Fresh off Cleveland's first NBA title and first championship for the city in 52 years, the degree of difficulty just skyrocketed in the offseason. The Warriors' addition of Kevin Durant has changed the game, and the Cavaliers have limited ways of making their cap-strapped team markedly better from last season.
The first key is ensuring that LeBron James returns as the centerpiece. Getting J.R. Smith back in the fold will also be important. Then there's a chance the Cavaliers can use some cap-space gymnastics to add another piece to bolster a bench that lost Matthew Dellavedova and Timofey Mozgov in free agency.
Here's a look at the latest rumors on those fronts as the Cavs prepare for next season.
LeBron James Still Hasn't Re-Signed; Team Not Worried
When James triumphantly returned from Oakland, California, with the Larry O'Brien Trophy in hand, he was quick to assure Cleveland he'd return next season to defend the title.
"I love it here. I love being here. I love my teammates," James said, per Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com. "Obviously, my agent will take care of all the logistical things, but I'm happy. I've got no plans to go nowhere at this point."
That was on June 22. It's now July 10, and the superstar still hasn't signed another contract.
According to Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com, James has not given the team a timetable as to when he will make things official, but his representatives have informed other franchises he's not going anywhere:
Team officials have reached out to the camp of James for an answer to no avail, sources say. However, there are some officials within the organization who don't view the situation as a concern... Rich Paul, James' agent, has received phone calls inquiring about his client's availability and they have been told he's going back to Cleveland. Miami wasn't one of the teams who called, I'm told.
The 31-year-old is reportedly at his new home in Los Angeles, so it could just be a case of James doing other things. Maybe he's too busy to sign a multimillion dollar deal at the moment. Or he could simply be waiting to make sure he likes what the Cavs are doing in the offseason.
Regardless, it doesn't appear Cleveland fans should be too worried about the situation yet.
J.R. Smith Expected to Re-Sign
The Cavs weren't active in the free-agent market. They lost Mozgov and Dellavedova but didn't have the cap space to do anything other than acquire the rights to Albert Miralles and trade for Mike Dunleavy.
That means there will be extra importance on retaining the remaining talent on the roster, and few players mean more to this team than J.R. Smith. Here's a look at his playoff stats and where he ranked on the Cavs roster in each category:
|J.R. Smith Postseason Stats|
Fortunately for Cleveland, it appears that Smith will come back. Haynes reported the team expects Smith to re-sign and noted that Smith and James share the same agent.
With the Warriors surrendering some depth in order to add Durant, the Cavaliers' only advantage over their Western Conference foes might be the continuity of nearly everyone returning to their roles next season.
Chris Andersen on Free-Agent Radar
The Cavaliers don't have much money to offer, but they're still looking to improve the team through free agency. According to Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com, the Cavaliers are working on signing big man Chris Andersen.
While Birdman isn't the type of addition who will make headlines, he could fill an important role for Cleveland. He averaged 4.6 points and 4.5 rebounds in 20 games for the Memphis Grizzlies last season.
Replacing Mozgov is probably a bigger deal than most people realize. The Russian might not have been a huge factor in the postseason, but his regular-season role was crucial.
His numbers weren't great, as he averaged just 6.3 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. However, he did play 17.6 minutes per game and started 48 contests. Those are minutes that the Cavs didn't have to play James at the 4 while allowing Tristan Thompson rest.
Keeping James healthy will continue to be important for Cleveland. He averaged a career-low 35.6 minutes per game last season, and that number should only go down, as he'll need to make a more concerted effort to remain fresh for the postseason.
That means the Cavs are in need of another frontcourt player who can take some of that pressure off and allow James to stay off the floor for those minutes.
Given Cleveland's limited cap space, convincing Andersen to take what's left of the team's mini-mid-level exception or the veteran's minimum to back up Thompson would be an understated move that could pay big dividends.