Ricky Rubio reunion, potential free agent goals and more: Cavs mailbag, part 2

We had so many great questions in our Cleveland Cavaliers mailbag last week that a second question was asked. In Part Two, we’ll touch on players like Dylan Wendler and Lamar Stevens, any chances to bring back Ricky Rubio, potential point guards in the free agency, the upcoming draft and more.

If you missed the first part of the mailbag, check it out here. Let’s move on to Part 2.

(Note: The questions presented have been modified slightly for clarity and length.)

What are the odds that Cavs can or will bring in a relatively big name free agent? Will the really good players come to a city like Cleveland? – Alex A.

For many of us who live in Cleveland, we love it here. But even after the success of the Cavs during the 2021-22 NBA season and with their rise as a team, Cleveland isn’t a big-name destination for the free agent just yet. Furthermore, Cavs don’t really have the salary cap space needed to bring in big name free agents. They have exceeded the maximum salary but are subject to the luxury tax line. Cleveland has a mid-level exception, worth about $10 million per year, that they can use with a free proxy. It can be used on a player who can help the Cavs improve, but this will not bring the best free agent.

Is there any chance of bringing back Ricky Rubio, and do you think he’ll help the team host him next season? – Contact Dr.

I wouldn’t judge a Rubio reunion entirely because there’s still a lot on the table in regards to this off season, especially since he’s an unrestricted free agent. There are a number of questions here that will affect the outlook for Rubio’s return. I think the biggest factor is Rubio’s health and recovery from his ACL rupture in December and subsequent surgery. I haven’t heard a specific timeline for Rubio’s return and when he will be ready to play. However, the Cavs have a slot to fill in the reserve guard post. If Rubio isn’t quite ready, Cleveland will either have to run without a backup guard if they decide to re-sign him or go another direction at free agency to bring in another veteran.

Rubio’s impact on Cleveland in the first few months of the 2021-22 season was undeniable. Darius Garland has helped grow as a head ranger and has demonstrated a seasoned presence on the ground. But if it does come back, there may be a question about how effective it is on the ground, especially with a history of injury and rupturing the same ACL twice.

What do you think of (Dylan) Wendler? I feel like this team lacks a consistent external shooting threat. (Kevin) Love saves a lot of distance, but I’m afraid losing it to age/decade will hurt the team big time. I always thought Wendler would be that guy for us, but it never seemed to come to fruition. – Mitch M.

I had high hopes for Windler when he was recruited by the Cavs, especially as an outside fire threat. But all of Wendler’s injuries during the first three seasons set him back and didn’t allow him a chance to grow or find a rhythm in the NBA. Wendler missed the junior season due to a left tibial stress reaction, which eventually required surgery. He underwent knee surgery at the end of his second season during the 2020-21 season.

Last season, Windler played in 50 games, averaging 2.2 points while shooting 37.8% from the field and 30% from 3. He spent time with the Cleveland Charge – of the Cavs’ G League – earning reps and playing. Wendler’s time in the NBA wasn’t as successful as many thought, considering the potential they saw. Injuries really held him back and didn’t allow him a chance to build a high level of consistent play in the NBA. However, I think if he can find consistency in his playing time and improve his performance – especially in shooting from 3 – he can still influence the league as an outside threat. I think there is still this possibility. It’s just that Windler gets a chance to do it.

Hi Kelsey. Lamar Stevens has been on my radar since he penalized Ohio State as a Penn State player. I think his NBA play has improved dramatically and he has the upside of being selected in the first round from the middle. Can you believe the Cavs see it this way? – John F.

The Cavs understand Stevens has improved, and helped pave the way for himself in the NBA. After he went without drafting, Stevens first signed a two-way contract with the Cavs. In 2021, he signed a multi-year deal. Stevens developed into a player Cleveland needed, and embraced the role the coaching staff gave him.

Coach JB Bickerstaff spoke at various points last season about Stevens’ toughness and defensive instincts, which proved useful when he was on the ground with Cleveland. It helped spark the Cavs’ bench barking and inspired the team’s Junkyard Dog series. Stevens played 63 games last season, winning 13 games. He shot 48.9 percent from the field and 27.7 percent from 3, averaging 6.1 points per game. He also averaged 16.1 minutes per game.

I don’t necessarily think the view is now to pick a mid-level one in the first round, but there is an understanding of what Stevens can bring to the table in terms of his defense, how he can run and cut and, in specific scenarios, score. There is recognition of his skill set and what he brings as a role player.

