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The Cavs make smart moves in the NBA’s 'frenzied' free agency market

Miami Heat guard Max Strus against the Denver Nuggets during the first half of Game 5 of basketball's NBA Finals, Monday, June 12, 2023, in Denver.
Jack Dempsey
Miami Heat guard Max Strus against the Denver Nuggets during the first half of Game 5 of basketball's NBA Finals, Monday, June 12, 2023, in Denver.

The opening day of the NBA's free agency signing period is a frenzied time when people wait to see where the big stars land. As for the Cavs, they made a couple of moves on June 30 aimed at strengthening their core, acquiring Max Strus and Georges Niang, and retaining Caris LeVert.

“Probably a lot of casual fans said, ‘Well, who are these guys?’ especially if they heard all of these different big names going elsewhere to different teams,” Ideastream Public Media sports commentator Terry Pluto said.

Pluto says the six-foot-five Max Strus will likely be a starter.

“He came out of DePaul. He was not drafted. He went to camp with the Boston Celtics and got cut. He went to the Chicago Bulls, got cut, got picked up by Miami. They worked with him, and he went from being a guy to sort of end of the bench to starting in the NBA Finals for Miami, and then signing a four-year, $63 million contract with the Cavaliers to play small forward,” Pluto said.

Georges Niang will likely come off the bench.

“[He] played at Virginia Tech, and then he played in Utah, where he got to be known as ‘The Minivan,’ but I'm not sure why. He's about six-foot-eight. He's not particularly athletic, but he can really shoot. And his last stop was Philadelphia,” Pluto said.

Pluto said the goal for the Cavs was to get more shooters.

“The Cavaliers watched themselves get kicked out of the playoffs by the Knicks for two reasons. One, they got outrebounded a lot, but a big thing was they couldn't score 100 points. They said, ‘We need to have outside shooting to draw the defense out so some of our better players can drive to the rim.’ So, they would go to the market and said, ‘Who are the kind of guys we could sign that are not super expensive?’ I know everybody's mind is blowing out, ‘Oh yeah, 63 million is a bargain.’ But basically, right now the average NBA player makes nearly $10 million a year,” Pluto said.

The Cavs also retained Caris LeVert on a two-year, $32 million deal.

“I like LeVert. I mean, he's not great, but he's a pretty decent player. He can play small forward [or] a shooting guard, he's athletic. He actually is one of the few guys that played pretty well against the Knicks in the playoffs. He averaged 15 points in those games,” Pluto said.

Pluto says the moves are aimed to strengthen the Cavs’ core.

“They said, ‘We have four guys we want to come back with, and that's Donovan Mitchell and Jarrett Allen, Darius Garland and Evan Mobley.’ And they said, ‘We're not going to just go crazy because we got knocked out in the first round of the playoffs and fire everybody,’” Pluto said.

He adds that the big splash on the first day of the free agency signing period is by design.

“Remember, the NBA is like a manic league. Their brains fall out of their head, their eyes get wide in the offseason and they set up this whole thing now like that for the weekend, much like the NFL does with the beginning of their free agency period, where it's a flurry of moves, it's a frenzy. And remember, they're all together. It's show biz.”

He likes the approach the Cavs took.

“Oftentimes, stability will pay off for you. If you've got some good core players, you just have to kind of ride the rollercoaster of ups and downs because you know how it is in the playoffs. You can have a bad week, and you're done. That's how the Cavs looked at it,” Pluto said.

And he says bigger isn’t always better.

“Sometimes in your quest to make a big move, you can make a really dumb move. A lot of times we've seen, had you just stayed patient with some of your guys, it would have paid off better.

And Pluto says the Cavs made their big move a year ago, signing Donovan Mitchell.

“Donovan Mitchell did what they wanted him to do for his first year. He made sure the team got in the playoffs. They won 51 games, they lost 31 games. They sold out at home. I mean, they were great entertainment with a team where the average starters’ age is 24. None of the [Cavs] starters are over the age of 26. So, this is not the time to blow it up just so you can get a bunch of time on ESPN and a lot of Internet hits,” Pluto said.

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