Power Ranking Cleveland Cavaliers' Roster Entering 2017-18 Season
The 2017-18 Cleveland Cavaliers will look far different from the team that's been to three straight NBA Finals.
They've swapped out 60 percent of their starting lineup, with just LeBron James and Kevin Love remaining. The final 15-man roster could feature as many as eight new members, a remarkable overhaul from the team we saw in the championship less than four months ago.
Although the training camp roster still stands at 20, four players are already near guarantees to be waived or spend their time with the G-League's Canton Charge.
Shooting guard John Holland is on a two-way contract, which means he can bounce back and forth between the majors and minors, spending no more than 45 days with the Cavaliers. Second-year point guard Kay Felder is the leading candidate for the other two-way contract, as he'll likely be waived with all of the veteran floor generals in front of him.
Kendrick Perkins, out of the league last year after ballooning to 309 pounds, will eventually be waived despite coming in at 267 pounds in training camp. The newest Cavalier, undrafted rookie guard Isaac Hamilton, will also be waived but is now eligible to play for the Charge.
Here's how the final 16 (and eventually 15) shake out.
16-11: Calderon, Jefferson, Zizic, Frye, Osman, Shumpert
16. Jose Calderon, PG
The final roster spot will almost certainly come down to Calderon and Richard Jefferson, two veterans who won't receive much playing time even if they do make the team.
Given that Isaiah Thomas isn't likely to return until after Christmas and Derrick Rose hasn't played 70 games or more since the 2010-11 season, point guard depth is critical for Cleveland. While LeBron James and Dwyane Wade can handle the ball, keeping a true point like Calderon seems like a must.
However, the 36-year-old veteran has been brutal this preseason. In 61 minutes, he has a plus/minus rating of minus-43. Shooting 22.2 percent from deep hasn't helped his case to make the team, either.
15. Richard Jefferson, F
Cleveland's best reserve in the 2017 Finals, Jefferson may not even make this roster. The Cavs are plenty deep on the wing, and Calderon plays a position of greater need.
Losing Jefferson would sting, especially in the locker room. With James Jones retiring, Cleveland needs a veteran voice and stability around, and few if any are better than Jefferson.
The third option is for Cleveland to trade someone higher in the pecking order before the season begins (Iman Shumpert?) and keep both Jefferson and Calderon, satisfying both chemistry and position concerns.
14. Ante Zizic, C
A prime candidate to play major minutes in the G-League, it's tough to see Zizic getting rotation minutes this season.
He's averaging 10.3 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per 36 minutes while shooting 50.0 percent this preseason, running the floor and finishing at the rim when needed. However, this isn't the time for the 20-year-old Zizic to contribute to a championship-caliber team.
13. Channing Frye, F/C
Frye is one of the NBA's best-shooting big men, connecting on 40.9 percent of his three-pointers last season. Despite this, head coach Tyronn Lue has already informed the 34-year-old he'll start the season outside of the rotation, per Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com.
"(Frye) said, 'listen, I'm very excited about our team, not too many opportunities to get to play on a team like this,'" Lue said, via Vardon. "I have to wear a suit all season for us to win, that's what I'll do. Don't worry about me, I'm going to continue to keep working. If you need me I'll be ready."
Frye and Jefferson represent the heart of the locker room and bring value no matter how few minutes they play.
12. Cedi Osman, SF
If the Cavs indeed transition into a post-LeBron world next year, the face of that new era may be Osman's.
Referred to as a 6'8" Matthew Dellavedova, fans will love his hustle, defense and attitude. He plays hard all of the time, often a lost art in the NBA today.
Osman has shot 40.0 percent from deep this preseason, and he could get some run throughout the year if Lue chooses to periodically rest his veterans.
11. Iman Shumpert, G/F
Shumpert is one of the most fascinating players to watch this season, as he could receive big minutes or fall out of the rotation completely.
Despite his defensive potential, Cleveland tried to trade Shumpert this offseason, per Shams Charania of The Vertical. His $10.3 million salary could be used for matching purposes in a future deal or unloaded on a team with cap space to create a trade exception.
In Cleveland's only preseason game where all five starters played, Shumpert was Lue's first player off the bench. That likely won't last long.