Tyus Jones comes off the best 3-point shooting season, noting 39 percent of 3s in 2.8 attempts per game. (Kyle Terada/USA Today)

Who are the realistic Free Agent Point Guards that can be targeted except for the mid-level Cavs? Shouldn’t a competent veteran warrior have priority to command the second unit? – Matthew S.

The Cavs have a few needs they can handle this season, one of them being a backup guard. Bringing in a veteran to lead Unit Two – as the Cavs did with Rubio, and Rajon Rondo after Rubio was injured – makes sense. The Cavs saw how effective Rubio was on and off the ground, as well as Rondo in the way he established himself as a veteran captain.

The reserve point guard should be a priority, especially if the Cavs take a wing in the draft on June 23 with pick number 14. Then the front office can shift its focus to bringing in a seasoned reserve guard. When it comes to realistic free agent goals with their mid-level exception, the Cavs can look to unrestricted free agents such as Tyus Jones (who made around $7.6 million in the 2021-22 season with the Memphis Grizzlies) or Delon Wright (who made around $7.6 million in the 2021-22 season with the Memphis Grizzlies) $8.5 million during the 2021-22 season with the Atlanta Hawks). Both men could fit in with this mid-level exception that is worth about $10 million a year.

It seems to me that Cavaliers are always up to the hell of a salary cap. Now, decisions must be made for the following players: Sexton, Garland, Levert, Love, Okoro and Osman. What priority will the players be ranked? – Dennis S.

The Cavs walk a fine line between exceeding the salary cap but under the luxury tax line.

I think there are some of the most urgent decisions in that group listed over others. One of the biggest is coming with Collin Sexton’s free agency this summer. Will the team re-sign him? If so, what does this new decade look like? During Sexton’s exit interview, he expressed his desire to remain in Cleveland. During his recent press conference, Chief of Basketball Operations Kobe Altman spoke about Sexton’s importance to the team. What will happen is money and if both parties can find a number they agree on.

The other two associated with this outsider are Garland’s rookie contract extension and Karis Levert’s contract extension. After the jump, taking Garland last season as their primary goalkeeper, extending Garland makes sense for Cleveland in the long run. While Altman said there is room in the roster to add similar players like Sexton and LeVert, this is something the team will need to consider. Levert is also a candidate for a contract extension this summer, as he has one year left on his contract, worth $18.8 million.

Kevin Love is interesting because he has another year left on his contract for the 2022-23 season. After that, it becomes an unrestricted free agent. With Love making the sacrifices to come off the bench and play for fewer minutes during the 2021-22 season, he showed how important his veteran presence was and why he was a candidate for the sixth man of the year. I think Low increased his commercial value because of his playing last season. Love is in the final year of his $29 million contract, making him a very popular player that the Cavs could include in a deal if they wanted to. But the Cavs need veterans on this young team, and Love brings that necessary veteran presence and has critical relationships with the younger players on this team. Love also has a strong relationship with Bickerstaff, which proved his worth last season.

Isaac Okoro has a club option for the 2023-24 season, which the Cavs must decide to exercise by October. It is likely that that decision later follows these others, along with Sidi Othmane, who still has two seasons left on his contract before becoming an unrestricted free agent in 2024.

Rank these potential clients from your point of view and from a CAVS perspective: Usman Deng, Tari Eason, and AJ Griffin. Oh, add Jalen Williams to that list, please. – Justin E.

In my view, I would rank those prospects as Tari Eason, Ousmane Dieng, Jalen Williams, and AJ Griffin.

I’m ranking Griffin last because I don’t think he’ll be on the board with the Cavs in 14th. Athletic Sam Vicini placed Griffin in ninth place in his post-lottery mock draft. The other thing with Griffin is that while he can shoot the ball, there are some questions about his defense.

Ding is only 19 years old, so there is a positive side to him. But overall, I think Eason could be a better fit for Cleveland than Dieng. Eason’s jumping can use some work, but I like his defensive skill set and how he can protect a number of different players. Williams is impressive to me because he seemed to help improve his stock with the NBA Combine outing. He’s a winger — an area that lacks depth on Cleveland’s roster — but the question will be how much has his stock increased? Is it that big of a jump to pick a late lottery?

(Top photo by Ricky Rubio: David Richard/USA Today)

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