In a league wising up to the value of perimeter defense, Cleveland moved early to solidify a new deal with restricted free agent Iman Shumpert. Had the Cavaliers let Shumpert set his value on the open market, it’s possible that their already swollen payroll and prospective luxury tax bill would take on a further few, needless million. A preemptive agreement helped Cleveland to secure Shumpert’s return on a four-year deal worth $40 million (including a reported player option), as first reported by Basketball Insiders.
That’s a rich contract, to be sure, but a workable one for a team that very much needs Shumpert’s perimeter defense. The presence of a dedicated stopper positionally situated between LeBron James and Kyrie Irving helps both stars manage more preferable matchups and streamline their responsibilities. Shumpert has the energy to pressure or closely trail top-notch opponents as his primary focus. He’s also flat better for the task than Irving, Matthew Dellavedova, or any other Cavaliers guard. Quality defensive options with any semblance of an offensive game don’t often come cheap, as we’ve seen in the booming market for DeMarre Carroll and Khris Middleton.
Shumpert isn’t the shooter that either Carroll or Middleton are, though he does have a fair spot-up jumper and can contribute some secondary play-making. The Finals were not a fair demonstration of his ability; a groin injury nagged at Shumpert’s drives and jumps, depriving him of explosion against a fast-rotating defense. Some of Shumpert’s Finals shortcomings (the wobbly jumper, the spats of poor decision-making) are implicit glitches in his offensive game. Others were exaggerated by injury or brought out in the matchup, which wasn’t an entirely accurate showcase of the 25-year-old’s basketball faculties. His valuation stems from a longer, healthier sample size.
Cleveland, as has been noted, also had rather little say in the matter. Bringing back Shumpert was more or less an obligation. As long as James is in a position to opt-out of his yearly deals and apply pressure to the Cavs’ front office, they’ll have an active incentive to spend as much as is needed to maximize their chances of winning. Keeping Shumpert, a role player on a team with three max players and the near-max Tristan Thompson, at a salary that will broach eight figures is a costly part of that formula.
Cavs owner Dan Gilbert seems game to pay whatever is necessary—a stance confirmed on Wednesday by an $80 million deal for Thompson and a $110 commitment to Kevin Love. The final tab, when all of Cleveland’s moves are said and done, should be monumental. Such is the enduring cost of James’s return, which brought with it only the first of what could be many taxpaying seasons to come.