10-6: Green, Korver, Smith, Rose, Thompson
10. Jeff Green, F
Green (unofficially) leads the Cavs in preseason highlight plays, throwing down some monster dunks and showing he can be a big spark in the second unit.
His lack of outside shooting will hurt Cleveland's spacing, but Lue can run Green in transition or feed him off backdoor cuts to the rim while surrounding him with playmakers.
He's put up 18.9 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.8 assists per 36 minutes this preseason and should have a guaranteed spot in the rotation.
9. Kyle Korver, SG
Korver is 36, a so-so defender and does little other than space the floor. But man, can he still shoot.
Korver has quietly led the NBA in three-point shooting percentage in three of the past four years, and he only got better during his time with the Cavs. With floor-shrinkers Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose set to receive copious minutes, the Cavaliers need Korver to counteract their lack of spacing.
Needing just a sliver of space to get a shot off, the 15-year veteran plays his role to perfection.
8. JR Smith, SG
While the signing of Wade delighted LeBron James, it created fallout with some of Cleveland's other guards. Smith lost his starting job to Wade and isn't too pleased about it.
"Was working hard all summer and then coming in and not even really having a chance to earn my spot, but it's all right," Smith said, via Vardon. "It is what it is."
Smith has been a starter for 157 of his 164 games with the Cavaliers after playing the reserve role for most of his career. Still, Smith is being paid handsomely ($44 million over the next three years), has a championship ring and shares a locker room with James. The demotion may sting now, but we may not hear anything more about it out of Smith.
7. Derrick Rose, PG
Rose has been Cleveland's best player this preseason, and it hasn't been particularly close.
He's flying all over the court, finishing at the basket and making smart reads as the team's starting point guard. Rose is putting up 22.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 7.1 assists per 36 minutes while shooting 60.0 percent from the floor.
Undeterred by going from a max salary to a minimum one, the 29-year-old is clearly healthy and motivated.
"I get a chance to reintroduce myself back to the league," Rose said, via ESPN's Dave McMenamin. "I get to bet on myself. That was one of the reasons I came here, I get to bet on myself."
6. Tristan Thompson, C
After just one season as the team's starting center, Thompson will once again come off the bench following Love's move to the 5. Lue said it wasn't an easy decision, via McMenamin, but the big man has embraced the move.
"Tristan has been a big part of what we do. I hated having that conversation, but it was great. He was phenomenal. That's what it's all about. You hate having those conversations, but he was great. He was like, 'Man, whatever you need me to do, Coach. I'll just go for Sixth Man of the Year. I understand what's going on.' ... When you have those talks, usually they don't go that good. But he was great about it."
While Lue suggests Thompson is fine with the demotion, a fellow starter-turned-reserve paints a different picture.
"We talked about it," Smith told Vardon of he and Thompson's move. "It wasn't the most positive conversation, but we talked about it and we'll get through it together."
Whatever issues may arise out of this shouldn't affect Thompson's on-court performance. He'll continue to rebound at a high level, set screens and offer some paint defense. A whopping 17.6 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per 36 minutes this preseason helps prove as much.
5. Dwyane Wade, G
Although he fits this team better as a combo guard off the bench, Wade will once again be starting alongside James.
At 35, Wade is still productive and could enjoy a bounce-back season playing with James. Chemistry cannot be overlooked, as we should expect to see plenty of Wade-to-James and James-to-Wade assists this season.
"He adds another championship DNA, another guy with high basketball IQ, another playmaker that can make plays and also make shots," James said, via Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com. "That adds to our depth and we were already pretty deep. It adds even more depth and even more playmaking to our team, which obviously you guys saw last year he can still do."
Since James came back to Cleveland, he has struggled to find a teammate with a Hall of Fame resume who also still plays a big role. Someone he can use as an example of how a play or drill should be executed. Someone who can instantly draw respect anytime he steps on the court. Wade should fill that role this year.
Wade won't come anywhere close to his career scoring average of 23.3 points per game since Cleveland has so many mounts to feed, especially when Thomas returns. But if the Cavs eventually waive Calderon and Felder, expect a healthy dose of Wade as a complementary ball-handler.
4. Jae Crowder, PF
Crowder has flown under the radar for far too long.
Cleveland naming the 6'6" Crowder its starting power forward may raise a few eyebrows. Crowder doesn't care what he's listed as, though. Instead, he's focused on which individual players he's being asked to guard.
