No, LeBron, the Cavaliers' Roster Isn't the Problem

Spending more money would only add one more issue to the Cavs' existing ones. What can they do?

Things are heating up in Cleveland -- and, no, I'm not talking about the weather.

It's that time of year again. Last season, LeBron James and the Cavaliers' front office decided to add a shooter to the team in Channing Frye. The deal took place a little later -- on February 18, to be exact -- but, all the same, LeBron is again telling the Cavs that they need more.

However, this time around, the conversation has been largely public.

According to Brian Windhorst's most recent report, James and owner Dan Gilbert are at odds over payroll spending. Although, we probably knew that already.

In recent weeks, through several public comments and tweets, LeBron has made his displeasure known. He's mentioned that the Cavs have a need for another playmaker, a ball-handler who could alleviate some of the pressure put on he and Kyrie Irving to create on a nightly basis.

But, he's also tweeted about general manager David Griffin and whether he and management are complacent or satisfied with last year's championships.

It sure looks like they're not. Gilbert, Griffin, and company are just being smart.

Everything Has a Price

It was only three weeks ago that the Cavaliers acquired the services of Kyle Korver by way of a trade with the Atlanta Hawks. In order to add Korver's shooting prowess to their list of weapons, Cleveland gave up veterans Mo Williams and Mike Dunleavy but also a 2019 first-round pick.

Thankfully, if everything goes wrong, the pick is top-10 protected. Nonetheless, it was a high price to pay for an elite shooter for only one guaranteed year. That's especially so when you consider that the Cavs won't have a single unencumbered first-round pick until 2021.

For that same reason, Griffin's options are limited in the trade market. They have a lack of both draft assets and actual assets. They don't have much aside from veteran players who are only valuable to a team competing right now.

DeAndre Liggins, Jordan McRae, and Kay Felder -- all of whom have a negative nERD score (a measure of a player's total contribution, based on efficiency) -- won't return a player capable of contributing to a title-contending team.

So, that leaves two options. One is very unlikely, and that is to shake up the rotation by exchanging relevant pieces like Iman Shumpert. The other is to trade what they have left of their future draft picks and disregard the future entirely.

Is that what LeBron wants? Does he want to leave Cleveland with nothing after his reign is over? Because, in disregarding the cost associated with roster additions, it sure seems like it.

Besides, the Cavaliers are already paying enough.

A King's Ransom

With the quickest of glances, you can see that Cleveland is quite invested for the immediate future.

Cleveland Cavaliers Salary Situation 2016-17 2017-18 2018-19
Salary Cap (*Projected) $94.1 *$103.0 *$107.0
Salaries $127.5 $134.6 $155.0
Cap Space -$33.4 -$31.6 -$48.0
Luxury Tax (*Projected) $113.3 *$123.0 *$129.0
Tax Room -$14.3 $2.7 $1.8

While it's true that the league salary cap will continue to increase, so will the Cavaliers' salaries, according to Yahoo's The Vertical. The cap hit will be at its highest in 2018-19, when James turns 34 in his 16th NBA season.

With a player option for that year, James' salary could surpass $35 million. His sidekicks, Irving and Kevin Love, will be asked to take up a more prominent role as they be jointly owed $44 million in the latter stages of their existing contracts.

You might be thinking that this is all necessary in order for the team to sustain some sort of dynasty while James is still among the best players in the league. It very well could be -- especially in today's NBA -- but the Golden State Warriors are going about it differently.

Golden State Warriors Salary Situation 2016-17 2017-18 2018-19
Salary Cap (*Projected) $94.1 *$103.0 *$107.0
Salaries $99.6 $123.7 $23.3
Cap Space -$5.5 -$20.7 $83.7
Luxury Tax (*Projected) $113.3 *$123.0 *$129.0
Tax Room $13.6 $56.0 $87.8

Under the direction of Joe Lacob, general manager Bob Myers has done a great job of assembling a team while limiting the financial effects that come with it. This year, the Warriors are barely above the cap and have, to this point, avoided the luxury tax.

Next year, they actually have a mere $66 million in guaranteed salaries, according to The Vertical's salary breakdown. What that doesn't account for, though, is over $56.6 million in cap holds for Stephen Curry and a few others.

Even though those two numbers, when combined, account for $123.7 in salaries, it's still nearly $10 million below that of the Cavaliers'. And that's factoring a $16.7 million cap hold (according to Spotrac) for what will be a 33-year-old Andre Iguodala. In my opinion, that's not happening.

Maybe the Warriors will run into another money issue, foreseen or not. Maybe that will prevent them from being the league's top team. On the other hand, it could be smooth sailing. They could ensure themselves a seat at the table for years to come.

One thing that's certain is that they've given themselves room for flexibility, something the Cavaliers have failed to do. For that reason, Cleveland is in the position they're in today. They're strapped for cash and have very few future assets to offer.

With a three-game lead over the Toronto Raptors, what they do have is the best team in the Eastern Conference. But, even at that, they're presently squandering the opportunity all the same.

Better Execution

In their last 10 games, the Cavaliers are 4-6. In their last eight, they're 2-6 and have lost three in a row (including two at home). One was an overtime loss to the San Antonio Spurs, another came at the hands of the Warriors at Oracle, and yet another to the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake. However, the three others have been bad losses.

James and the gang have lost to the Blazers, Pelicans and Kings in a matter of seven games. The records of those three teams sum up to 56 wins and 82 losses. In the Western Conference standings, the highest among them is Portland, currently in the nine spot. But that's not the worst part.

Of those three losses, only one team was at full strength and that was the Blazers. Otherwise, the Pelicans were without their best player, Anthony Davis, and the Kings were without their second-best player, Rudy Gay. They weren't just bad losses -- they were terrible losses.

In those three games, the Cavs surrendered an average of 114 points on a defensive rating of 116.1. Their season averages of 105.1 and 108.0 are nowhere near that poor. Defensive execution, in terms of the Four Factors, has been a big problem for them lately.

Defensive Four FactorsOpp eFG%Opp FT RateOpp TOV%Opp OReb%
Season51.3%0.224 13.9%24.5%
Last Ten54.0%0.24115.0%25.7%
Last Five54.0%0.26712.9%24.8%

Securing defensive rebounds and forcing turnovers haven't been a concern. Contesting shots, and doing so without fouling, seems to be a problem, though.

According to, fastbreaks have created good opportunities for opposing teams. In the last five games, teams are averaging 21.2 fastbreak points to 14.1 on the year for the Cavaliers defense.


You can chalk it up to whatever you'd like -- a lack of effort, hustle, or focus -- but the bottom line is that the Cavaliers need to play better defense.

They need to course-correct and get back on the right path toward their championship endeavors before things go further south.

Contrary to popular opinion, it's time to forget the roster. It was good enough last year, and it might be even better this year. The real difficulty is a matter of execution rather than the players behind it.