INDEPENDENCE: The Cavaliers have two promising rookies, another high draft pick on the way and about $20 million in cap space this summer. But hold off on printing those playoff tickets just yet.
The team is committed to a long-term rebuild, which might not include a postseason run next year, either.
“We’re headed in the right direction. It’s still going to be a long process,” coach Byron Scott said Friday as the Cavaliers held their exit interviews and said goodbye for the offseason. “We’re probably not going to be there this coming year, but if we hit home runs in the draft, it puts us in a position to get much better quicker.”
The Cavaliers concluded a 21-45 season on Thursday and immediately began looking toward the summer. They finished tied with the New Orleans Hornets for the league’s third-worst record, but won the tiebreaker on Friday to secure the No. 3 slot in the draft.
Now they’ll enter the May 30 lottery with 138 chances out of 1,000 to win the No. 1 pick. Once the top three draft positions are established through the lottery, the rest of the teams will be slotted based on record. That means the Cavaliers can draft no lower than sixth. They’ll have four of the first 34 picks in June’s draft.
“I feel very, very good about the future of our franchise,” Scott said.
It just might take awhile to get there. This isn’t a strong crop of free agents and the Cavs have no interest in short-term fixes. Their vision includes using the draft, timely trades and low-cost free-agent signings to build a contender.
For anyone expecting the Cavs to exhaust their cap space with a sexy free-agent signing, particularly during a summer when half the league has a lot of cap space, forget it.
“We have a lot of cap space, but cap space doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go spend it,” Cavs General Manager Chris Grant said. “If we’re going to spend, I want to spend wisely. We don’t want to overpay guys. If a guy fits into a role of what we’re trying to do and can grow with our team, then great. If not, we’re going to stay disciplined.”
The Cavs enter the summer with five free agents on their roster. Alonzo Gee, Semih Erden and Luke Harangody can be restricted free agents if the Cavs extend each a qualifying offer of $1.1 million, otherwise they will be unrestricted and free to sign with any team.
Of the three, only Gee would seem a lock to return. The Cavs love the progress he made this season, and Gee is comfortable and happy in Cleveland.
The two unrestricted free agents are Antawn Jamison and Anthony Parker. Jamison has already said he won’t return next season — he didn’t bother showing up for Friday’s exit interviews with the coaches and front office — and Parker is contemplating retirement.
The team must decide how to replace them in the locker room, but those discussions between Grant and Scott won’t be held until Scott returns to Cleveland in about a month. He is first headed to Los Angeles for a few weeks to decompress and meet his first grandchild.
What the Cavaliers know for sure at this point is they have two cornerstone pieces in Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson, both of whom exceeded expectations in their own right. Scott said he knew by the second game of the season Irving was a special player and he was thrilled by the progress Thompson made with his free-throw shooting following a small adjustment to his footwork at the line.
It could fall on Irving to fill some of that leadership role vacated by Jamison and Parker. Irving had a voice in the locker room, but his rookie status sometimes prevented him from speaking out.
Now he is headed to July’s summer league in Las Vegas in part to acclimate himself to the two first-round picks that are coming in June.
“One thing we built foundation-wise with A.P. and A.J. was a solid locker room I think they already planted that foundation, and Andy [Varejao] and Boobie [Daniel Gibson] have taken it to the next level. I don’t think he’s going to have to go in there and try to be a leader. It has to be something that’s natural. I think he has that in him.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at https://ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.