Updated Cavs' Free-Agency Big Board Following LeBron James' Decision

Greg Swartz@@CavsGregBRCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterJuly 5, 2018

Updated Cavs' Free-Agency Big Board Following LeBron James' Decision

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    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    It's safe to say the Cleveland Cavaliers' free-agency plans have changed since July 1.

    With LeBron James set to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers, the Cavs' free-agent priorities should go from veteran help to anyone who is cheap, has upside and is willing to play on a rebuilding team.

    Unfortunately, these kinds of players don't exactly flood the market.

    If there's one good thing to come of James' departure, it's Cleveland's fall to a non-luxury tax-paying team. Even though the Cavs are still over the $101.9 million salary cap, moving below the tax increases their mid-level exception amount from $5.3 million to $8.6 million. With so few teams left with significant cap space, nearly $9 million could be enough to snag a player of value.

    The Cavs' list should be simple. Look for players approximately 25 years old or younger who could still fit into a multiyear rebuild. Players who haven't gotten a chance at big minutes or those who are proven guys on restricted deals where their teams may not have the financial means to match.

    Keeping those prerequisites in mind, here are the top five players the Cavaliers should have on their big board this July.       

5. Alex Len, C, 25

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    2017-18 Stats Per Game: 8.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 0.9 blocks, .566/.333/.684 shooting, 19.4 PER

    Years Pro: 5

    FA Type: Unrestricted

    Len isn't a bad player, but he's shown little growth since being the No. 5 overall pick in the 2013 draft.

    The key to Len's development will be his outside shooting. The 7'1" center has solid form, yet he only attempted three total three-pointers last season. If he has the confidence and opportunity, his outside shooting would complement an already excellent rebounding game. He averaged 15.1 points, 13.4 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per 36 minutes of play last season.

    Len carries some upside defensively, given his mobility for his size. He would immediately become Cleveland's best rim protector, as he held opponents to 55.9 percent shooting from inside six feet. That's a drop of 6.2 percent off the average success rate, per NBA.com.

    Cleveland already has Tristan Thompson and Larry Nance Jr. at center, but it doesn't appear Thompson has a role on this rebuilding team. He should be moved if anyone will take his contract. Nance can play power forward and has just enough of an outside shot to space the floor alongside Len.

    A Len-Nance Jr. frontcourt would be solid, with the opportunity to be quite good if both can extend their offensive game out to the three-point line. 

4. Billy Preston, PF, 20

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    2017-18 Stats Per Game: N/A

    Years Pro: 0

    FA Type: Unrestricted

    Preston will be playing on the Cavaliers' summer-league team after failing to hear his named called during the 2018 draft.

    As the No. 18 overall high school player in the class of 2017, Preston committed to Kansas but left during the school year to play professionally in Bosnia in the Adriatic League when the NCAA failed to quickly make a ruling about his role in a one-car accident on campus.

    While a 5-star recruit in high school, Preston showed the ability to be an athletic stretch-4 who can handle the ball. He was ranked higher in the ESPN 100 than Trae Young and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the Nos. 5 and 11 overall picks in the 2018 draft.

    As Kansas head coach Bill Self told Matt Tait of KUSports.com: "Billy's [a] first-round talent, and we've had more than one team tell us that. But they haven't seen him. [That] hurt him. There's no question about that, as far as the draft goes. But what happens in 2018 isn't going to define whether you're a pro in 2026, and the objective is to have a career, not a paycheck."

    If Preston plays up to his potential at summer league, the Cavs should be the first team to offer him a full-time contract.

3. Marcus Smart, G, 24

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    2017-18 Stats Per Game: 10.2 points, 3.5 rebounds, 4.8 assists, .367/.301/.729 shooting, 10.8 PER

    Years Pro: 4

    FA Type: Restricted

    Well, this would be interesting.

    Smart has made the postseason all four seasons with the Celtics. Three of those were ended by the Cavaliers.

    While he's valuable to a contending team, Smart would be a major impact player on a rebuilding team like Cleveland. He's young enough to have a future when the Cavs turn into contenders, and he also already carries 43 games of playoff experience. Coming from Boston, he's definitely been well-coached.

    The Celtics can match any offer Smart receives, but they're quickly become cash-strapped and guard-heavy with Kyrie Irving, Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown and Brad Wanamaker. As it stands, Boston is about $10 million away from having to pay luxury tax, and that's without signing first-round pick Robert Williams yet.

    Would paying luxury tax even matter? Maybe not, but Boston has to also consider the significant raises that Irving and Rozier will require next summer when crunching the numbers.

    If Cleveland uses some or all of its mid-level exception of $8.6 million, that could make the Celtics pause before matching.

    Remember, Boston's defense improved by 4.6 points per 100 possessions with Smart in the game this past season. A Collin Sexton-Smart backcourt would be a bit undersized—Sexton is 6'2", Smart is 6'4"—but downright nasty defensively and lots of fun to watch.

2. Jabari Parker, F, 23

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    2017-18 Stats Per Game: 12.6 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists, .482/.383/.741 shooting, 17.1 PER

    Years Pro: 4

    FA Type: Restricted

    He supposedly didn't want to be a Cavalier four years ago. Maybe a bigger paycheck will help change his mind.

    Parker, one of the best remaining free agents, was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2014 draft. He has career averages of 17.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.2 steals per 36 minutes of play.

    The biggest concern with Parker is his left ACL, which he's already torn twice in a period of three years. Such an injury typically takes a whole year to recover from, if a player can ever regain his previous form at all.

    This has to be in the minds of both the Bucks and opposing teams when deciding how much to invest in the former Duke standout. Cleveland can afford to take the risk.

    At his best, Parker is a major scoring threat from the power forward position. He has also improved his three-point shooting every year in the league. He can handle the ball like a 6'8" guard and get to the basket at will.

    But at his worst, he's a major injury concern with a poor defensive game.

    With fellow power forward Julius Randle agreeing to a two-year, $18 million deal with the New Orleans Pelicans, the Cavaliers should come in with a similar offer to Parker and hope the Bucks decide not to match.

1. Rodney Hood, SG, 25

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    2017-18 Stats Per Game: 14.7 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists, .429/.381/.860 shooting, 14.3 PER

    Years Pro: 4

    FA Type: Restricted

    While Hood can sign with any team he wants to, Cleveland has the opportunity to match any offer.

    It's tough to predict his value, given how strongly Hood started the year with the Utah Jazz (16.8 points, 38.9 percent shooting from three) and how badly he collapsed for the Cavs in the postseason (5.4 points, 16.7 percent shooting from three).

    Teams will still consider his age and elite size for a shooting guard (6'8"). When he's on, Hood is a solid pick-and-roll ball-handler and capable three-point shooter. When he's bad, Hood can highjack possessions, dribbling into crowds and relying too much on his tall frame to attempt fadeaway jumpers in traffic.

    The Cavs have to bet on a full training camp (and likely starting job) to help settle Hood and bring out his best. It would be shocking to see any team offer him more than $7 million to $8 million annually, and there's a chance Hood could choose to play for the $3.4 million qualifying offer, build up his stock and hit unrestricted free agency next summer.

    Expect the Cavaliers to match whatever offer Hood gets this summer and bring the former Duke product back.


    Greg Swartz covers the Cleveland Cavaliers and NBA for Bleacher Report. Stats provided by NBA.com and Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted. Contract numbers by Spotrac. Reported agreements to sign via NBA.com's free-agency tracker.