CLEVELAND -- Here's something unsurprising: The Cleveland Cavaliers are headed for a stressful summer.
Their front office has little time to assess their Finals run. As of July 1, they could have 10 free agents to deal with, including four of their Finals starters. Yes, including LeBron James. The Cavs have many burning questions this summer, but here are five of the most pressing ones:
1. What will the Cavs do with LeBron in free agency?
Give him whatever he wants, of course. Last summer, that was a one-year contract with a player option for the next season. That may well be what James wants again so that he can position himself to be a free agent again in 2016, when the NBA salary cap is expected to jump to nearly $90 million.
To illustrate: If James signs a long-term deal this summer, his salary in 2016-17 would be around $24 million. If he waits until after next season to sign, his salary for that year is projected to be over $30 million. (Don't worry, he'll get an option year for the 2016-17 $24 million just in case.)
The bigger issue for the Cavs will be timing. They would be quite pleased if James was to announce he was accepting another contract shortly after midnight on July 1, as Kyrie Irving did last summer, when he signed an $80 million extension.
But it is likelier that James will do what he has done his past two free agencies, which is wait to see what plays out elsewhere. This time there is little fear that he's got a wandering eye -- although if you were the Los Angeles Lakers or New York Knicks, you'd better put a call in just to make sure -- but he may want to ensure that owner Dan Gilbert takes care of some other free agents before he puts the fanbase at ease ... at least for 12 more months.
It could take a couple of weeks.
2. What will the Cavs do with Kevin Love in free agency?
This is a complex question because of two factors: Love's health and how the Cavs didn't miss a beat without him in the playoffs. With a skyrocketing payroll and a questionable fit, is it really prudent to commit to a huge deal with a player who may not be what they need to achieve the next level?
Numerous league executives, though, say it's sort of a no-brainer: The Cavs will offer Love a max contract of five years and around $100 million. Despite shoulder surgery, a bad back and a worrisome knee, Love figures to get multiple max offers this summer. Such is the market.
Will Love sign it? He's repeatedly said that he intends to be with the Cavs next year and into the future. The issue is that almost no one in the league believes it yet, so he will be courted on July 1. Of all of the high-profile free agents this summer, executives still believe Love and LaMarcus Aldridge are the likeliest to be willing to change teams.
As for the Cavs, they simply have too much invested in Love after trading Andrew Wiggins and their 2016 first-round pick to get him last summer. Even if they do the deal knowing he won't be with the team long term, they need to keep him as an asset.
Love is in position to ask for a shorter contract if he wants flexibility to re-enter free agency when the cap jumps in 2016-17. This also may be a way to have some control if the Cavs want to trade him in the near future; teams would be wary if he was on a shorter deal.
But one thing the Cavs have going for them in this situation is that if Love decides to walk in free agency, Cleveland will not be crestfallen. The Cavs now know they can be still be great without him going forward.
3. What will the Cavs do with Tristan Thompson in free agency?
There are exceptions to any rule, but most of the time, players who sign extensions to their rookie contracts in October turn out to be good deals for the team. The Cavs gambled on Thompson after not meeting his price last fall, and it's going to cost them.
Thompson was a sixth man during the season and was seen mostly as an energy big man off the bench. But he proved invaluable in the playoffs, especially in the wake of Love's injury. He figures to be a hugely important player in the playoffs for the foreseeable future. He generates extra possessions, has a relentless motor and can switch on to smaller players in vital defensive possessions. His health record is also spotless.
It has been floated that Thompson could get a maximum-level contract. The Cavs are likely to balk at that and tell Thompson to go get an offer and they'll match it. But if they go that route, they should settle in for a long fight. His agent, Rich Paul, went eye-to-eye with the Phoenix Suns with restricted free agent Eric Bledsoe last summer. After months of saber-rattling and drama, Bledsoe got a $70 million deal.
Paul is also James' agent, and if he wanted to play hardball -- and why shouldn't he? -- Paul could just tell the Cavs he wanted to deal with Thompson before dealing with James' free agency. That might get things done quickly.
Bottom line: Thompson will be back and it will be for big money, and the Cavs will probably end up being OK with it. Even if it takes until next year's playoffs to remind them.
4. What will the Cavs do with Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith and Matthew Dellavedova in free agency?
Well, now, this is tougher. Irving is about to start a max contract, and if James, Love and Thompson are signed to huge numbers, the Cavs will face a historic luxury-tax bill. But they're going to have to deal with these free-agent guards for one important reason: They can't easily replace them.
With the No. 23 draft pick, limited trade assets and little options for outside free agents, the Cavs really need these players back. This fact will not be lost on either side.
"The issue with the Cavs is that their role players all played great during the playoffs," one league executive said. "And now they're going to want star money because they all happen to be free agents."
Shumpert should be looking at the four-year, $42 million deal that fellow 2010 draft pick Alec Burks got from the Utah Jazz last fall. Most executives see Burks as having more upside than Shumpert, especially offensively, but Shumpert is the type of 3-and-D player who is so coveted in the league right now. Shumpert certainly helped the Cavs defensively after arriving, and at 24, he's still reasonably young. They'll probably see whether he gets an offer elsewhere to match, but they really need to keep him.
At one time, the Knicks were so convinced that Smith wouldn't opt out of the $6 million on his contract that they gave Shumpert away to the Cavs just to get Smith off their books. Smith's numbers in Cleveland were virtually identical to the ones he had in New York, but he blended nicely with James. Now it seems like a lock that he'll opt out.
It's hard to figure what the market will be for Smith because of his inconsistent play and disciplinary history. Some executives think Smith, 29, will be looking for at least a three-year deal, and that may chill the demand. James will want Smith back, but if he wants much of a raise, this will become a hard call considering the Cavs' other debts. If the market for Smith is soft, the Cavs may get away with being able to low-ball him -- a risk Smith must consider before taking the opt-out.
A few months ago Dellavedova was barely hanging on to his spot in the league. Some executives still see him as a borderline backup, if one who is a fearless competitor. He'd probably have more of a market if he were a better shooter. A few teams are kicking the tires on him, but the fact that he's restricted may make it tough for him to get a legit offer sheet.
Because Dellavedova is such a fan favorite and was vital to the Cavs in the playoffs, his agent will probably push for a premium contract. But the Cavs were looking for an upgrade for Delly throughout the season, and there's a chance they could even find one with their first-round pick. They would prefer to keep him, but if he gets an offer for more than $3 million a year, which is an acceptable rate for a backup point guard, the Cavs might have to say goodbye.
5. What will happen to David Blatt?
He'll go back to Israel as a hero, that's for sure. And he has earned a vacation away from James, who made life hard on him basically from day one.
It says something that a first-year coach who led his team to the Finals despite massive expectations, roster upheaval, crucial injuries and an unrelenting media microscope is even questioned about returning. But James' and even some other Cavaliers' consistent public undercutting of Blatt leaves little choice but to ponder the issue.
If James passed on chances to criticize Blatt during this season, they were few and far between. Their relationship is one of the most unusual between any superstar and coach over the past decade. But Blatt has a reputation for finding a way to make any situation work for him, and this is no exception. He mostly stayed out of James' way and accepted the thousand paper cuts without it ever affecting his swagger. That took some serious work and patience.
Blatt is well liked by Gilbert and is strongly supported by general manager David Griffin. The only way he wouldn't be back is if James forced it, but that's not James' style. He may just go on operating the way he wants and expect Blatt to deal with it. That's what happened most of this year anyway.
On the bright side for Blatt, no one can infuriate him by calling him a rookie coach (as James did numerous times) again.