The Cleveland Cavaliers lost their second NBA Finals in three years to the Golden State Warriors. As the new champions pop champagne bottles and prepare for a parade, the losing franchise will work to climb back to the top for the upcoming season.
According to Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, the team doesn't need wholesale changes to avenge the series loss, per Cleveland.com reporter Joe Vardon.
"Gilbert made clear he was happy with the direction of the franchise. He stressed that he did not see the need for major roster changes to answer the Warriors—who added Kevin Durant to a team that already had Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson."
The Warriors responded to a 2016 NBA Finals loss with a haymaker, landing Kevin Durant via free agency. The Cavaliers have two choices in an attempt to even the playing field with the champions: add scoring or load up defensively.
For the 2017-18 season, Cleveland's payroll hit approximately $128 million. With a veteran team tied to lucrative contracts, the organization doesn't have much wiggle room on the free-agent market for the upcoming year. If Gilbert retains David Griffin as general manager, he should become a seller on talent to acquire much-needed help.
Barring a major trade shakeup, the Cavaliers should continue to cruise through the Eastern Conference, but what can they do to even their NBA Finals rivalry with the Warriors?
Push for Paul George at Trade Deadline
Among the most drastic and obvious moves, the Cavaliers should inquire about Paul George even if it requires waiting close to the trade deadline to acquire him.
The 27-year-old swingman can opt out of his contract with the Pacers after the 2017-18 season, per Spotrac. Despite the buzz connecting George to the Lakers, he voiced his strong desire to play for a contender in February to ESPN Radio, per Indy Star reporter Nat Newell:
"I always want to be part of a team that has a chance to win it (all)," George said. "That's important. Say what you want; I want to compete for something. It's frustrating just playing the game for stats or for numbers or to showcase yourself. Man, I want a chance to play for a chance to win a championship."
A scenario in which George returns to his home state, California, to play for the Lakers under Magic Johnson's direction sounds like a good story, but that Los Angeles team hasn't sniffed the playoffs in four years.
Based on George's will to win, Cleveland would be an ideal destination. Furthermore, the Pacers would be able to exchange All-Stars with a demand for Kevin Love in return.
If true to his word, why wouldn't George re-sign with a team that's likely going to the NBA Finals for another two or three years with LeBron James, assuming he doesn't exercise his 2018 player option, and Kyrie Irving on the roster?
Through three trips to the NBA Finals, Love has either sat out with an injury or come up small under the brightest lights. Despite his improvement on the defensive end, he's not a viable option to slow down Durant.
George plays both ends of the court, and he shot 46 percent from the field in his most efficient year as a scorer during the previous season. At his peak, the four-time All-Star could tilt the balance back in Cleveland's favor.
Acquire a Quality Perimeter Defender
Durant deserves the same respect as James as an unstoppable scorer in certain games. The Warriors forward has four scoring titles to show for his dominance on the offensive end.
Nonetheless, the Cavaliers can acquire a grizzled veteran to clamp down on Stephen Curry or keep Klay Thompson under wraps. As well as Durant played during the 2017 NBA Finals, he didn't win it alone.
In Games 2 and 3, Thompson shot 61 percent or better from the field. Curry scored 26 or more points in four out of the five games. Cleveland should focus on improving its perimeter defense in an attempt to neutralize one of Golden State's sharpshooters. The Cavaliers can't allow 121.6 points per game in a series against any opponent and expect to win the matchup.
Cleveland can't depend on Iman Shumpert to provide solid defense off the bench. Without much cap space, the Cavaliers would likely have to settle for a veteran such as Tony Allen, who's 35 years old but still capable of playing quality defense for 25 minutes per game. He still takes the utmost pride in his play on the defensive end.
Add Sixth-Man Facilitator
At times, Irving seems better served as an undersized 2-guard, especially when James needs a short breather. There's no doubt about the 25-year-old's scoring capabilities. In the Cavaliers' lone victory over the Warriors, he dropped 40 points. During last year's NBA Finals, he put together a similar performance in Game 5.
Cleveland could acquire a veteran facilitator to come off the bench and utilize Irving as a shooting guard without James on the floor. The ball movement would continue to flow and the talented finisher could focus on what he does best with or without the basketball in his hands.
Deron Williams scored five total points, all in Game 4, during this year's NBA Finals. It's safe to say, the team won't re-sign him during the offseason. Despite the off-court issues, the Cavaliers should roll the dice on Ty Lawson. Just two years ago, he averaged 9.6 assists per game as a starter in 75 contests with the Denver Nuggets.
Inside a veteran locker room with a defined role, Lawson should be able to stay out of trouble off the court and keep the offense flowing when surrounded by capable shooters.