Created on Monday, 18 March 2013 Written by Bob Finnan RFinnan@News-Herald.com @BobCavsInsider,writer
When you get right down to it, most of the players on the Cavaliers' roster are auditioning for spots on next year's team — either here or somewhere else.
A few players at the end of the roster will be hard-pressed to find NBA jobs next year. Others are headed for stardom.
The following is a rundown on the roster and the prospects for each next season:
Kyrie Irving: There's no question about his talent level. He's on the fast track to stardom. The only issue is his durability, or lack thereof. Missing 15 to 20 games a year is not ideal, but he can't change the way he plays. Irving's third-year option has already been picked up by the Cavs. They'll exercise the fourth-year option in the offseason, and then try to extend him in the summer of 2014. He's an obvious keeper.
Dion Waiters: The rookie is expanding his game with Irving on the sidelines. Unfortunately, he's not the closer that Irving is. They don't have another player on the team that can close out games. Waiters' numbers, most notably his shooting percentage, continue to rise. He's now shooting 41.2 percent from the field. He has three years left on his rookie contract and is one of the team's fixtures.
Tristan Thompson: His improvement in his second season has been one of the feel-good stories of 2012-13. He was a bit overmatched against Tim Duncan on Saturday, but who isn't? He's on the same rookie deal as Irving and is one of the Cavs' building blocks.
Tyler Zeller: The rookie has extreme spikes up to his game. He couldn't stay on the court vs. the Spurs because of foul trouble. The Cavs say there's no reason to worry. Once he settles in and the game slows down, he'll be a good player. He has three years left on his rookie contract. I believe he'll be the first big man off the bench next year, a role that suits him perfectly.
Alonzo Gee: His shooting has been in decline for quite some time. It's become very apparent he shouldn't be in the starting lineup. He should be the team's eighth or ninth man. He has a place on the team, but doesn't provide the kind of offensive firepower needed for a team's starting small forward. He has two years left on his contract. However, his $3 million deal in 2014-15 isn't guaranteed. A replacement in the starting lineup could be the team's biggest need in the offseason.
Marreese Speights: He has a player's option on his 2013-14 deal, and is expected to opt out. There's a chance he could remain, but my thinking is he wants a multi-year contract. GM Chris Grant's trade with Memphis on Jan. 22 made the Cavs more competitive. Speights gives them a legitimate big man off the bench. Will the Cavs meet his contract demands, likely in the $5 million range? If I had to predict, I'd say no.
Wayne Ellington: He's a professional player, can defend and shoot from behind the arc. The Cavs can make him a restricted free agent by giving him a $3.1 million qualifying offer. I could see him accepting a similar deal to Gee's — three years, $9.75 million. The Cavs should bring him back.
C.J. Miles: He runs hot and cold, and everything is predicated on whether his perimeter shot is falling. When it is, he can be quite devastating. When it's not, it affects his entire game. The Cavs have a $2.25 million option on his contract for next year. For that kind of money, he should be brought back.
Shaun Livingston: He played for $806,323 this year. He's unrestricted this summer. Some think he'll price his way out of re-signing with the Cavs. Would a two-year, $4 million offer get the job done? If not, they'll have to go out and find another backup point guard. Sometimes, that's a dicey proposal, even though the market is flooded with backup point guards. He's done nothing but make them better since he arrived on Dec. 25.
Luke Walton: He'll soon be 33 years old, by far the oldest player on the team. He's gotten better and better as the season has worn on. Against the Spurs, he was the first man off the bench. It was a typical game for him, too, with three points, seven assists and three steals. If he would accept the league minimum — or close to it — the Cavaliers might bring him back for another year.
Anderson Varejao: He should be listed with the starters, but his season was cut short by injury for the third consecutive year. Can the Cavs rely on him? When he's healthy, he makes them a far better and more competitive team. If you think Irving is injury-prone, Varejao is even worse. He's played a total of 81 games in the last three years. That means he's missed two entire seasons in the last three. He's the Cavs' highest-paid player (not counting Baron Davis, who was amnestied) and has two years left after this year at about $9 million per season. His 2014-15 contract is not fully guaranteed.
Daniel Gibson: He's reached the end of the line with the Cavs, just 16 games remaining. Some think he's a minimum guy next year wherever he signs. It won't be in Cleveland. He does play hard, but can't seem to stay on the court long enough to make an impact. That once deadly 3-point shot is long gone.
Omri Casspi: Sometimes, one forgets he's still on the team. He hasn't played since Feb. 6. Much of that is because of his appendectomy. The rest is because he's fallen off the face of the earth. He's not in Coach Byron Scott's rotation. There were rumors he wanted to be bought out of his contract (it didn't happen) and wanted to be traded (he's still here). The Cavs can offer him a $3.3 million qualifying offer, but I think they'll pass. That would make him unrestricted.
Kevin Jones: He has not exactly solidified his spot on next year's team. He's played so little, it's hard to make the call whether he's an NBA player. He is a hustle guy, who is very active. All the talk about him being a "stretch 4" was total bunk. His shot doesn't extend to the 3-point line. He can shoot a mid-range shot and does hit the boards. He's playing for the minimum. He might be asked to play for the Cavs' summer-league team. Don't expect him to be back next season.
Scott had the option year picked up on his deal for next year, worth in the $4.5 million range. If there's any question that he's not the guy to lead them when or if they become good, they should part ways now. My guess is he'll be given the chance to take them into Phase II — a borderline playoff team next year. His critics are starting to become more vocal as the year rolls on. Injuries are a legitimate excuse this year, but there's no reason this team shouldn't have won 30 or more games. His team's lack of defense is a concern. The Spurs shot 57.7 percent from the field on Saturday. Owner Dan Gilbert desperately wants a strong defensive club, much like he had with former coach Mike Brown. The lackluster third quarters are costing the Cavaliers games.