The Cleveland Cavaliers finally ran out of gas, despite a JR Smith-led late burst in game 6, and the Golden State Warriors are the 2015 NBA Champions. Looking at the two sides, it really shouldn’t even have been as close as it was. The Cavaliers were ravaged with injuries to key players, notably Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and Anderson Varejao, while the Warriors had a full roster to select from. The Cavaliers, of course, had the self-professed (and who can really argue with him) “best player in the world” in LeBron James and that was almost enough to win the title. Almost.
ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh tweeted, at the end of game 6, that the Cavaliers were so reliant on LeBron, their field goal percentage without LeBron on the floor was, well:
These stats ignore Timofey Mosgov and Tristan Thompson who carried the load as best they could. The problem is that if these are your second and third best players, all due respect to them, you are in trouble. The Warriors could look to several players to offer a spark when regular season MVP Stephen Curry, as he did quite often during the finals, struggled. At various times Klay Thompson, Andre Igoudala, Shaun Livingston, Festus Ezeli, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green and Leandro Barbosa stepped up. LeBron had no such help.
Looking ahead to the 2015-2016 season and beyond (see http://www.basketball-reference.com/contracts/CLE.html), the Cavaliers salary situation looks like this:
The salary cap is expected to rise to $66.3m this offseason, then to $80m the following year (it is currently $63.1m). The Cavaliers are, as you can see, already paying luxury tax. They are also facing the possibility of dealing with the player options (in green above) of Kevin Love, JR Smith, Mike Miller and, of course, LeBron James. The blue figure next to Mosgov’s name is a team option and it seems likely now that he will be re-signed.
Top free agents that the Cavaliers could chase include Paul Millsap, Brook Lopez (who has a player option), restricted free agent Jimmy Butler, Tyson Chandler, Greg Monroe, restricted free agent Draymond Green (an interesting twist that would be), Glen Davis, DeAndre Jordan, Marc Gasol, Omer Jimmer Fredette, LaMarcus Aldridge, Robin Lopez, or Tim Duncan (!).
There are two things to bear in mind when considering who the Cavs might sign:
1) They were this close to winning the whole thing with Matthew Dellavedova as their starting point guard.
2) LeBron will almost certainly need to have his minutes managed more effectively next season and for the remainder of his career.
It seems unlikely that LeBron would up and leave again, though had he won a title this season the thought of him trying to win a title at an iconic franchise like the New York Knicks would have been fun to consider. As was made obvious during his return to Cleveland, he wants to win a title there, not somewhere else. The Eastern Conference, though certainly not a joke, remains less of a challenge than the West and the fact that LeBron has won it five consecutive seasons says a lot about his ability to dominate other teams in the East. Nobody else has made the finals five consecutive years since the great Celtics team of Bill Russell but LeBron is close to the 36000 minutes played mark for his career. Of players who played this past season, only Joe Johnson, Jason Terry, Andre Miller, Shawn Marion, Vince Carter, Paul Pierce, Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett have played more. The next youngest of that group is Johnson at 33, and LeBron is three years younger. He needs to be used a little more sparingly, even if we aren’t seeing significant signs of wear and tear in his performances.
Meanwhile, the Warriors (http://www.basketball-reference.com/contracts/GSW.html) have the following payroll:
They are only scheduled to have to deal with Draymond Green along with the options for Brandon Rush, a healthy scratch for the finals, and Marreese Speights, used sparingly. Green has surely earned a larger contract with his performances since his selection in the second round of the 2012 draft. The Warriors largely have their salary structure in place for next season, though Klay Thompson is about to see his salary increase five times, which will see their total payroll top $83m. Aside from Green, there seems no real reason to expect that the structure of this Warriors team will alter significantly for the 2015-2016 season as they seek to become back-to-back champions. How much the salary cap increases for the 2016-2017 season could dictate exactly how much of a dynasty this team can become, though the key players are all locked in through to the summer of 2017.