Earl Clark, Cleveland Agree to Terms: What's Next for the Cavaliers?

Tommy McConnellCorrespondent IJuly 4, 2013

Apr 28, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers small forward Earl Clark (6) handles the ball against San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard (2) in game four of the first round of the 2013 NBA playoffs at the Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Grant promised that the Cleveland Cavaliers would be active in free agency. I suppose this qualifies as keeping his promise: The Cavs signed Earl Clark to a two-year, $9 million deal, with a team option for the second year.

The price tag is a little higher than expected, but that is likely a sweetener for not guaranteeing both years on the deal. Plus, the Cavs had money to burn this season and can keep their salary cap flexibility intact. 

As for actual on-the-court impact, Clark fills a glaring need for Cleveland. I'm not sold that Clark is a true small forward in the traditional mold, but he does a lot of the things that the position requires. He has range out to the three-point line, he can put the ball on the floor a little bit and is a capable passer. Perhaps more importantly, he becomes Cleveland's best wing defender that is also not a minus on the offensive end of the court. 

It would not surprise me at all if Clark jumps immediately into the starting lineup, and Alonzo Gee comes off the bench. Limiting Gee's minutes to situations where he can be effective is a huge win for Cleveland. Clark is not the answer all by himself, but when combined with Tristan Thompson and Anthony Bennett, the Cavs have a ton of versatility at the 3 and 4 spots. Mike Brown should be able to find some favorable mismatches throughout the course of the game.

Speaking of Brown: His influence over personnel decisions is kind of surprising. He reportedly loved Anthony Bennett and coached Clark briefly in Los Angeles last season. Ultimately, Grant has the final word. But even if those were not his calls, he certainly would have been relied upon heavily in those player evaluations.

At the very least, his input is being taken seriously.

That has to be considered a good thing that the coaching staff and the front office are on the same page. That type of healthy relationship should mean good things going forward.

This won't be Cleveland's last move of the offseason—they still have quite a while to go before hitting the required salary floor—but it is a nice start. At the very least, the Cavs got a talented player on a team friendly deal to fill the weakest spot in their starting lineup. Not a bad way to kick off free agency.

The big question: Does Grant have two or three similar moves lined up? Or does he still have a a big deal in the works?

Once Dwight Howard makes his decision, a few tantalizing options could becomes available. 

If Howard stays in L.A., Pau Gasol probably isn't. He'd be a perfect fit in Cleveland, especially since he has just a year left on his contract. He could play where he is most comfortable. Depending on the price tag—assuming it is none of the young core or Anderson Varejao—Cleveland instantly makes itself a playoff team. 

The same can be said if Howard ends up in Houston. Omer Asik is cheaper, but his deal runs two years. He's good enough that he's worth it, though. If his price tag is the same as mentioned above, then it's a no-brainer.

This assumes that L.A. or Houston would be eager to basically dump their current center. That scenario is more likely for the Lakers, who will have a hard time finding a taker for Gasol's massive salary. Asik is younger and cheaper, but not nearly as good a scorer, so Houston may be able to ask a heftier reward.

The door is open, at least. Grant made a nice signing, and Cleveland is better for it. Has he fulfilled his promise? I doubt it. Not yet, anyways.