Small-market teams in the NBA typically struggle to land notable free agents. The only real exception is when a small-market team gets their hands on an NBA superstar. For example, LeBron James in Cleveland swayed many free agents.
Teams located somewhere like Minnesota is simply not as attractive as playing in Los Angeles. Small-market teams especially struggle to land free agents when they are in the midst of rebuilding. An unattractive location combined with losing basketball makes landing good free agents almost impossible.
For the Cleveland Cavaliers, they are experiencing this problem first-hand this offseason. Since LeBron James’ departure, the Cavs have rarely landed any free agents. This has forced Cleveland to primarily rebuild through the draft with some trades here and there.
Cleveland is not the most attractive city for free agents. There has always been a conception that the state of Ohio is boring. Which is certainly true when comparing it to other cities like Miami, Los Angeles or New York. On top of the unattractive location, the Cavaliers have been one of the worst teams in the NBA for three seasons. Not many free agents want to play for a struggling, rebuilding franchise, especially when they are in a “boring” city as well.
Across the Cavs’ franchise history, they were true contenders with James throughout the 2000s and 2010s. Outside of the 2000s, the only time Cleveland has been contenders was in the late 1980s and early 1990s with Mark Price, Brad Daugherty and Larry Nance. In addition, the Cavaliers did make an Eastern Conference Final during the 1975-76 season.
Overall, the Cleveland Cavaliers franchise does not have a great history outside of James. Even with James, the Cavs only have one NBA title to show for in their franchise history since 1970. Cleveland’s bleak history combined with rebuilding and being located in an unattractive destination, makes it extremely difficult to sign free agents.
Fortify Via Trade
The Cavaliers’ free agency woes are in full effect this offseason. Many names were thrown around as possible free agent targets. After the first day of free agency, Cleveland has not signed one free agent. Side note, they did re-sign Jarrett Allen which was huge for their success going forward. Also, the Cavs made a good trade to acquire a good backup point guard, Ricky Rubio. The victories of Allen and Rubio are not free agent wins though.
The Cavs were reportedly targeting some three-point shooting help. Chris Fedor Cleveland.com mentioned several possible targets,
As free agency has kicked off & belief is Alec Burks is probably going back to the Knicks & Doug McDermott is going to get more than the full mid-level exception, maybe from the Spurs, #Cavs are showing interest in Furkan Korkmaz and Reggie Bullock, sources tell @clevelanddotcom
— Chris Fedor (@ChrisFedor) August 2, 2021
All mentioned targets are now gone after the first day of free agency. It appears the Cavs were not even close to signing any of the named targets. All potential targets signed with playoff caliber teams or well-thought-of franchises.
Cleveland is simply left with one option. The Cavaliers have to continue to fortify their roster through drafting and trading. Their entire young core was mostly drafted, Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, Isaac Okoro and Evan Mobley. Over the years, the Cavs acquired Allen, Larry Nance Jr. and Kevin Love all through trade. As mentioned, Rubio can be added to the list of Cavaliers acquired via trade. For not landing many free agents at all, Koby Altman has done pretty well rebuilding the roster.
For this offseason, any good role players for Cleveland will have to be gained through trade.
Terrence Ross. Joe Ingles. Bojan Bogdanovic (but I’ve heard this one could be tricky for some reasons I don’t fully understand). TJ Warren. Jeremy Lamb. Kyle Anderson. Maybe Dillon Brooks? Tobias Harris. Cam Reddish. Harrison Barnes. Those are the possible names to watch. https://t.co/0kEzVzdHMw
— Chris Fedor (@ChrisFedor) August 3, 2021
However, this seems unlikely since most teams have a hefty price for good wings. Someone like Joe Ingles would be awesome for the Cavs. On the other hand, would he be worth a first-rounder or Larry Nance Jr. when he’s on an expiring contract?
If Cleveland ever wants to be a contender again, they are going to have to land some free agents eventually. Building a winning franchise through purely drafting and trading is a very tall order to say the least.
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