OAKLAND – Cleveland Cavaliers coach Ty Lue doesn’t think his team is that far behind the Golden State Warriors.
“I don't see a big gap,” Lue said following Golden State’s 129-120 Game 5 victory on Monday and 4-1 Finals win over the Cavs.
LeBron James pondered the question: How can any team beat the Warriors, given that they are expected to have Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson for at least the next two seasons?
“As far as that team, they're going to be here for a while,” James said. “They're going to be around for a while. Pretty much all their guys are in their 20s. Pretty much all their big-name guys are in their 20s, and they don't show any signs of slowing down.
“So there's going to be a lot of teams that's trying to figure out ways to put personnel together to try and match that if they're able to actually face them in the playoff series, both Eastern Conference and Western Conference. From my eyes, they're built to last a few years. So, we'll see.”
It’s a dilemma for the Cavs and 28 other teams, but the Cavs are the team with the best and most realistic opportunity of returning to the Finals from the Eastern Conference and competing with the Warriors because they have James, who became the first player to average a triple-double in the Finals.
The status quo won’t cut it for the Cavaliers, and it’s obvious that adding quality role players isn’t the answer. Cleveland needs another All-Star-caliber player to compete with Golden State.
But the Cavs are not only over the salary cap line for the 2017-18 season, they also are over the luxury tax. They don’t have the salary cap flexibility to add a star in free agency.
It will take a major trade to acquire that kind of player, and then it’s a question of whom the Cavaliers trade. Kevin Love often pops up as the most viable option, but before it gets down to that, it’s not known who will make a decision of that magnitude.
General manager David Griffin’s contract is set to expire, and it’s odd he doesn’t have a deal in place with Cavs majority owner Dan Gilbert.
Griffin, who is paid among the bottom third of GMs in the league, has built a roster with limited salary cap flexibility, and Cleveland has played in three consecutive Finals, winning the championship in 2016. The Cavs’ front office has done a tremendous job filling roster spots with trade exceptions, veteran’s minimum deals and the buyout market.
There’s no guarantee Griffin is back in Cleveland next season, especially if the parameters of an offer don’t appeal to him. He has options, too, outside of Cleveland. He could take a season off and work in TV, or he could end up with another team. The Milwaukee Bucks don’t have a GM, and they could snag Griffin if the price is right.
James, Love, Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Channing Frye and Richard Jefferson are under contract for next season. The general manager needs to make improvements to that roster.
“Not one time did I feel like we were overmatched until probably like I looked up, there was like a minute and 20 (seconds), and we were down 13, I believe, or something at that point,” James said, “and I was like, OK, we left everything on the floor, and it still wasn't enough.”