CLEVELAND (AP) — The Cavaliers made their first move of the summer, the easiest one.
As expected, the team picked up the $5 million option on center Timofey Mozgov’s contract for next season on Tuesday.
There was never a doubt the Cavs would bring back the 7-foot-1 center, acquired in a January trade from Denver in exchange for two first-round draft picks.
Mozgov transformed the Cavs on defense, giving them a rim-protecting big man after Anderson Varejao was lost for the season with an Achilles injury.
Mozgov, who will turn 29 in a few weeks, averaged a career-high 10.6 points and 6.9 rebounds in 45 regular-season starts. He became a needed offensive option during the postseason when Kevin Love sustained a playoff-ending shoulder injury. And Mozgov responded by averaging 10.6 points and 7.3 rebounds in 20 postseason starts.
In Game 4 of the finals, he scored 28 points against Golden State.
Coach David Blatt credited the arrival of Mozgov along with guards J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert from New York in helping turn around the season for the Cavs, who were 19-20 in mid-January.
In the next few weeks, the Cavs have other pressing roster issues, including trying to sign superstar LeBron James to a long-term contract extension.
When he returned last summer after four seasons in Miami, James signed a two-year, $42.2 million contract which included the ability to opt out of his deal after the first year.
General manager David Griffin said last week that he expects both James and Love to opt out of their contracts, but he’s confident both want to return to a Cleveland team that came within two wins of an NBA title despite being undermanned.
“I think everybody who has the potential to opt out in this climate probably will,” Griffin said, “and I anticipate that we’ve created the kind of environment and culture that they want to be part of. I have no reason to believe that any of those players don’t want to be back, quite frankly.”
James can wait until next week to inform the Cavs of his intentions. Although the 30-year-old Ohio native has indicated he will spend the rest of his career with Cleveland, the Cavs would still like to have his name on a lengthy deal just in case.
But with the NBA’s salary cap set to soar when a new TV deal kicks in at the start of the 2016-17 season, James may wait to cash in even bigger.
Love’s deadline to opt out is Thursday night, when the Cavs will pick 24th in the draft.
Last summer, they packaged top overall selection Andrew Wiggins in a blockbuster, three-team trade with Minnesota to acquire Love, a former All-Star who put up solid numbers with the Cavs, but didn’t always seem to be thrilled about his new surroundings or role.
During Cleveland’s postseason run, Love said he would be back next season, but the question now is whether the 26-year-old wants to be with the Cavs long term.
If he hits the open market, Love will certainly draw interest from other teams. But none of them has James — or Kyrie Irving — and none can offer as much money as Cleveland can.
If he’s OK playing third fiddle and wants the best chance at winning a title, Cleveland appears to be his best option.
Love’s shoulder could have some bearing on his decision. He’s been rehabbing after undergoing surgery.
Griffin said the team intends to make qualifying offers to forward Tristan Thompson, Shumpert and backup point guard Matthew Dellavedova, who became an unlikely postseason star.
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