 2.8 assists and 1.8 rebounds in 19.1 minutes per game, shooting a dismal 38.4 percent on 2-point tries while rarely getting to the free-throw line.
Dellavedova does have value, though. He's a solid 3-point shooter, knocking down a tick under 41 percent of his long balls last season as he feasted on the drive-and-kicks created by the likes of Irving and LeBron James. He's not much of a table-setter, but he's a smart ball-mover, typically ready and willing to make the extra pass that can lead to a great shot rather than a good one or an attractive opportunity for a teammate to attack the basket against an unbalanced closeout.
He's also a determined defender — too determined for the tastes of Bulls and Hawks fans — who worked his tail off to fight through screens, contest shots and get physical with the likes of Derrick Rose, Jeff Teague and Curry in the postseason, meeting with quite a bit of success ... until he didn't. That type of defensive pace-changer, who can pick up opposing ball-handlers full-court for stretches and force them to exert more energy than they'd like to, can be a nice weapon at a reasonable price, and a shade over $1 million seems very reasonable, indeed.
Dellavedova is the latest in a long line of 2014-15 Cavs to get new deals this summer. Power forward Kevin Love and shooting guard Iman Shumpert received lucrative long-term deals early in free agency. James re-upped on a two-year maximum pact that will allow him to re-enter unrestricted free agency again next summer, and brought back LeBron pal/veteran shooter James Jones on a one-year minimum-salaried deal.
It remains to be seen how the free-spending Cavs — who cut down their impending luxury tax bill a bit with Sunday's trade of veterans Brendan Haywood and Mike Miller to the Portland Trail Blazers for, essentially, nothing — handle their last two major negotiations of the summer: deals for restricted free agent power forward Tristan Thompson, who was reportedly close to a five-year, $80 million deal at the start of free agency before talks stalled, and shooting guard J.R. Smith, who's still on the market after declining his $6.4 million player option for next season. Talks with Thompson and Smith "remain ongoing," according to McMenamin.
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