"It's all about matchups. I don't prefer any position more than another because I feel like I have a slight advantage with any matchup. I don't have any preferable position. I've watched film on a lot of different positions. [Coach Lue] told me to watch film on a lot of different positions, plays and areas. He told me, 'You should watch a lot of different positions, guarding on offense and defensively' so that's what I've been doing."
Crowder's matchup will likely vary from night to night, based on who Lue doesn't want James to chase around. Against the Warriors, for instance, James would likely move down to cover Draymond Green instead of having to guard Kevin Durant for 40 minutes.
Cleveland will love Crowder's passion for defense and ability to knock down the open three. Sharing the court with three playmakers (James, Wade and Rose) means he'll get plenty of offensive opportunities via catch-and-shoots and cuts to the basket, too.
3. Isaiah Thomas, PG
If Thomas wasn't projected to miss the first few months of the season, he'd be comfortably ranked second overall here. Alas, a January return date prevents him from climbing any higher—for now.
Having found a home just west of Cleveland, Thomas is slowly getting acclimated with his new town and teammates. When the trade was made on August 22, Thomas had yet to even resume running. Now, the Cavaliers' training staff has him doing much more.
"Thomas is working out six days a week, running on an AlterG antigravity treadmill and doing defensive slides in the pool," per Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins. "When the Cavs practice, he lifts, and when they lift, he hits the court."
With the excitement surrounding the signing of Wade and Rose, it's easy to forget Cleveland has the NBA's third-leading scorer patiently waiting to make his debut.
"The nice thing about the Cavs is nobody is in a rush," Thomas told Jenkins. "Most places are trying to get you back, which isn't always best for you. These guys know they're going to play in June. It's a given."
Thomas is a better fit in the Cavaliers' starting unit over Rose. He's a more proficient outside shooter and will command more attention in the pick-and-roll.
A Thomas-Wade backcourt would have been a fever dream for Cavs fans just a few months ago. Soon, it could become one of the more dangerous offensive combos in the league.
2. Kevin Love, C
Love is entering a new role as Cleveland's starting center, news first broken to him not by Lue but rather James.
"But a funny thing happened the third day of practice," Love told McMenamin. "I had asked about a certain play on the defensive end and whether it was the different coverages on the 4 or 5 man, and 'Bron kind of stopped me and goes, 'You know you're gonna be starting at the 5, right?'"
A move to center isn't anything groundbreaking for Love. Since coming to Cleveland, he's logged 43 percent of his court time at the 5, per Basketball-Reference.com.
Lue has spoken about using Love more, per ESPN.com's Zach Lowe, promising this will be his best season since he arrived in Northeast Ohio three years ago.
While that could wind up being true, it's going to take some time. The loss of Irving was supposed to open up more touches for Love. Those touches may now be split among Wade, Rose and Crowder.
Love was an All-Star last year, putting up 19.0 points and 11.1 rebounds. Although his efficiency and usage may spike, it'll be difficult for him to top those numbers, especially once Thomas returns.
Love is a great player on a team with a number of other great players. He'll get his touches, but so will everyone else.
1. LeBron James, F
Cavs player power rankings. MVP ballots. Greatest player in the game polls. James should finish first on all of them.
The 32-year-old still moves like someone a decade younger as he enters his 15th professional season. The hunger and motivation that perhaps slipped after the 2016 championship should be back, given Irving's fulfilled desire to leave.
Could it be enough to propel a run to yet another MVP trophy? Bleacher Report's Howard Beck thinks so.
"James, still the game's greatest all-around force, is poised to reunify the Most Valuable and Most Outstanding belts, to reclaim his rightful throne and secure his fifth MVP trophy.
It's not as if the stats aren't there. James averaged 26.4 points, 8.7 assists and 8.6 rebounds last season, with a true shooting percentage of .619. The assists and rebounds were career highs. The true shooting figure was his highest in three years (and far superior to Westbrook's .554)."
James does find himself in a favorable position. While he has star power around him, none of his teammates should steal MVP votes. Much of Cleveland's roster comes in with something to prove, fuel that could once again result in the Eastern Conference's best record.
Aided by Crowder's defense, Thomas' scoring prowess and Wade's chemistry, this could be James' most enjoyable year yet in Cleveland.